Reading: From Christian Education by Bl. Basil Moreau
Self-Centered Young People
You will sometimes meet students totally concerned with themselves, often looking at themselves in a mirror, combing and arranging their hair artfully, possessing an affected walk, having touchy or extremely timid characteristics, constantly excusing themselves, and never recognizing any faults they might have. These young people can often be described as two-faced, lying, presumptuous, and bold. In class they will often be the first to attempt to answer questions; when they make mistakes, they will get angry and pout for some time. At the least correction they will feel hurt and wounded. They will always be ready to quarrel with their companions and will always use a lofty and superior tone of voice.
These actions and attitudes point out to a teacher a self-centered young person. The teacher’s task is to correct this, and there are ways experienced teachers have found to bring about this result. If you find this in one of the students, then rarely speak to the student. When you do speak to the student, do so very seriously. If the student makes an error, do not fail to point it out; when doing this, however, help the student see that the resulting pouting and hurt feelings are ridiculous. Be careful always about not allowing the student to respond to your corrections as a teacher, and help the student understand the ridiculousness of his or her feelings and pouting in private as well as in public. Always, however, approach the student in a way that holds him or her in respect. §
Self-Opinionated Young People
Sometimes there are students who refuse to carry out responsibilities given them, who are stubborn to the point that all threats and punishments seem to have no effect on them, and who lay open resistance to a teacher’s authority. There are others who eventually give in but do so with such bad grace that they murmur aloud and make noises which disturb their fellow students’ attention. Sometimes, those who give in to the teacher assume a posture that is a kind of defiance of the teacher by putting their heads down on their desks, by making ridiculous faces, or by imitating the gestures of the teacher when the teacher isn’t watching.
Teachers should first avoid as much as possible giving occasion for such scenes, which can harm the good order of the class and undermine the authority of the teacher. If a teacher has not been able to foresee and prevent this situation, the teacher should refrain from responding too severely until convinced of the seriousness of a student’s behavior and the punishment deserved. When a teacher finds it necessary to punish a student in this situation, the teacher should wait until the student’s excited state is calmed down and he or she can be talked to without arousing a greater state of disrespect. The teacher has everything to gain by playing for time, since pushing the student to the limit will gain the teacher nothing. When the teacher notices that the young person is calmer, the teacher should use that moment to speak with the student, bringing the student, in an offhand way, to admit to both the original problem and the resistance to the teacher’s authority. A teacher will in this way help the student understand that a punishment is necessary only to repair the poor example he or she has given to other students.
Be sure to carry out the punishment while displaying great concern for the student, even if you ask the student to apologize publicly for the behavior. If the student persists in his disobedience, the student should be referred to other school authorities so that they can consider ways of helping the young person. A teacher should always take the opportunity to speak with the student’s parents about the situation so that the teacher’s authority is not compromised. Dismissal from school, however, should be used only as a last resort, after all other means of working with the student have been tried. Teachers and schools should proceed in the same way when dealing with students for whom penalties seem to be counterproductive. §
MEDITATION — ANDREW SEELEY
As I read through Blessed Basil’s accounts of difficult students, I recall old pictures I have seen of a single Catholic nun sitting at the head of a classroom filled with 60 or more students from the impoverished immigrant working classes. I try to imagine how they could possibly maintain any order, much less promote real learning and character formation. Blessed Basil suggests that one key was an honest assessment of the particular difficulties some students present for themselves and for the success of the class. A firm sense of one’s authority coupled with a deep respect for the dignity of the student provides the correct foundation for treating such students in as effective a way as possible. Prayerfully thinking through how to handle difficult situations allows a teacher to maintain composure while instilling discipline effectively.
Have I avoided confronting troublesome students out of fear of failure or embarrassment? Have I let difficult situations fester until I lose my patience? In dealing with difficult students, have I kept in mind the good of the whole class as well as of the individual student?
Thank you, Lord, for giving me a sense of relief as a teacher. Even a blessed of the Church experienced the same kinds of bad student behavior that have appeared in my classes. Help me to speak to troublesome students with loving firmness in a way best suited to help them commit to reforming their own behavior, and always to rely more on Your grace than my words.
Please also offer one Mass and one Rosary some time this month for the intentions of the members of the Confraternity.