How to reform problematic students?

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How will you reform a student who just doesn’t want to change?

Suppose you have a student who doesn’t want to follow the basic rules of classroom behaviour which are essential for any meaningful discussion to take place in the classroom. He frequently disrupts the class and rarely pays attention to what is being taught in class. If you try to counsel him, he refuses to listen to what you’re speaking. He just keeps doing what he wishes, without paying heed to what you’re saying.  How do you handle such a student, who has completely shut the door on you and is not receptive to any inputs from you?

Typically what happens is, we start discussing these problems. The more we think about these problems, the more we strengthen this negative image of the child in our minds and in the minds of whoever hears these observations about the child. The child begins to sense this expectation from the teachers and behaves in exactly the same way as if to justify the label which he has created for himself by his past actions.

This is not unlike the wave-particle duality of quantum mechanical particles and electromagnetic waves. If we label light as a wave and devise experiments to measure its ‘expected’ wave behaviour, our measurements will show that light is indeed a wave. But on the other hand, if we label light as a particle and devise experiments to measure its ‘expected’ particle behaviour, our measurements will now show that light is indeed a particle! But wave and particle nature are polar opposites and irreconcilable properties!  Thus the observer determines the behaviour of the observed by eliciting the ‘expected’ behaviour from the ‘observed’ during the process of ‘observation’.

Similarly, as observers, we tend to elicit the ‘expected’ behaviour from our students. That’s why we need to be very careful not to form any negative judgements about our students.  We need to make a lot of effort to identify the good qualities in our students and fill our mind with only those thoughts when we address our students. The student is then bound to sense our good opinion about him/her and will feel influenced to justify that opinion. This is very difficult to practice, believe me! When you have a problematic student in your class, all you can think of are the mistakes of the student. It’s very difficult to come up with the good things about that student. Yet we must keep searching till we find enough good things about the student. Those good things which we find about the student will become the lamp that will dispel the darkness (negative traits) from the dark room (problematic student) when we keep talking about those good things (light the lamp).

J. Krishamurthy expressed similar views in his essay on education. So the key is to be sensitive to the student and connect with him. We need to get accepted by the student such that he doesn’t see us as a ‘judging elder’ who will just advice and reprimand. We need to build the trust with him that we can just listen to him without judging him. Basically, he should start looking upon us a mentor on whom he can depend for guidance. This kind of rapport with the problematic student will develop only if we don’t judge him and if we show him our unconditional love and support. This approach is very difficult to implement successfully and its success depends a lot on the personality of the teacher and the character of the student. Some students respond very well to kind words, while others may take a long time.  We need to be patient and keep trying without giving up hope.

Different plants grow at different rates when we water them, but all plants will surely wither away and die if they are deprived of water. Similarly no problematic student can be expected to reform if he is deprived of the nourishing qualities of unconditional love and non-judgemental listening. Once the student opens up to us, and starts communicating freely, we can address the behavioural issues by using any of the thinking tools like positive branch, negative branch, and evaporating clouds to make the student realize the consequences of his actions.

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