Education Opinion

Can the ‘Unteachable’ Be Taught?

By Amanda Austin Becker — October 21, 2018 3 min read
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Hi Lisa,

Thank you for your suggestions on strengthening parent-teacher relationships. You made a good point to begin working with parents by first pointing out the positive. Although I may have to approach parents with information about their child that may be difficult or frustrating to hear, beginning the interaction on a positive note can help the conversation to go smoother.

In other news, I recently made it to my first milestone as a teacher: Fall Break. I have now officially completed nine weeks of teaching and am enjoying a well-earned break. I am happy to have accomplished what I have in the classroom thus far, and it is good to have a couple of days of rest to reflect and plan for the next quarter.

In addition to planning the remainder of my unit on the novel we are currently reading, I am also thinking about the emotional needs of my students. I have noticed that in the final few weeks of the quarter, as the course work intensified, a few students struggled academically, but also emotionally. The emotional struggles of students have manifested as distracting, negative attention-seeking behaviors that hinder the learning process for other students and also annoy me to no end. Many evenings I went home in frustration and called my mother, who is a retired teacher with over 30 years of teaching experience. I recounted the irritating events of the day and once she responded, “You can’t teach them all.” I have heard these sentiments from other caring, talented, and experienced teachers, so there must be some truth to this statement. However, I believe I am there to teach ALL of the students no matter how stubbornly hard it may be. So, in an effort to reach the needs of all students, I am brainstorming ways to deal with problematic behavior and reflecting on what has been helpful. In working with students who are dealing with emotional struggles, here is what has been useful so far:

Partnering with Administrators

I have very supportive administrators that help me manage problematic student behavior and help me gain greater insight into the struggles students face outside of school. I have learned over the past few weeks that many of my students face problems at home that no kid should have to endure. It is not surprising that these students are struggling academically and seeking attention in any way they can. Having this knowledge softens my annoyance, and I find I have more patience and compassion with struggling students.

One-on-one Conferences with Students

In the past nine weeks I have learned that many of my students are dealing with intense emotional struggles that would have remained hidden had I not talked with them one-on-one. Conferencing with students affords the opportunity to check in and express care and concern for students who are struggling academically and emotionally. In these cases, I have planned with students how to create a path toward success by turning in late work, retaking tests, and brainstorming what they need to be a better participant during class. Expressing concern rather than taking on a punitive tone has been most effective.

Keeping Parents in the Loop

As I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, keeping parents in the loop is a vital part of student success. When a problematic situation arises with a student, it is important to keep parents informed. Most of the emails I have sent have been received by parents who are eager to help their child be more successful in class. This partnership is invaluable. However, in the case of stubborn and persistent student academic and emotional troubles, the source of the struggle is often a home issue and efforts to reach out to the family are often futile. Realizing that in some students’ lives teachers are the only source of care and concern has given me pause. When I feel wearied by persistent negative behavior, I have to remind myself that this student is not getting the support he needs at home and it is vital that I interact with him in a patient and caring way. I may be the only source of encouragement in his day.

I am quickly learning that the complicated task of teaching includes not only managing a classroom and teaching content, but also navigating the complex world of cognitive, emotional, and social forces that make up the classroom dynamic. So, Lisa, what are other ways to reach students who are persistently struggling academically and emotionally? How can I best meet the needs of “unteachable” students without burning out?



Show a newbie some love and connect with Amanda on Twitter; her handle is @ateacherstory.

Lisa can be found blogging about her passion to inspire educators to thrive at lisadabbs.com. You can connect with Lisa on Twitter at @teachwithsoul.

Photo credit: iStock

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