J is often in trouble. He is often reprimanded. He stands on chairs. He can be mean to the other students. He fights. He gets angry easily.

He is also very bright.

J is in my reading group every morning and every afternoon. I have been working with him and his father to help get his behavior under control so he can focus on learning.

Yesterday, out of nowhere, he leaped into my arms, nearly knocking me down and exclaiming, “Ms. Hertz, I love you!” To which I replied with a smile, “If you loved me, you wouldn’t try to knock me down!”

Today, he got angry. He kicked the lunch basket, which I quietly told him to fix. Which he did. He got angry at the computer and walked up to me, stamping his feet and yelling, to which I calmly replied, “Please stop stamping your feet and change your tone of voice. You’re yelling.  That tone of voice will not make people listen to you.” After a few times of repeating this, he finally calmed down. “The stupid computer won’t work,” he said. “Well, I can help you with it, but how do you tell me that you need help?” “Put my flag up?” “Yes.” He walked quietly over to his computer, put his flag up and sat down. (I have laminated tags that attach to the computers with velcro.)  I went over and helped him and he continued to work quietly.

Later, while I was working with a student sitting next to J, he began yelling in the same tone of voice as before. I shot him a look. He put his hand over his mouth and responded, “Sorry Ms. Hertz, I’ll never use that tone of voice again.” I gave him a high five.

I could have yelled at him when he kicked the basket. I could have yelled and reprimanded him when he was stamping his feet.

This would not have helped.

As I ran on the treadmill at the gym later in the evening, it came to me. J needs patience. He needs someone who will care about him and work with him despite his flaws.  Maybe I won’t teach him higher order thinking skills or reading strategies (though he already has a very inquisitive mind), but I can give him patience.  Right now, that’s what he needs. And love.


  1. Irene Tortolini


    Great post MB! Good for you! Patience, compassion and love are the most important things to not only teach but show to children — especially children who are screaming (sometimes literally) for it. It's not always an easy thing to do either! These children are often our best teachers, aren't they?

    I applaud both your teaching and your reflection on your teaching. J is so lucky to have you in his life.

  2. Sandy


    Model love, patience, & acceptance consistently .Remember behavior outbursts are cries for help. You have given J attention, guidance and coping strategies. What a wonderful way to show you care.

  3. 2sparkley


    Definitely the way to go. I have a very similar child in my classroom and the constant of the same reinforcements of good behaviour are changing his behaviour. Patience is something he does not have ether. When something hasn't worked out the way he wants it to it is always you are not being fair- which I respond that it isn't fair for him to do what he is doing. I am now hearing that phrase less and less and he is starting to accept that if something goes wrong there are different ways of going about it than to kick , stomp or yell at the top of his voice.By showing patience and care and setting boundaries more often than not a chidl will respond. It has taken me 6 months to get to this stage, but when I went back on Wednesday hes was one of the first to come up, give me a hug and say I have missed you.

    the rewards are the smile and the sparkle in their eyes.

  4. Reply

    He's clearly craving for the attention he doesn't get when he's at home. Fairly common occurrence in urban school settings. You are very likely among the only positive adult figures in his life.

    Kids act out for two reasons: to avoid tasks and to get attention.

    However, in expressing your compassionate side, don't enable him where he'll manipulate you. This is a common trap I see many teachers fall into in their attempt to nurture at-risk students. They start pitying too much and it interferes with their ability to be an authoritative figure. Be sure he knows that he must be responsible and accountable for his behavior.

  5. Reply

    I'm so glad that there are teachers like you … I always find it hard when I come across kids like this that haven't got teachers like you … they all feel that the system has let them down and just act out more. Lots of these kids just need patience, firm boundaries and plenty of praise…I always then find that they excel.

  6. Reply


    You make a good point about pity. This is a trap that is very easy to fall into. The worst thing we can do for inner city, at-risk kids is pity them. The adult world will not pity them, and they need to be prepared for that.

    It is not attention that he is not getting at home, however, that he is missing. I'm not sure he has a mother figure in his life (something I plan on finding out this week for sure), so that may be part of it.

    I also find that I need to find a balance between, as you say, keeping him accountable and making sure that I teach him appropriate behaviors rather than just reprimanding him when he fails to exhibit them.

    Thanks for your feedback!

  7. Reply

    Thank you for the kind words.

    Sadly, it is a common occurrence that children have been let down by adults or hurt by them, so they no longer trust them. In elementary school I see this, and it is easier to change at a young age. Once a student reaches the higher grades, though, it is hard to break that mistrust.

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