Bad Kid: Slice of Life 18/31 #sol16

slice of life

I’m a bad kid, my son has started saying.

He refers to his friends as “the other bad kids. Like me.”

Until sixth grade, he always thought of himself as a good kid. But his experiences in sixth grade got him wondering. And seventh grade sealed the deal. It’s official. He’s a bad kid.

“What exactly does that mean?” I ask him.

He has a ready answer.

“We talk back to teachers. Teachers don’t like us. We get sent to the office a lot.”

I think about this. Every time I go to the school, one of his friends sits in the office, waiting to see the principal. Every week, one of them has in-school suspension. Their names are all over the ICU list (a tiresome euphemism for the F list).

I think about my son and his friends.

They are energetic, active kids who struggle—physically struggle—to do what school requires. Sit still. Be quiet.

They are visual and kinesthetic learners who get frustrated and struggle to learn in the verbal style school emphasizes.

They are funny, creative kids who have no outlet for their quick thinking and problem solving as they struggle to find a purpose in death-by-worksheets.

They are social, affectionate kids who thrive on relationships and need to feel connected and cared for to do their best. They struggle in an environment that demands respect without reciprocity.

They are inquisitive, curious kids who need to understand the why behind rules and assignments. They struggle to do what they’re asked if they don’t know why it’s important or valid and if they have no internal motivation for completing the task.

They are brave, experienced, hardened kids who have seen too much to be intimidated or motivated by grades or punishment. They want so badly to have a reason to trust—themselves, their teachers—and they struggle with the threats they so often receive in place of trust.

How does this make them bad kids?





30 responses to “Bad Kid: Slice of Life 18/31 #sol16”

  1. carriegelson Avatar

    It doesn’t. What is too bad is that we don’t allow school a bigger chance to be open to all of our students – all of their energy, their experience, their creativity and their resistance. How do we send this post of yours far and wide and make sure it has its own moment in the principal’s office? This should be required reading for all administrators.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Ah yes, resistance. We can learn so much from our students’ resistance. Resistance tells us something is wrong in what we’re doing, in the environment, in our expectations and assumptions. Resistance is an invitation to examine our practices and our students’ needs.

  2. djvichos Avatar

    I’m glad that you are able to see through and question the “bad kid” label. It’s not as simple as that, and you make several wise points. It’s a label that we too easily put on kids when they can’t conform to a broken system. I’m sorry to hear that your son wears this label. I hope that he can find his way past it.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      When so many kids’ needs are not being met, school can only be considered a broken system. This lifelong educator is learning so much from my son’s experience of school!

  3. Lynn Avatar

    I think the challenge is reining in all that energy in a positive way. If the kids are being respectful, then yes they are not being allowed to learn in the way that is best for them.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I wish we had a better understanding of what we mean by respect too. So often, when we say respect, what we really mean is obedience. I think we are quick to overlook one key truth about misbehavior: it’s expressing an unmet need. If there is disrespect, there’s almost always a good reason for it, and if we figure out and address the reason, the behavior resolves itself.

  4. Sonja Schulz Avatar

    I feel this one SO MUCH. I feel like too often good educators get caught up in the power struggle of control rather than stepping back and analyzing the WHY behind student behaviors. Having real conversations and not letting your ego get bruised–and looking to tweak things to fit our students better could have profound effects, but so few are willing to do that, it seems.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Exactly, Sonja. Behaviors express needs. Why not figure out what they are? Sometimes it’s tricky, and sometimes we can’t really address and resolve the need. But many times, we can. And many times, students will tell us what’s wrong if we ask and really listen.

  5. cvarsalona Avatar

    These are the types of learners I fell in love with as I started my teaching career. They have a depth of emotion, feelings, and creative sparks that are not found in “shut up sheets” (term Doug Fisher invented for old school worksheets). How do we change their minds about learning? Caring approach to building relationships, passion, and interest in each individual and unique learner.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      These are the learners I fell in love with too, Carol. And your solution to the problem is exactly what is needed. My son has three classes where he never, ever gets in trouble and never, ever misbehaves–and they are three classrooms where the teachers have built strong relationships, have passion for their subject matter and for teaching, and treat every student as a unique learner and individual.

      1. cvarsalona Avatar

        A plus for all who build relationships in a culture of trust!

  6. Kari Straube Avatar

    This is a very meaningful post. I know the struggle of wanting to encourage these students, but also finding a balance between expending their energy, talent, and passion, and realizing that in work and in life we sometimes need to “play the game” of getting boring, mundane stuff done. While I try to reach all learners, it’s also hard to be unconventional in a “sit down and shut up” world of school (We’re constantly getting tattled on for how noisy our learning is. Learning is messy and noisy — sorry!).

    We, students, teachers, parents, and the general population, need to fix the system that punishes these students as well as the teachers who want to empower them. Let’s stop thinking that well-managed classroom is quiet. Let’s extend lunches beyond 20 minutes so students can spend some of that energy engaging in valuable social skills. Let’s get rid of “bad kids” and “good kids” and remember that sometimes a kid is a kid, a teacher is a teacher, and a broken system is everybody’s job to address.

