Many times in my 10 years of teaching, I have had parents specifically request me as their child’s teacher. One such request came in my third year of teaching. The child was the son of one of my co-workers. She said, “I chose you because Patrick needs discipline, but he also needs compassion.” Patrick had a talent for trouble. Not bad trouble — just the garden variety nuisances that drive teachers right up the walls.
I’d met Patrick when he was a second grader. He used to come into my room and hang out with the critters. He had more questions then I had answers, but even at eight he wasn’t adverse to being pointed toward one resource or another and told to “look it up.” The school district slapped a label on him: Gifted & Talented. One of his gifts was a quick wit. One of his talents wasn’t thinking first before he used it.
I want my students quiet and focused before I ever allow them into my classroom every morning. This is especially critical on the first day of school. It sets the tone the remainder of the year.
Outside my door I tell my students I want, “Straight and quiet.” I remind them that the entire school is expected to follow that rule, including teachers. If they can’t talk, neither can I. Then I teach them my hand signals so we can communicate without words (stop, go, left, & right). Except, Patrick won’t be quiet.
“Patrick, I need you to listen.”
“Patrick, please be quiet.”
“Patrick! That’s enough.”
Nothing worked for more than 30 seconds. Finally, in exasperation, I demanded, “Patrick, what part of, please be quiet, do you not understand?” Not one other child in the entire school would have responded to my tone of voice with anything but silence.
Patrick answered with a grin, “Well, I’ve always had trouble with Q-u.”
The entire class sucked in their breaths. I nodded my head at Patrick, dropped my arm around his shoulders in a friendly fashion and said, “You know, I can help you with that. This coming Friday I’ll be giving you a vocabulary test on all the Q-U words in our classroom dictionary. How’s that?”
Patrick said, “No. Thank you. I’ll be quiet now.”
I shook my head. “Too little. Too late.”
Still, nothing kept Patrick down for long. As I was trying to introduce the class to their new textbooks, Patrick was playing his desk like a drum, using his brand new pencils as sticks. Again I asked him several times to stop — and he did — for 30 seconds at a time. Finally I asked, casually, “Patrick, are your pencils important to you?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “Not particularly.”
“Good,” I said. Then I snatched them from his hands and tossed them in the garbage.
The entire class was silent — including Patrick. He stared at me in open-mouthed surprise. Finally he found his voice. “Those were my brand new pencils!”
I shrugged. “You said they weren’t important to you, and they were really bothering me, so I got rid of them.”
“But, –” he stopped.
“Well, they are important.”
“Fine,” I said. “You may retrieve them.”
Patrick fished his pencils out of the waste basket and sat back down at his desk. Thirty seconds later he was drumming again. I stopped writing on the board and turned to look at him. “Patrick,” I asked, “are your fingers important to you?”
Patrick dropped his pencils and sat on his hands.