Yes, I Know He Needs Help, But …: Keeping Everything in Perspective

Do not take life too seriously. You will never get out of it alive. Elbert Hubbard.

“What about the other children, and what about me?!” How do you satisfy the requests of anxious parents wanting the best for their child, overworked psychologists devising yet another teaching strategy for that hard-to-reach child, plus the 25 other children you have in your classroom, some of whom present problem behaviors as well? Chances are, you can’t.

It’s nice to think along the lines of meeting each child’s individual needs, and it is a goal worth striving for, but in reality it is a goal you rarely can achieve. Hundreds of wonderful strategies exist to help you help children, but they never see the classroom because teachers do not have the time to implement them. This is one of the biggest gaps between theory and practice–those people telling you what to do usually do not have the classroom experience to tell you how to do it.

I urge you to keep this forefront in your mind as you evaluate not only the strategies in this book, but suggestions given to you by other professionals. Know your limits. A strategy is only as good as the way it is implemented. Mediocre efforts can be more detrimental than beneficial.

What else can you do to make your job easier?

Besides knowing your own limits, know your students’ limits. Remember you are not a miracle worker, so don’t expect to cure a hyperactive child, or stamp out children’s behavior problems overnight. You have to think in terms of small steps, not giant strides. You can help a hyperactive child sit still longer, or pay attention longer, but you won’t turn him into a child who is no longer hyperactive. Unless you realistically evaluate, from the start, what children are capable of doing, you’ll find yourself getting frustrated, either because you’re expecting too much or too little from them.

Another strategy that will help you survive the school year is taking control of the ideas, information, and recommendations parents, children, and other professionals present to you. Taking control means being open to suggestions, but drawing the line where you want to draw it. It means modifying strategies to fit your student’s needs, your classroom structure, and your way of doing things. It means prioritizing therapies, starting with the ones you feel are most needed. It means only taking on what you can follow through on competently, so you will end up with a valid evaluation of whether your strategy worked.

As well, encourage parent participation in your treatment plans. Besides relieving you of some of your responsibilities, parent cooperation increases, significantly, children’s chances for long-term success. You can devise a wonderful program, carry it out to the letter, but still see no progress because the child’s parents didn’t know how to follow through on it at home. Remember they are the ones who will carry on seeing their child long after he leaves your classroom.

Another tip is don’t get too close to children’s problems, and try not to feel sorry for people–nothing leads quicker to burn-out. You may know a child comes from a hostile, uncaring, teetering-on-the-brink-of-break-up family; but constantly reminding yourself of that, and letting a child off the hook for his misbehaviors because of it, doesn’t help you, and certainly doesn’t help him. Be caring, but don’t let your emotions invade your thinking.

Keeping your distance also means not taking things personally. Sometimes this is hard to do. Irate parents yelling at you, angry children screaming at you–who wouldn’t get upset? Saying to yourself, “It’s not me they’re mad at” doesn’t always bring you the consolation you need. The consolation you need is getting mad back at them. If this isn’t your style or your school’s policy, then consider stress-relieving options.

One method of relieving stress is reminding yourself of the you outside of school. It’s okay to submerge yourself into your job, but don’t forget to come up for air once in a while. Make a point of having a hobby, doing fun activities, or participating in sports. Active sports are great stress relievers. What seemed like a major concern slowly melts away with each swat of the squash racquet or stride on the pavement, and may even escape your mind totally by the time you’re finished.

Secondly, try relaxation strategies. Common relaxation techniques like deep breathing, imagining a tranquil place, and releasing tension from your muscles can be done while your sitting at your desk and children are working at their desks. Another idea is listening to positive self-affirmation tapes. You can slip these into your tape deck on the way to work, and by the time you pull into the school parking lot, you feel like nothing’s going to get you down.

And finally, above all else, keep your humor with you at all times. Laughing is better than crying. In fact, simply smiling can make you feel better, even though you may not be smiling inside. Humor helps you keep a positive view, and put problems into a bigger perspective.

Laughter is the corrective force which prevents us from becoming cranks. Henri Bergson.

You need to be positive, not just for your own survival, but the survival of your students. Your classroom may be the only place a student of yours receives any positive strokes, acceptance, and genuine caring. The most you can do for any child is to accept him the way he is, show him you like him, care about him, and enjoy his company. This has more impact than any program ever can have. It helps a child to like himself, and value who he is.

With most children your positive feelings come out naturally. However, with problem children it takes a conscious effort. It’s hard to say something nice to a child who called you a “skunk” yesterday. It’s also hard to say something positive to a child who seldom does anything right. But these are the children who need your positive strokes the most, and they are also the children you can do the most for.

Helping children discover their talents, their sources of well-being are the greatest lessons you can teach them. These stay with them in their journey through life–not the “new math,” or the names of prehistoric mammals. Prehistoric mammals are important for children to know about, but not as important as learning about themselves and how to get along with other people. These are the skills which give children direction in life, help them make decisions, make friends, achieve goals, and derive satisfaction.

Education is helping the child realize his potentialities. Erich Fromm.

What about you? The best advice I can give you is what my mother used to say to me, “You can only do your best.” Doing your best is the true measure of your personal success, because your effort is controlled by you. You may try your best in changing a child’s behavior, and for reasons beyond your control, see no progress or progress that quickly fades. Where is your consolation, if all you’re measuring is results? Also, doing your best speaks for itself. People know. No one will fault you for not trying a particular strategy, or getting nowhere with a certain child, because they know you’ve done the best job anybody could have done.

I hope this book has given you some insight into hyperactivity, some techniques you think will work in your classroom, and some motivation to try them out. You are an important part of every child’s life that you teach. Even though children stay in your class for only 10 months of their lives, they will always remember your face and name.

A teacher affects eternity, he can never tell where his influence stops. Henry Adams.