10 Chapters
Medium 9781934009253

Chapter 9: Conclusion: Worth the Struggle

Richard Curwin Solution Tree Press ePub

In the end, test scores do nothing to improve a student’s character. That is determined by how responsible he or she is.

Success with challenging students requires knowledgeable, caring adults who refuse to reject them even when they behave in offensive, obstinate, defiant, unmotivated, and hostile ways. We must make it difficult for students to throw away their education and their lives. We must find ways of seeing past their behavior so that who they are is more important than what they do. They need us to believe in them and give them hope so they can believe in themselves.

We are more successful when we thank challenging students for giving us an opportunity to learn and grow in our own quest to become great teachers. For while the best students will reinforce us to stay the same, because what we do appears to work, the most difficult students force us to see clearly what does not work and motivate us to find what does. As we meet these challenges, all students benefit, even the best, because we have made their learning environment safer. We have also made it easier for our students to learn, because the new skills we learn when we work with difficult students make us more attuned to the needs of all of our students and better able to teach them.

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Chapter 3: Attitudes and Beliefs

Richard Curwin Solution Tree Press ePub

Our best students reinforce our belief that what we do works.
Our worst students challenge us to grow. We need both.

Imagine you are in the classroom and you ask Anwar a question related to the lesson. Anwar smirks and says, “Who the hell cares—this class sucks!” Li, who cannot concentrate for more than 3 minutes, decides to take a stroll in the middle of your class. His cruise around the room includes visits with others while you are trying to teach. Shelby is polite and friendly, and even participates in the class lesson occasionally. Unfortunately, she never brings her materials, is usually late, and does not do her homework. José has an extremely short fuse. You just never really know how he will react. There are hours and even days in which he is calm and focused. Then, with no warning at all, he may suddenly go over the top and throw a chair or challenge someone to fight.

Working with difficult students requires instructional and emotional preparation to meet the many challenges they present. As we have noted, there is no simple formula that can be applied in all instances. Nevertheless, certain beliefs and attitudes form the basis of methods and strategies that can help you provide difficult students with a quality education while maintaining your sanity.

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Chapter 2: Change Starts Within

Richard Curwin Solution Tree Press ePub

We cannot expect more of our students than we expect of ourselves. We must act the way we expect our students to behave.

If we want to work more effectively with difficult students, we must be willing to change ourselves. Although we rarely appreciate our most difficult students because of the time they take and the frustration they cause, their presence can lead to professional growth if we learn from the obstacles they throw in our way. Nothing new has been invented by people who are satisfied with the status quo. Dissatisfaction and tension caused by misbehavior can lead us to invent new approaches that could benefit all of our students. In his book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, Carlson (1997) suggests that instead of asking, “Why is he doing this to me?” when someone does something you do not like, ask “What is he trying to teach me?”

Difficult students do not always generate feelings of opportunity. They are frustrating and time-consuming and interfere with our efforts to teach. Even worse, they make us confront our own difficulty in changing ourselves. As we understand our struggle to change ourselves and find better ways to overcome our obstacles, we can better appreciate the difficulties our students face when they try to change. This understanding and appreciation will help us help our students.

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Chapter 5: Choosing the Best Discipline Strategy

Richard Curwin Solution Tree Press ePub

Whether or not student change is for the good depends on whether we care deeply about students’ welfare.

Since there are many, many things we can do when discipline situations arise, our effectiveness largely depends on our ability to choose a response that is appropriate to the situation. For example, if a student is out of control, our primary goal is safety. We are less concerned about changing the child’s behavior and more concerned about protecting others from possible injury. By contrast, if a student is constantly doing silly, annoying things to get everyone’s attention, our primary goal is finding strategies that meet the student’s need for attention while reducing his or her interference with instructional time.

When students are disruptive while we are teaching, we have little time to rationally review our choices and assess our options. In addition, the often conflicting and confusing advice we have been given by “experts” who advocate everything from no structure (Kohn, 1996) to firm obedience (Canter & Canter, 1997; Dobson, 1996) have often led many educators to choose interventions that are based more on habit, desperation, or random change than on a rational school of thought. This chapter explores the best ways to evaluate strategies to ensure they are as effective as possible.

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Chapter 8: Frequently Asked Questions

Richard Curwin Solution Tree Press ePub

Remorse without resolution and reparation is inadequate.

While most educators ask us questions about discipline, they are looking for specific strategies and how-to-advice. Most of this book addresses important concepts relating to discipline and responsibility and includes many practical methods of prevention and intervention. Throughout this book, we have stressed our belief that there are no simple formulas for understanding the complexity of human behavior and there are no one-size-fits-all approaches to improving it. However, there are many specific strategies within the guidelines we have presented that will help educators solve some of the difficult issues we face. This chapter provides guidance on 12 of the questions we are asked most frequently by educators who work with difficult youth.

Q: My frustration as a special education teacher is that while my students make good progress in my resource classroom, many of them have difficulty adjusting to mainstream classes. Those teachers constantly complain about how irresponsible the kids are, and the kids are always complaining about how unfair the teachers are. Any suggestions?

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