EDITOR'S NOTE: McKenna Hydrick is a first-year teacher at Silver Bluff High School. She teaches English I and English II to ninth-graders. She is sharing her diary in this column each week.
I have a student who has been my personal mission. I noticed him the first day of school. He looks older than the other students and has been a behavior problem from that first day.
In the first semester, he did almost nothing in my class. He accepted zeros for not completing his work and ended up with a 20 average for the first nine weeks.
He went to sleep in class almost every day and was not concerned with the consequences. I confronted him about sleeping, thinking that maybe he had a late job or took care of a family member at home. He said he was accustomed to sleeping in class because his previous teachers told him to sleep to stay out of trouble.
I was not going to let him get by with sleeping through English.
I had no clue how to motivate him or what would work with him, but I decided I would try.
I found out right away that when he wasn't sleeping, he liked to participate in class. He is extremely bright and knowledgeable despite his tough-guy image.
He is able to understand concepts many in the class have trouble learning.
The key was to determine how I could keep him from sleeping.
Then I noticed a small change in him during the poetry unit.
He never wrote any poetry or really participated in class, but I could tell he had started listening. He began making comments about how this unit was "off the chain."
I had no clue how long this attitude would last, but I saw a glimmer of hope.
We started studying a novel by Paul Zindel called The Pigman. The first paragraph of the book has an obvious connection with this student:
"Now, I don't like school, which you might say is one of the factors that got involved with this old guy we nicknamed the Pigman. Actually, I hate school, but then again, most of the time I hate everything."
Something about this book triggered him, and he started participating in class. He even read out loud. He started turning in his work more often, and last week he made a 100 on his vocabulary quiz.
Previously, he would have turned in a blank test.
I started to think about what I had done differently with him during this unit. I noticed that I had been making positive comments to him about his work. I also had been making an effort to talk to him one on one.
I then knew what I had to do. Without overdoing it, I decided to tell him as often as I could how proud I was of his grade and his effort.
I kept him after class one day, which had usually for his misbehavior, to tell him that he had an 80 average in my class. His eyes lit up. I could tell he had never been so proud of himself.
When I said I was going to call his mother to tell her what a good job he was doing in my class, he beamed even more. He even went down to the assistant principal's office to inform her of his grade in my class.
Seeing him excited made me feel great, because I had no clue if he even cared about school. But he did, and all it took from me was a couple of words of encouragement.
I have learned many things through this encounter. The most important is that I don't always need fancy tricks to get through to students.
Sometimes it's just a good old fashioned "good job" and "I'm proud of you" that make even the toughest students feel worthy and proud.