Like adults, pre-k students have good days and bad days. How we as teachers deal with the latter can significantly impact our relationships with individual students, their academic and social growth, and our overall classroom culture.
Just as we differentiate instruction to meet the needs of all students, we must also individualize our approach to motivating them. Karen, though upbeat and highly participatory throughout the day, periodically comes to school in tears, clinging to her grandmother. She is quite comfortable using writing and drawing as a creative outlet, so I suggest that she write a note or paint a picture for her grandmother during choice time. This helps her remain connected even when she cannot be with her family.
Her grandmother and I have also worked on stressing responsibility with Karen. I thank all of my students for being responsible when they correctly follow our morning routine as they enter. Karen’s grandmother and I use that same terminology when we are trying to stop her from crying. This process usually takes a few minutes. She then calmly puts away her belongings, washes her hands, and is eating breakfast with her friends in no time.
Awana occasionally comes in sobbing and lethargic, particularly if she has been absent or we are returning from the weekend. If she says anything, it’s usually a very quiet, “I want to go home.” Her mother is not nearly as present or supportive as Karen’s grandmother, nor does she use writing and art in the same way as Karen. She does, however, respond well to good old-fashioned hugs. I usually ask her how she feels, let her know how I would feel, remind her of our classroom routines, give her a hug, and send her on her way to “have fun and learn with her friends.” Kevin or David sometimes chime in with their own hugs and a “We missed you when you were out, Awana.”
Aniyah often arrives late and upset about something that happened with her brother on her way to school. Despite our daily “fresh start,” she sometimes carries over some baggage from behavioral problems the day before. I am quite familiar with her affinity towards cheer leading and use this knowledge to motivate her. I often greet her with a cheer to her name or ask her to help me out with a cheer for one of her friends.
Understanding and effectively addressing mood fluctuations is an important part of my job, and through this process my students gain self-confidence and the trust in me they need to be engaged members of the classroom community. When we as teachers succeed in this role, disruptions to the class are minimized and children are less likely to use negative behavior to get attention.