Dear 100 Hour Board,
I"m struggling with my calling. I teach primary for the 7 years olds and there is a girl in my class who is a complete nightmare. She takes her clothes off, makes the other kids cry, licks people, cries when she doesn't get her way is loud blah blah blah. The list could go on forever.
I thought about quitting and telling the primary president to deal with her herself, but i don't want to quite.
So what should I do with her? How do I not hate her?
Dear Primary Worker,
It sounds like this child isn't just a terror to you, she's a terror to the whole class. This goes beyond just how you feel about her; if she's an extreme distraction for the other kids and making them cry, she shouldn't be there. I would tell the parent that she needs to take her child because she's too much of a disturbance to the class. You might want to tell the primary president that you're planning on doing that, so the president can back you up if the parent protests.
I have so much respect for you in seeking out ways to handle this girl. But at this point, it isn't just you she's affecting; she's affecting the whole class. Hopefully with her gone your calling will be much easier!
-guppy of doom
If you don't feel comfortable with the above solutions or they aren't totally working for you, another thing you can do is request to have a partner teacher called. I once served as a primary teacher with Man, Certainly, and it's much easier to have a productive lesson when you've got one person who can focus solely on kid-wrangling so that the teacher isn't having to say "Ok, so everybody go in your Book of Mormon to....Karen, stop licking Jack and get back in your chair."
In terms of "how do you not hate her:"
Well, on the bright side, this is a really good bonus-level chance to develop charity. I've been struck recently by the idea of Matthew 5:46, which queries "For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same?" I think that applies to a ton of places in our lives. It's easy to serve my hip, cool young mom visiting teachee with the two adorable kids. It's harder to be willing to go on an uncomfortable lesson teaching someone I don't know in a poor part of town with the missionaries in my ward when it'll probably get cancelled anyways. It's really hard to eliminate all bad thoughts about that one person who just gets on my nerves.
So don't feel alone, because you're not. Almost everyone on earth either a) struggles to have charity for certain people or b) only doesn't struggle because they aren't trying. So, a few thoughts:
1) When he was on his mission, Prof. Kirke wrote something home to us that's stuck with me: he commented that he had learned he didn't have to like someone to love them. On his mission he was dealing with people who would make choices he disapproved of and who he probably didn't have a lot in common with in terms of qualities he'd generally look for in friends. However, as a missionary it was his job to serve them regardless of whether the qualities that he typically "liked" to see in a person were present or not. You can dislike the fact that this girl is disruptive, or frustrating, or knows better, or whatever, and still love her.
- This article discusses the link between charity and patience, and gives specific steps for how we can improve our patience (and therefore our charity).
- This article identifies "the doing, the serving, and the praying" that can increase our charity
- I'd also recommend considering how you can better prepare yourself and un-wind yourself from dealing with this stress. I'd consider looking for strategies that help you control your stress level:
- Before class: This may include knowing and reminding yourself that you have a partner who will teach with you, that you can go to the primary president if [Student] is out of hand (and promising yourself that you will), doing what you can to prepare a lesson using any techniques you have or later find effective to minimize opportunities for disruption
- During class: This may include finding a mantra to remind yourself to be patient, to remind yourself that you only have to teach this class for 2 hours and then you get to go home, etc.
- After class: This may include finding a weekly "reward" that you get after doing your primary lessons. A bubble bath, a mug of hot chocolate, a foot massage from your husband, etc.
Dear Miracle Worker,
When I was given the assignment for teaching 10-year-olds in primary the Primary President told me specifically about two students who needed special attention, one for physical disabilities and the other because he's just a rowdy kid. She also said that if the rowdy kid was becoming a problem she was willing to come in or get his parents and talk with them or even have a parent sit in class. I almost had to call in the Primary President yesterday (threatening to bring in the Primary President was enough to calm him down). The Primary Presidency specifically told us to let them know of any children that were problematic and said their parents would get involved as well.
It sounds like you feel like calling in backup means you are giving up so you are trying your best to find any other method of dealing with this child than getting the presidency or her parents. That should not be the case, in my opinion. I read something in a manual last year (I think it was in "Teaching, No Greater Call" but I can't find it anymore) that specifically talked about how to discipline disobedient children in your class. I really searched to find it again but I can't find it right now. Anyway, my advice follows what I read in the manual.
Parents don't want their kids to be the problem in class. Ask someone in the Primary Presidency to sit in your class to help out. See if the parents are aware that their daughter is causing these problems and the Primary President may even ask a parent to sit in your class with their child. This is the way discipline is supposed to happen so that the spirit can be present in your class. If the girl is still having problems then the parent and member of the Primary Presidency can take her into a different room and talk to her until she calms down.
Now, just like Doctrine and Covenants 121 says, after you discipline, show greater love to make sure that the child knows you are not their enemy. Some kids know they are going to be punished and assume they aren't going to be praised so they act out. If you can see anything to praise her for, do it. If she sits in her chair at the beginning of class, let her know you appreciated that. If she brought scriptures, praise her. If she was quiet during the prayer, thank her. This shows that you are making a distinction between good behavior and bad behavior and rewarding both accordingly.
But, like I said before, you should not have to do all of this alone. Talk to your Primary President and work out a solution.
This is a tough situation, and I don't claim to believe I know the right answer. However, you asked us and I'm going to give you my best shot. Perhaps this girl has a different learning style or has some strengths that aren't highlighted in the normal classroom setting. For instance, maybe she needs to be the class helper and so she sits next to you and holds all of the pictures, participates in a lot of activities, etc. Maybe she needs to take a "field trip" by walking around the Church as you teach your lesson.
I obviously don't know her or you, but I think it would be interesting to try different teaching styles/methods to see if she responds better to something other than the typical primary class.
I've always said that primary teachers like you must go straight to the Celestial Kingdom....so there's that!
-Sunday Night Banter
Dear Primary Worker,
If her disruptive behavior is beyond what you are capable of dealing with, she should be sent to her parents because she is ultimately their responsibility. You don't have the time or authority to discipline her effectively.
You may want to ask your primary president to refer the family to a licensed psychologist and have her tell the parents something like this:
Kids with highly disruptive behavior should probably receive a psychological assessment and, once the problem is identified, appropriate treatment (not play therapy where a child meets with a therapist and all they do is play - never listen to anyone who recommends play therapy for behavior problems!). Assessment and treatment should be conducted by a licensed psychologist that specializes (or is otherwise highly trained) in working with children.
If they are in the Provo area, the BYU Comprehensive Clinic provides psychological assessments for $80. The wait list is long but they do top-notch work.