I remember a day years ago when I was very close to losing my patience with one of my students.  All day he seemed to wait for my eyes to be on him, at which point he would do the thing he reckoned I least wanted him to be doing.  It got so bad that I was not having any fun at work, which for me is pretty bad.  Expressing my frustration with my own impatience (and, o.k., I’ll admit it, with this child’s  behavior, which seemed to be intentionally annoying), I said, “Argh, I really should not have let that kid get to me today”.  And then I hear myself and thought about that idiom ‘get to me’.

  He was trying to get to me, and I was trying to keep him from getting to me.  He’s searching for a way in, and I’m putting up fences. He was trying to get to me.  What do people try and get? They try to get what they want- what they need.  What did this child need?  Me. My genuine attention and engagement.  Me. Noticing him, really being with him. My reaction, though, was to work at keeping him from getting to me, until he did, only by then the ‘me’ he got was not the one I most like to share.   Some might say that the sort of naughty behaviors he was engaging in don’t deserve to be ‘rewarded’ with positive reinforcement.  This doesn’t make sense to me.  If he had a better way to get what he wanted, he would use it.  If he already knew a better way to get the adults in his life to positively interact with him, he would do it.

Because here’s the thing; a teacher’s job is to teach, not hand out awards to kids who figure out stuff themselves and punish those who don’t.  That would be whatever the opposite of a teacher is.

He is trying to get to me because he needs me, and it is my job to teach him the way.


9 thoughts on “Getting to Me

  1. We do the same problematic thing in college: give top grades to the students who come into our classes already knowing how to study, think critically, write. You are so wise, Leah.

  2. I find adults at work who act the same way. They would be happy if they opened up to somone rather than stew and “not let him get to me.” This week I had conversation with a couple people where they would be so angry. “So-and-so should have done X!” Me: “Did you talk to them?” “I sent them an email–but they got so pissy!” “Let’s go down there and talk to him.” It always ended up fine after that point!

    Also, I like how you say that teaching is the main thing, not handing out rewards and punishments. That’s a great way to think of it — I’ll use it.

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