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The Teacher and the Troublemaker

You have all had one like him. He is the student whose chair teeters on one leg, whose tongue is a windup toy that never runs down, and whose homework is either incorrect, incomplete, or in the dog's stomach. Like a termite in a forest, he is always busy but never at anything constructive. Fiery-eyed and unruly, he responds to serious matters with laughter and to trivial ones with fury. You know the type. Most often it's a boy, though little girls are certainly capable of gumming the gears. How does a teacher who wants her day to turn like a well-oiled wheel manage this stubborn cog of a child?

Understand him. Before attacking the troublemaker's conduct, scout out his motivations. Most likely his misbehavior is a plea for help of some kind. Is he starved for attention? Is he bored? Are there physical complications? Is he unconverted? Further, keep in mind that the child is just that - a child. You may have been a quiet, mature, responsible child, but don't expect to create a classroom of clones modeled after yourself. Remember, too, that the classic "naughty child" urgently needs the emotional and physical release of the playground, though he is often the one who holds the school record for staying in at recess.

Communicate with his parents. Surprisingly, teachers often skip this seemingly obvious step. It takes time and effort, and besides, the parent is not the battle site. I recall a student who steadfastly refused to bend to authority. I emptied my bag of tricks on the boy and in desperation finally called his father. Though the dad was a man of few words, the total transformation in his son's classroom behavior spoke volumes for effective parental support! And don't forget to call the parents back with good news after a triumph.

Stay calm. Everyone likes a good show, especially children. How entertaining to see a beleaguered teacher whip herself into a white-hot frenzy! The student who realizes that he holds the power to open the curtain on such theatrics will not soon change his ways. The unflappable teacher, on the other hand, sets the stage for compliance with her standards. Consistently kind yet firm, she saves her more emotional exhibitions for commending her students' positive behavior.

Be his friend. Very likely his friends are few. Discover his strengths and comment on them, both privately and publicly. Smile at him when he behaves acceptably. Ask him to help you around the classroom and thank him warmly. Let him know that you care about him, and above all give him the chance to succeed. Too often we shortchange our students by engaging in "teacher's lounge gossip." We know exactly what to expect from "the school brat" on the first day of school, and we show our mindset in a dozen subtle ways. Keenly perceptive and school-wise, the young rebel will seldom fall short of our expectations.

Has God put such a pupil in your charge? It so, view him as a blessing and a challenge. With prayer, patience, and perseverance, you may be God's chisel in helping to shape the refractory child of today into the productive dynamic, spiritual leader of tomorrow. And when you recall your days as a teacher, you may have forgotten the docile students who ran on a low, steady voltage - and usually with fondness - the little live wire who threatened to fry your patience.

by Jamie Turner. Updated October 21, 2015.