There was screaming and yelling and then the door swung open. A young girl came flying out of the building and the mom was giving chase. The girl was screaming “I wanna go outside!” My classroom was playing on the playground as I was hearing the girl rant and yell from inside the building. I ran to the door, kneeled down, and blocked the little girl’s path. The girl pushed against me, trying to knock me over (good luck!). The little girl continued yelling, “Go outside! Go outside!” Then the girl turned and looked up at me. Fire was in her eyes. This was how I met Pauly.
Pauly – short for Pauline – was a late addition to a classroom roster years ago. Pauly and her mother were completing final bits of paperwork before, well, little warrior princess broke down the door. Pauly would start the following week.
I talked with my assistant about how we were going to handle Pauly’s strong personality. We hatched a “Good Cop, Bad Cop” plan.
This is how I anticipated the plan would go…
- I would give a direction (classroom rule, routine, transition signal, etc.)
- If Pauly was stubborn, she would challenge my authority
- I would stand firm with my direction
- Pauly would not like me and then demand her way
- I would stand firm with my direction
- She would be upset (like a volcano becomes upset) and would march off
- My assistant teacher would be there to console her; because Pauly would obviously hate me at that moment.
- Once Pauly would calm down, I would give her another opportunity to follow through and, if needed, with an incentive
- When Pauly completes direction, reinforce with positive praise
- Repeat for 2 months.
That was the plan. It worked with other students; it would work with Pauly.
The first time I gave a direction – time to clean up – Pauly refused and said “No.” I stood by my direction. She got upset, folded her arms and yelled at me. Since English was not her first language, she yelled at me in a language I don’t understand. I’m not sure what she said, but she was not happy. Pretty sure she used some curse words (that’s what my assistant said). Then Pauly sat by herself in the library, not wanting anyone’s help. Day one of the plan complete because, later in the day, she was back with the group, smiling and continuing with the classroom routine. And the toys were cleaned up.
However, on the next day, things changed.
I asked Pauly to clean up the toys and get ready to go outside. Pauly accepted my direction… with a smile…
…Uh-oh. Does she have some kind of mischievous payback planned? I wouldn’t put that past her.
I comeback to my senses and track her in the room. Pauly goes around the room giving commands to the other children. “Clean up! Clean up!” She starts using her home language and I assume she’s saying “Clean up!” My jaw drops. “That wasn’t part of the plan!” Like lemmings, the other children start listening to what she’s saying. Pauly walks to me, stands in front of me, looks up, and beams with a big, tooth-filled smile.
I made a mini teacher me. Pauly continued beaming her grin.
The behaviors continued over the next couple of days and weeks. Pauly was the third teacher in the classroom. I liked it because she was becoming a leader, but man she had some bite to her tone. We had to teach her to dial it back some. My assistant and I talked about what was happening and we could only come up with one conclusion: Pauly admired the power I had in the classroom, almost like “Wow, someone who is as powerful as I am! I must learn from this Teacher Gilbert.”
Throughout the school year, Pauly learned to tone it down. However, she also dominated my time in the classroom. During meal times, if there was an empty seat at my table, then she wanted the seat. While playing outside, she wanted to play with me first – like hide-and-go-seek or catch. On field trips, no other child was allowed to hold my hand. Pauly was attached to my hip.
By the end of the year, Pauly considered me a friend in class. I had the grand plan that I would help Pauly learn that getting your way for everything didn’t mean yelling, screaming, or knocking people over. And, in the end, Pauly did learn how to get her way – without the yelling, screaming and knocking people over. She had made friends and I utilized her as a leader in the classroom. She ended the year on a good note and was off to Kindergarten…
… which is too bad she didn’t have a second year because I still needed to work on that cussing.