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Why You Need To Stay The Course With Difficult Students

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My gosh, how they’re bounced around like a ship in a storm.

Rewarded one minute, lectured the next.

“Caught being good” then counseled. Punished then praised. Scolded then appeased then forced into another humiliating behavior contract.

Tighten and loosen, tighten and loosen.

Difficult students are treated like temperamental orchids, forever subject to trial and error. What works for awhile never seems to last, so let’s try something else.

Let’s see what sticks.

This, of course, is terrible for them. It’s confusing. It’s hurtful. It all but assures their behavior will never change. But this is what they get year after year after year.

So what’s the answer?

It’s to stay the course. It’s to be the same steady, calm, and kind teacher who follows the same progression of consequences day after day and week after week.

You see, with your most challenging students, improvement doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time. A slow turn of an oil tanker. The same unwavering drip, drip, drip of gentle influence pushing and steering them on course.

It’s the light pressure of lessons learned over and over that produce lasting change.

Difficult students need a stable, committed hand that guides the way like a thousand paper cuts and unlimited healing balm.

In the beginning, you may not even notice a difference, especially given their years of exposure to a hot-and-cold, off-and-on faucet of bribery, manipulation, and angry talking-tos.

But there is a current beginning to flow under the crust. So you must stay at the plow. You don’t experiment or try short-cuts. You don’t try to “just get through the day” with flattery or ignoring their misbehavior.

You do what is best for them long term by relying on the natural law that we learn when lessons come from realizing our own mistakes. We learn when we can’t blame others, when we’re painted into a corner, when we have to face the truth that we’re the problem.

Only then, and once thus empowered, do difficult students truly change. But you must have the courage to stand up for them. You must have the fortitude to follow through, even when they don’t want you too.

You must believe in them and have the toughness to say no to degrading tokens, prize boxes, rewards, and fake praise. You must care enough to take responsibility and say, “Enough is enough. It stops with me.”

So follow your classroom management plan as it’s written. Praise when it’s worthy and based on true accomplishment.

Treat your toughest students with the same dignity and good humor as your very best. Be willing to crawl with them hand in hand like a real-life Andy Dufresne through 300 feet of wastewater so they can one day stand exultant.

Having overcome their weaknesses and decimated self-worth to now pay forward your quiet and humble good deed.

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