How to Sketch your Characters – A Teachers’ Guide to Difficult Children

It may seem that I am very harsh on teachers. 
That I don’t understand how difficult their job is. 

Truth is, I have walked the corridors. I have made assessments.  I have been punished harshly for no error of mine or been blamed for not handling situations with students well enough. In one of the schools I worked in, I have had to create three different question papers for the same test in the same class. Yes, it was not easy. It took a toll on my health too. So yes, I understand the quirks of the job.

Yet it is being a mother that fills me with empathy for teachers than ever before. Ironic, I know. 

I empathise with teachers because I raise a child who is different from most kids. I know how much it can hurt when he quips back a smart-ass comment, seemingly to challenge you. When he does not lower his eyes in fear when you snap at him or just refuses to stop doing something because YOU said so. He also knows what exactly to do to get under your skin and he will. 

So yes I hear you!
I know it is not easy. 

Why then do we put you teachers under such scrutiny? 

“Because Students are highly impressionable people and teachers are profoundly influential people.” ~ Trevor.

Some children, like my son, have had life experiences that makes it difficult for them to behave in ‘expected ways’. They find it hard to trust adults and take everything they are told with a pinch of salt. Others, for different reasons, fall into the category of ‘difficult children’. It is very easy to lose patience with them or ignore them, especially when they meet your ideas with resistance or indifference. 

Trevor Muir gives a beautiful suggestion on dealing with them in his book, The Epic Classroom.

He suggests to look at children as CHARACTERS of a story & no story is without conflict. Characters are not stagnant figures. They change, they evolve, they grow and with better opportunities to prove their mettle, they become better versions of themselves. They surprise even themselves!

Trevor Muir on treating students as Characters of a plot.

Once we view our students as FLUID beings who are influenced and crafted by their surroundings, it gets easier for a teacher to create an environment that will shape a child positively. 

So if you are a teacher struggling with a difficult child, take a pause. 

How to deal with the student? 
Don’t. Not yet. 
Reflect on what it is that is getting to your nerves. What amount of control do you have on that behavior. What is this character struggling with? Is there a back story –– most often there is?

How can you create a connect? 
If you fight my child, he will stand up to you. If you ignore him, he will seek you out. 
If you treat him with respect (the kind you demand), he might engage with you. 
And if you are honest with him, he will turn around and be your strongest ally. 

How can you develop your character? 
Push too hard and you will break them. 
Also, doing the same thing you do every day, will not bring change. 
Challenge them, enough to stay on the path yet to step out of their comfort zone 

How can you create an impact? 
There are no shortcuts, here. You have to care enough. 
You have to want to create an impact. Intentions count, but so do your words and your actions. You have to reach out, look around and keep a watch even when you feel you can’t. Keep track.  

I understand that this is no fairytale – one where a teachers is expected to draw a wand out and magically aspire students to do better every singe day. 
Ofcourse not. 
It is emotionally taxing and you may burn out. You will definitely make mistakes. 
And when you do, own up and promise to do better. 
Being a teacher is hard. Very hard. 
But have no doubt.

You are profoundly Influential. 

And nothing works truer than an honest deep commitment to a child. 
They see it, they feel it, they regard it.  

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