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The Angry First-Grader

By January 9, 2020January 31st, 2023English

I will pace the floor at home in an effort to find appropriate ways to work with students. Some teachers feel I overdo this, spending way too much time fussing. Either a student is going to follow directions, they say, or not. That might be true, but I always want to make a great effort.

One year, Sami was assigned to my first grade reading group. She was a handful. Basically, she had an anger issue. She scowled all the time and threw temper tantrums. I consulted with her teacher and the counselor, but they said to just ignore her. My other little first graders also whispered to me to ignore her.

Sami was difficult to ignore. My class was one, big disruption.

I went home and paced. Did I want my class to be like this for the whole year? No.

The next day, I started class with the usual routine: affirmations. This is when a student takes a big fuzzy rose (it could be anything) and stands in front of the group and says something nice and kind about the other five students. Everyone gets a turn with the rose. It’s a big deal.

Following that activity, I asked a student to hand out pencils. Immediately, Sami had a meltdown because she wasn’t chosen. I waited. After several minutes she calmed down.

I looked around at all my students. “Do I give all of you a chance to hand out pencils?” They all said yes.

“Has everyone had a turn with the rose?” I asked. They all said yes.

I continued. “So, do you think I’m a fair teacher – that I treat you all well and with kindness?” They all said yes.

“OK,” I said in my very happy voice. “I was just checking. Why don’t you turn to page three in your books?”

A few minutes later, Sami got up and came over to give me a side hug. I stopped the class briefly and then went back to teaching, giving Sami only the attention I was giving everyone else.

Over the course of the year, other teachers had issues with Sami, but I never had a tantrum from her again. It took me time to figure out what to do to change her behavior, and at least in that instance, it worked.