Letting Go of Feeling Highly Responsible for Fixing Student Behavioral IssuesA Mental Health Matters Moment for Teachers
By Jane Arouet
I’m a high school teacher and if your classes are anything like mine, I’m guessing you have a mix of kids of varying levels of ability in your content area as well as varying levels of understanding appropriate school and classroom behavior. And boy, do some of those kids REALLY have a hard time understanding that! And you feel like, "OK – what in the world am I doing wrong here?"
I’m implementing the school behavioral program.
I’m trying to be a good role model.
I’m trying to be understanding of where this kid is coming from.
I’m talking with them daily about why their actions are inappropriate.
I’m trying to be fair.
And then you have a day when, suddenly, their behavior is great and you think to yourself, "Finally! They’ve made a change!"
Well… that is until the next day when they are back to their old habits. And you feel emotionally exhausted and frustrated… again.
You’re back to feeling like it's something that you, in your role as a teacher, need and want to help with very much and nothing is working.
Let’s stop for a second and look at what is behind the reality of this situation with a large portion of students.
Think about two phrases that we’ve all heard over and over: "Old habits die hard" and "We are creatures of habit."
These are true statements and if we apply to them to how we view and feel about student behavior issues, we can give ourselves as teachers a little more leeway and grace in not feeling quite so disappointed.
By the time a kid is in high school, they have already developed a certain set of habits and these habits are things that they have practiced over and over for a long period of time.
And just like anything in life, if you want to get good or better at something, you have to practice it – over and over for a long period of time. I play the piano and am pretty good at it. How did I get good at it? I practiced and worked at it – for many, many years! The concept is the same for someone’s behavior to improve.
These students are ultimately going to need to decide that they want to practice improving their behavioral issues as well as choose to stop continuing their old habits. And they need to do this for a long time before any consistent positive change will occur.
As teachers, we can still try to do our best to help move them along, but ultimately, it's up to the student to take ownership of the process.
Being good role models by setting a good example is the most important thing we can do every single day. This could very well one day give someone the spark they need to see to decide to make a behavioral change – and that could happen during your school year with them or years later.
This realization doesn't make the day-to-day grind or frustration go away, but it can help reframe it and put it in a different perspective.
Remember you are doing great things for your kids by setting a good example. Practice letting go of guilt and frustration driven by circumstances beyond your control.
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