Delaware Writing Project

Picking Your Battles

By Elizabeth Obold

What’s Really Worth It?

“Pick your battles.” Such a simple statement holds so much meaning and can be applied to all aspects of life. Every day, well, every hour, has the potential to put us in a position where we will need to ask ourselves, ‘is this really worth it?’ I know that I ask myself that question at least five times a day, but during my third year of teaching, this question proved to be my life support. My lightbulb moment in the classroom occurred when I realized how effective picking my battles would be to my classroom management and to my relationships with my students.

Every teacher has “that student.” The student who makes each day unpredictable. The student who has multiple personalities and switches from one to the next in the blink of an eye. I had my “that student” during my third year of teaching. Her name was T. In 6th grade, she was already taller than me. She had potential that she refused to let shine, despite ample amounts of praise. She also had a strong-will that was both a blessing and a curse to herself and her teachers. I was lucky enough to see T twice a day. First thing in the morning for English and last period of the day for Social Studies. T had the ability to make or break my day. For a while, whenever T exhibited defiance, I battled back. There were days when T would enter the classroom in the morning and say hello and be cheerful but then when she would be prompted to do work or stop making noises, she would curse and throw materials or desks. I thought the good days were when she would get up and just walk out. In Social Studies at the end of the day, T was often completely checked out of school. She would come in with her headphones in, phone out, and either be disruptive or defiant. My TAM Social Studies partner would get into heated arguments with T everyday. It was exhausting to watch and be a part of. It got to the point where I would go home so exhausted just from dealing with T.

I needed the exhaustion to end, so I started to think about what issues were really worth fighting with T. What battles did I want to push with her? I started to become very aware of my interactions with T in both English and Social Studies. When T would act out in English, I would ignore it at first, but if behaviors continued, I would quietly go over to her desk and try to speak calmly to her. It got to the point in English that T realized that she was not going to get the reaction or argument out of me that she was hoping her. Social Studies was a different story. My partner would still get into arguments with T and T would win. I started talking to my partner about picking our battles with T. Did we want to get upset with her within the first minutes that she walked into our room or should we hold our response until later in the period when she would inevitably do something much worse than she did in the first five minutes?

Becoming aware of my interactions with T and picking and choosing which issues were worth getting upset about did end up making a big difference in how I felt at the end of the day. T was aware of her actions and started to develop a better understanding that when she did get corrected or get a consequence it was with good reason.

T and I ended the year on a more positive note than when we started. Now, when I get walk-throughs or observations and I am complimented on my patience and calm demeanor, I think back to T and I credit her for showing me the value of picking and choosing my battles in the classroom.

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About the Author

Elizabeth is a 6th grade English Language Arts and special education teacher at Gunning Bedford Middle School in Colonial School District. Elizabeth’s teaching strategies focus on differentiation to meet the needs of her diverse learners and allow students to make progress on the IEP goals. In addition to teaching 6th grade, Elizabeth is an adjunct professor at Wilmington University in the Masters of Reading Program.

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