Delaware Writing Project

Teacher or Friend

By Melanie Prince

As you stand by your door on the first day of school to greet all your students, you smile, they smile and hope for a great year together.  As you get to know them through icebreakers, group activities, finding their likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, one student will stand out. Everyone is putting their best foot forward for that first week. By the end of the week, everyone feels comfortable and excited to take on the challenge of a memorable school year. Then it happens, the next week, the honeymoon is over and there is that one student in your class that makes a drastic change in behavior and/or personality. It is with this student that I encourage teachers each year to be a friend not a teacher.

Think about it like being a fairy godmother.  The one person when no one else has your back, she’s there for you. During the second week of school, you realize this student, just doesn’t get along with others in the class room.  They stood out from the very first day they walked through your door, with their outgoing personalities, their inability to get activities done, and a desire to just play around all day.  They made a point of being in your face asking questions to determine what will win you over. Their mission was to get on your good side before the trouble and drama started, and they ended up on your bad side.

According to psychologist Abraham Maslow, human beings are motivated by certain things. When their needs are not met they do what it takes to meet those needs. The most important needs ranked by hierarchy begins with,  biological and physiological needs, safety needs, love and belonging needs, esteem needs and self actualization needs. When kids come to school they are made to feel safe, they may not get breakfast at home, but they will get lunch at school, so the first two needs are met. It is the other three needs that are left to be fulfilled. Teachers, no matter how difficult this student can be, you must choose to be a friend to this child.

Inevitably, the student will get in trouble with other teachers and students in other areas of the building. The student will build a reputation for themselves or get labeled as a “frequent flier”, which means he/she is sent to the office very often. No one will pick up or comfort this student because he/she will ultimately, eventually be identified as the problem kid. Often this student is low in all subject areas and wants to get out of doing any work. Sometimes there may be something more significant going on with the student. Some teachers will be unwilling to take the student for group or timeout because of his/her notoriety. Other teachers will struggle with interventions to help this student.

Ultimately, this student will need someone to be in their corner, even if they are disrespectful. There has to be one teacher that can turn the other cheek and remember the basic needs of every human being. The need to belong is a strong need, especially in little children. Eventually the student will come around (even if it’s at the very end of the year) and see that you have accepted them, shortcomings and all. He/she will work for you and listen to you, even if they don’t always comply immediately. You will be the one other teachers call to talk the student off the proverbial ledge. Every school, every year has more than one of these students in each grade level. I challenge you to be that teacher that meets the need to belong for that student.  

Let’s remember the Cinderella story, and let this be our reference. Even though her stepmother treated her badly, Cinderella still tried to please her and the stepsisters to no avail. Don’t forget though, that Cinderella had a fairy godmother. Be that fairy godmother.

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About the Author

Melanie Prince is an elementary school educator in the Colonial School District in New Castle, Delaware.  She has been teaching for 14 years.  Her desire to teach was a goal since she was 8 years old.  She is a leader in the implementation of technology in her district.  She welcomes the 21st century into her classroom with 1 to 1 device learning. A flipped classroom is her ultimate goal for her classroom.

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