Are My Students Weeds or Flowers?
“In the world of classroom gardening, I can change that weed into a flower. How do we do that as teachers? By doing exactly the opposite of what I did for the first few days. Concentrate on the good behavior. Look at the flowers. Don’t ignore the weed, but don’t make him or her the focal point of your room either.
Here is a maxim I believe, but find it hard to practice: You get more of whatever you concentrate on. What will happen if I focus my attention on one bad student? I’ll get a room full of them. But if I focus my attention on the good behaviors I will get a room full of them instead.
After all, weeds are people too.”- In Weeds Are People Too from Tinkerings.
This actually reminded me of the time that I started a new flower bed at home. I went to the flower nursery and spent tons of money on new plants. I took pictures of them to show my parents when we visited them in Florida. Imagine the look on their faces when they saw I spent money on Lantana which is considered an invasive weed where they live. So I guess one person’s weed is another person’s flower.
I began to think about the students who got so much negative attention but was happy to get any attention at all and were considered weeds. Many of my special education students were used to this attention and I believe in fact, that it was actually a habit. Over the years, they realized with their problems they were never going to get the “best student award” or win the spelling bee so why not be the “class clown” or the “most misbehaved?” It was better than nothing for them. Over time, they began to feel proud of these titles because if they didn’t feel proud, they would feel the hurt and the isolation inside.
I decided early on in my career that I needed a mission to carry me though the next 30 years of my career. I wanted to break this negative cycle and it might actually take the rest of my life to do this. In order to do this, I began to wonder when this negative cycle begins. Does it start in kindergarten or junior high? I know it is earlier than high school because by the time they reach high school, they have their act perfected to an art. Is knowing where it begins important? How can I go about interrupting this cycle? Where do I begin?
Then I realized that I can’t undo the past. I can only change the future. How can I help these students know that they were not weeds but were indeed flowers? I know they behaved in ways that made me and other teachers want to scream but I had to look past those actions. How could I help them see that they were valued and had a purpose in life?