The Sort-of-Scientific Method

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Nov 03 2012

I Am Not A Psychotherapist

Day 40: About two weeks ago, my homeroom partner made me a video for my birthday. It’s a whole bunch of my kids wishing me Happy Birthday and saying what they appreciate about me. One of these is AM. I don’t remember exactly what she said, but around that time, she was so invested in me and my class that she had been routinely giving up recess and lunch to grade papers for me. She stayed afterschool to tutor for me. Pretty much an ideal student.

Flash forward to this past week. Thursday, I wrote down seven different times AM refused to follow my directions. Refusing to put the bathroom pass back. Walking to put it back while swinging it above her head. Eating candy when she said she was going to throw it out. Picking up lead when I asked her to put it down. Holding a pencil an inch above the desk when I asked for pencils down.

This had been in the works for about a week, until the day before, when we had a short but intense conversation about respect. Clearly, the conversation didn’t work. AM hadn’t changed her behavior. I had mom in for a short meeting, during which I thought I saw contrition, but Friday was no better.

This ate at me, more than anything this year has gotten to me. What had I done? What had changed? Why wasn’t the behavior changing?

I mentioned this to my mother today, who gave me much sage advice, but the one line that stands out was, “You are not a psychotherapist.” She’s right. My job is to teach, and if a student isn’t meeting expectations, to respond with a logical consequence. I can diagnose and ponder and ruminate all I want, but at the end of the day, that might mean jack. It hurts more that this is a student whose relationship with me I had really valued, but if anything, that likely led me to be too nice at the start of the week.

I will never be liked by 100 percent of my students. That is a fact that I intellectually comprehend, yet fail to fully believe at times. This is one of those times that I have to really believe it. I’m not AM’s buddy, and it’s not my job to be her buddy. Come Monday, I’ll make the limits crystal clear, and if it is her choice whether or not to meet my expectations. I am not a psychotherapist. I will treat the behavior I see.

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