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The Unexpected Lesson My Class Learned From the Naughty Kids

Photograph by Twenty20

Naughty kids: They’re what I search for first every September, when I see my class list for the first time. I rush to talk to the previous year’s teacher and ask if there are any behavior problems that I should be aware of.

Keeping my fingers crossed, I pray that this will be a year of harmony. This will be a year that I don’t have to deal with the stress that surrounds having a naughty kid in class.

In previous years, my “naughties” consisted mostly of blurter-outers, name-callers, refusers-to-do-work and can’t-keep-their-hands-to-themselfers. There was the occasional stealer or hide-under-the-desk culprit.

They were a challenge but manageable.

My experience drastically changed the year my school welcomed an EBD (emotional behavior disorder) program. Many of these young students had behaviors far too severe to be in a regular classroom setting. Partway through the year, I was asked if two of these students could try joining my class. I reluctantly agreed, worried about what it might do my classroom dynamic and praying that their extreme behaviors would not negatively impact or influence the rest of my kiddos.

The day before our new students joined our room, we had a class meeting. I explained to them that we were going to be getting two new students and we discussed the ways that we make new students feel welcome in our classroom.

But I needed to somehow explain that these students were a bit different. I needed to prepare them without talking negatively about these new members of our class. I cautiously went a little further and shared that everyone has skills they are working on. Some of us are still learning how to write in complete sentences and others are working on adding two-digit numbers. These new students are working on learning appropriate behaviors for school. I told them that we had been given the honor of welcoming these students because we have the reputation of being a class full of kind, well-behaved kids who could set an amazing example.

I watched 24 kids rally with acceptance for their two new classmates.

Our new students joined us, but it was by no means all happy dances and sprinkles. We had overturned desks, ripped-up work, broken pencils, and I was told daily where I could shove it. I so worried that the rest of my class would see these behaviors and think they were acceptable, or worse, mimic them. But that’s not what happened. What happened astounded me.

The rest of the class rose to the occasion and modeled saying "please" and "thank you" and I’m "sorry." They showed the new kids how to pay attention and work hard. They showed them lining up quietly and respecting themselves and others.

But most importantly, they showed them grace. They showed them compassion.

I’ve always understood the characteristic of grace to be giving kindness, even when it is not earned. And that’s what they did.

Without specifically teaching it, I watched 24 kids rally with acceptance for their two new classmates. They surrounded them with friendship, had patience when kind words were sometimes returned with rude comments and they didn’t give up on them.

As a teacher, I’m always looking for the success story, for the lesson to be learned and mastered. I’m looking to see the lightbulb go on. I have to say, the kindness and compassion that I watched from my class that year was the most heartwarming and unexpected epiphany I’ve witnessed.

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