Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Challenging Ones

This week was the 3 year anniversary of when I brought my little turkey Ruby home from the shelter. She was 3 months old, cute as a button and I would soon find out extremely challenging. The drive home she nipped and scratched at me. Any time I would sit down, whether it be in the grass with her or on the couch, I would get the same treatment. I called my mom the next day to ask her if they do exorcisms on dogs! :)

I think I was meant to find Ruby. At least one person had already given up on her (she was in a shelter). My family's advice was a well-intentioned  "take her back and get another one". I called in a trainer recommended by my vet and I will never forget her assessment. Because Ruby never curled up in my lap or fell asleep next to me she decided that "she will never be the dog you want her to be". I had paid for several lessons already, but told her I didn't want her working with my pup anymore. As a teacher, I know if you don't believe they can learn, they won't learn.

We went to 3 other trainers before we found one that understood her. All the others told me I wasn't being tough enough with her, I had to show her who was boss. That was exactly the wrong advice. Ruby gets stressed out whenever anyone even raises a voice, she shuts down or acts out. She needed someone who saw how incredibly smart she was, how praise in the form of food works wonders! How she needed time to build up that trust. 

Today she is a fabulous companion. She sleeps in the doorway of my bedroom and stands in front of me when a cat walks by-all I think in an effort to protect me. She makes me laugh on a daily basis. She will go get a toy that I put peanut butter in and literally drop it in my lap as if she is asking for a treat. I can tell her "over" and she jumps puddles! Last year, I injured my knee and she would consciously slow down her pace when I did. I treasure our time in the evenings where she sits in the grass and watches the world go by and I read a book.

What does this have to do with teaching you ask? A lot actually. I am teaching summer school right now and have a student who many people, unfortunately, had written off. Many warned me about him-he can't learn, he doesn't listen, has a bad attitude, etc. He has a lot of difficulty with reading and writing, and I could see his frustration with that right off the bat. During the school year his teacher sent him to Kindergarten as punishment, because that's what his level was anyway *sigh*. He would take home no folder, no homework. Was ineligible for tutoring because of his behavior.

Fast forward to this week. My strategy going in was sticker charts and stickers and told him he had a blank slate with me. He could earn the rewards for hard work. The first day I read Patricia Polacco's Thank You Mr. Falker (there are others who could benefit from that message, but I could tell it spoke to him-it's her own story with enormous difficulty in reading and now she's a famous writer!). Telling you he has stepped up is an understatement! We started practicing his high frequency words, I made some flashcards-he asked if he could take them home to practice! He takes books home to read every day. He shares the soap in the restroom and offers to stack up the chairs at the end of the day. I have had this kid for several days and already just see a different child. He's really good at math-I'm not sure anyone even took the time to realize that before, maybe because he can't read the problems. 

I have a t-shirt that says "If a child doesn't learn the way we teach, then we need to teach the way the child learns". I wholeheartedly believe in that fact. Kids are not always going to fit into that mold that many think are the ideal student. I actually find working with the challenging kids more rewarding. 

My point is sometimes it takes time to figure out what works for a kid, but we have to take that time. If kids get written off by their teachers year after year-imagine how frustrating that is, how much that makes the problem worse. It takes time, but the rewards are so worth it!


  1. What a wonderful story. The little boy is lucky to have you as his teacher. Oftentimes, it is our attitude and reactions towards others that make the most difference.

  2. How inspiring! I am so glad I found you. The old saying they don't care how much you know until they know how much you care is so true!
    A Teachers Touch

  3. What a beautiful story! Thanks for stopping by~ I am so glad you did!

    meet me at the zoo...

  4. I truly wish every child could have a teacher like you. Thank goodness that boy crossed paths with you! ~ Terri Eichholz