    Thanks for starting the conversation. Please keep it going by sending your message onward and upward!

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Kari, you are so right about the quiet classroom! Nothing is so discouraging to me as a teacher-educator when I’m out observing in the schools as a teacher who’s going around shushing students–or apologizing to me about the noise level! If it’s silent, there is probably no learning taking place. Adolescents, especially, have a developmental need to talk and be social. It is both unreasonable and damaging to demand so much quiet. I hope you continue to have the courage to embrace the noise and the mess–because that is where learning happens!

  7. Ali Vrbas Avatar

    Oh man. I bet there is a lot of anger and emotions that surround this topic. Probably a lot of resentment and frustration too. Your piece really didn’t convey any of those emotions. Instead, it really dives into the facts and the whole child of these boys. I hope that teachers and administrators everywhere read pieces like this in order to collaboratively problem solve how to better serve students like your son. Thanks for writing this piece.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      LOL, yes, this post was originally about three times longer. All the anger, resentment, and sarcasm got deleted! There was plenty of it. Thank goodness for editing!

  8. Tara Smith Avatar

    This post makes me so sad…and I can see why your son has loved the homeschooling recently, too. These are my favorite kind of learners – they challenge us to be our creative and compassionate best.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      There is such an invitation here, Tara, if we will only be brave and open-minded enough to take it. I am so challenged by students who resist to reflect more deeply on my practices and my self and to grow.

  9. Cheriee Weichel Avatar
    Cheriee Weichel

    We get a lot of so called bad kids transferring into our school where we discover they are warm caring human beings. Some of them become my best library monitors. Once they see they are respected, and get into meaningful learning, I notice they don’t even seem to be so hyper during school times. Sending love.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      This would really seem to be the most basic guarantee we could make in school–we will treat children as human beings and make sure they have meaningful learning. And what we see again and again is that when we do that, children thrive–even the more challenging kids. But this most basic guarantee seems to be more the exception than the rule.

  10. Carol Avatar

    My son would have easily fit into this category. So glad there are some teachers who take the time to see and know him.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      I am so grateful for the teachers who figure it out!

  11. jarhartz Avatar

    This is so important to say out loud, all the time. It is hard all around. The system does not accommodate for real people. I’m so worry for your boy. Glad he’s coming home.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Thanks, Julieanne. What I see more and more is what we can only call a crisis of care and compassion in schools. Care and compassion must be our very first concerns.

      1. jarhartz Avatar

        Hmm. Can you imagine? What if care and compassion was the priority? What might that create?

  12. Shari Daniels Avatar

    I have heard this from some of my own students before. I try hard to help my students understand that what they believe becomes their reality, that they are the only ones who can really decide who they are. Even if they are sitting in the principal’s office, they must know that it was a choice that got them there and they can change the tide at any moment. They just need to decide. It grinds my soul when I hear a child believe this is their true being. 😦

    Yes, I agree with the students who are more visual/tactile learners – most of mine are – most kids are now. We have to let them get up and move, they need choices, they want to create and build and TALK!!! Oh my heavens. If we cannot figure how to do this in today’s schools, we’d better get out of education.

    1. Elisabeth Ellington Avatar

      Sometimes I wonder, though, Shari, if they really can make different choices and change the tide. Labels and expectations are powerful things, and we harden, become inflexible, with those children who get in trouble all the time. We expect them to act up and act out and a behavior that would pass in another child won’t pass for them. I wonder, too, how many of those children who are constantly in the principal’s office have experienced trauma. When I think of my son and his friends, it is near 100%. Their brains and bodies have been deeply affected by their traumatic experiences, and they simply can’t regulate their physiological systems in the way that neurotypical kids can. For my son, the defiance that drives some of his teachers crazy is actually him in flight/fight/freeze survival mode, where he has lived most of his life. He perceives EVERYTHING as a threat–he is in full-on survival mode all the time. Doesn’t matter that there’s no actual threat anymore. His system is primed for it. A teacher tells him to do something, and he refuses–all because his stress levels have spiked too high and he can no longer regulate himself. As soon as he calms his body down, he is able to comply willingly and respectfully, but while he’s overwhelmed by the stress response, he is trying to fight off the threat. More trauma-informed PD would also help teachers, I think.

  13. sadrochelle Avatar

    That was beautiful, my youngest daughter was a dynamic, full of energy she couldn’t give away was brave and entered talent contests by herself always thinking differently then her friends she told me, and I loved her so.. much for being a little different. Today she is a professional Beauty Girl with her own Make-up Bar in Viva Voce a high end spa and salon, and the mother of my granddaughter Bailey. I couldn’t be prouder she was special as a little girl and she is just as special now check out her work it is amazing. .

  14. nickybanz Avatar

    As a future teacher, this is so eye-opening. Thank you for that.

  15. […] A slice about my son’s school label, Bad Kid […]

  16. Kellee from Unleashing Readers (@kelleemoye) Avatar

    Not bad kids. Just kids that American education was not made to foster. It is so sad. I feel that is why so many gifted young males start struggling once they reach middle school–because the education system fails them.

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