I suppose I’m getting more cynical as I get older. Or perhaps I’m just getting more realistic. Wiser? That would be good wouldn’t it? We’ll call it that until someone challenges me. J Anyway, a group of us were talking the other day about student behavior. We start the year with a group of children who may or may not know each other. Some have been to a pre-k program and some haven’t. They are from different environments and have different experiences. They certainly have differing abilities! But we throw them together in a group, give them all the same information and opportunities, and see what happens.
What happens is surprisingly predictable. The class will almost always divide itself into three groups. The first group is well-behaved, hard-working, and generally intelligent. They are usually the older students, and many are “first born”, although there will be an exception now and then. There may be one or two in the group who struggle academically, but not for lack of effort. As long as they are well-behaved the rest of the group will be quite helpful and understanding.
The second group is not quite ready for the structure and demands of kindergarten. They have to spend at least a few weeks or months testing the rules, rebelling a bit, and finding out where they fit in the group. Some are very smart and just want to show off a bit. I had one such child who sat down in my very first “circle” discussion and announced, “I love to get in trouble!” (He changed his mind in a week.) Some have problems with the work and are afraid someone will notice, so they draw attention to their behavior instead. Others just don’t have much experience with structure or responsibility. Most of this group will align with the first group by Christmas break. They may act out once in a while in frustration, or spend a day being lazy, or just have a bad day, but generally they adapt to school.
The third group is thankfully the smallest group, but unfortunately gets a lot of attention. I try not to let them become the focus of the class, but it is difficult to ignore them. The third group is the group that makes a career out of getting into trouble. That sounds harsh when I’m speaking of kindergarten students, but I’ve found my predictions to be sadly accurate. Each year I try new ways to break the cycle. Sometimes I’m successful, but most of the time I’m not. Many of my former students from this group are the ones now in high school detention or jail.
I’ve found that April is the “tipping point”. If a child is still misbehaving by April, especially if he or she is repeating the same behaviors, the chances of significant change are small. With each grade promotion the child becomes more entrenched in the system of behavior/reward/punishment. I include the term “reward” because the child is receiving a reward- attention, personal satisfaction, reputation, power, control- something that encourages them to continue. And obviously they have learned to endure the punishment.
I wish I could find the magic wand that changes these children. But I would have to change their genetic makeup, home environment, and personality. Not within my power. I do the best I can, but by April I have to admit defeat. Perhaps the next teacher…