You Don’t Always Get What You Give
Teachers as a group make a valid attempt to connect on some emotional level with most all of their students, especially those in smaller classes or self-contained, full-day classrooms. We want our students to enjoy being in our classrooms and enjoy their relationship with us. We reach out in a friendly, caring manner in the hope and belief that our students will recognize and accept our positive gesture. The problem is that many of our students don’t have the emotional capacity to accept or even see what we are attempting.
I’ve worked with numerous teachers who find it difficult to understand why some of their students cannot accept positive feedback and support. In fact for some students it actually seems to irritate them. I use the following analogy to illustrate the point that some students are incapable of accepting warm or positive gestures.
If you were to approach a fenced dog that had been beaten and abused and reached your hand into the fence to pet that dog, what do you believe would most likely happen next? Chances are the dog would move away quickly in fear or try to bite off a finger. The fact that you were reaching through the fence to gently pet the dog would be irrelevant.
Students who have suffered from physically or emotionally unstable and unsafe environments will often have similar reactions. They may fear any approach by an authority figure will be one of negativity or harm so they immediately withdraw, completely unaware of the kind gesture. Another damaged student might lash out in a protective mode thinking they are being attacked. Even if you somehow convince them your gesture is one of kindness they may still believe a harsh punitive gesture will follow shortly.
With these types of emotionally fragile students it is always best to use a firm, fair, consistent approach and a neutral affect and tone of voice in all interactions regardless of how they respond. A consistent, neutral affect has the greatest chance of allowing fragile students to put aside their emotions and absorb the information being shared. In time it also helps them see that not all adults are physically or emotionally abusive and there are fair and consistent adults and environments in the world.
It may sound strange, but sometimes kindness and emotional openness is not the best option. If you don’t want to draw a stump back from the fence where a hand use to be then you may want to consider a more neutral approach when dealing with more difficult students.