“It’s no trick loving somebody at their best. Love is loving them at their worst.” Tom Stoppard
This quote sticks out to me after my experiences the last couple of weeks. Things have been very difficult with a few of my students, one in particular. She has been having difficulties following our school rules and procedures and has been incredibly defiant and resistant to help or support of any kind. I have been working closely with her for a couple months and have been appointed as her check-in person for her behavior plan. Some days she will listen and say a few words and others she will turn up her nose, roll her eyes, and walk away from me as I try to talk to her.
This hurts. It hurts because I am a nurturer, a fixer; I truly care for this student and do everything I can to motivate her, stick up for her, and fight for her. Her attitude towards me changes from one moment to the next. I get frustrated at times and feel helpless. Her class is difficult as a whole and her behavior heightens the tone of defiance. As administration and teachers, we are having to carefully track her behavior and will have to let her go from our school if consistent effort isn’t made toward improvement. She has been spending more time out of the classroom than in it, getting sent home, and returning the following day with an unchanged attitude. No one can seem to get through to her; on her bad days she doesn’t care what anyone says or tells her to do.
I always pray for patience and strive to love her and see her as God does. I collaborate with her classroom teacher, the counselor and the principal to try and support her to the very best of my ability and make sure that I am always doing what is in her very best interest. We are all at a loss of how to help her and confused by the inconsistency of what we see from her. In my efforts to help her, I try to be “warm-strict.” I do my best to notice every little positive thing she does, point it out, and celebrate it with her. On the other hand, I don’t let her get away with being completely off task or disrespectful because I know that this is not good for or beneficial to her. I try to explain the why behind my corrections and requests of her. I try to ask at the end of each day what she thinks went well and what she can improve about her behavior for the following day. I try to be encouraging and supportive. I try to keep her motivated with small rewards and positive words.
As difficult as working with this student is, I never doubt the importance of what I am doing. I may be excited to go home after a long day and pray for snow or ice so that school might be cancelled the next day but, in all sincerity, I know that there is a reason God has called me to this work and to be at this specific school. He has given me a patient, caring heart that, for some crazy reason, wants to support and give back to middle school students the way that my teachers did for me.
As last week wrapped up, I reflected on my students “stats.” I was able to look past the countless defiant acts and rude comments, the five times she was sent out of the classroom, the three days she was sent home and the hundreds of lines of quotations she was supposed to write to reflect on her behavior. I looked past these things and took solace in Thursday and Friday. On Thursday she asked to talk to me when she was very upset. I was able to calm her down and prompt her to talk to me. She shared more with me than she ever had before and came up with a few ways that we could make small changes to help her succeed. Friday was a good day for her. Even though she still put on a bit of a show for me, one of my community members told me that at lunch she said, “I really like Ms. Herbst; but don’t tell her I said that!”
It is about holding on to those small victories and pressing on. God calls us to love as he does, not just when it is easy or convenient. We are called to love unconditionally and if we make a conscious effort, He will provide the grace and strength to do so.
Samantha Herbst is a 1st year LV serving at De La Salle Blessed Sacrament in Memphis, Tennessee and is a 2013 graduate of Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota.