I have mastered the art of waiting. It is pretty amazing that I have become skillful at waiting, because I tend to be an impatient person. In my job, waiting is probably my number one tool.
Working with children with behavioral and emotional challenges is a long game. There is nothing fast about it. I am fortunate that I am allowed three years with my students which allows me to develop the long game. Sometimes I run out of time.
A few years ago I was given a student with significant trauma. This girl did not trust anyone, and she especially did not trust the behavior teacher. There was a history between her and teachers like me. Many of my colleagues thought I would rush in and get the ball rolling. They were surprised when I told them that I was not even going to introduce myself. I am sure they thought I was incompetent or scared. I knew what I was doing.
I talked to my staff and explained that we were essentially looking at a young deer we had stumbled across in a field. Any fast movement and the deer would be gone. We had to move VERY slowly. My first step was to just show up in her classroom doorway. She knew who I was, and I could see her looking at me. I didn’t make eye contact or even speak. I just stood there for a few minutes and left. I did this a few times and then I let her hear my voice by greeting or saying hello to a student in the room. After a few weeks, I entered the room and wandered, talking to the teacher and students, NEVER speaking to her or making eye contact. A few weeks later I wandered closer to her and maybe had a passing glance. I eventually spoke to a person close to her, and eventually, I spoke to her within a group. It was December before I could sense that she felt comfortable with me in her classroom.
Now it was time to try to get her to go into my classroom.
It was a BUMPY winter due to home issues and this student really needed my help. She would often sit in the coat closet in her classroom. I would enter, not get too close, and offer her some privacy in my room, nothing more. NO GO. The classroom teacher wondered why I did not demand she return to my room with me. Demanding would have set me back to August, and I probably would never make progress again. I offered and left.
I think it was spring when this young girl was able to get support in my room. She never really entered my room, but she would stand in the doorway, or work with the tech inside the door. We had made progress with her. She would talk (swear mostly); she would listen; we were getting closer; but we ran out of time. JUST when we thought we may be turning a corner, school year came to a close. She would be moving to a new school the next year after finishing elementary school.
I am good at waiting, but sometimes I run out of time.