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Emotional disturbance in the classroom: don’t give up on Bobby

Date: May 1st, 2014
By: Polly Bath

Watch this video [2:55] about working with an adolescent with an emotional disturbance who refuses to participate in your class.

[An adolescent male is sitting sullenly at his classroom desk. His head is down and his hoodie is pulled up.]

Teacher’ voice: Bobby, what do you say? You going to join us today?

Bobby: No. Get away from me.

Teacher’s voice: Bobby do you even have any materials with you today?

Bobby: Does it look like I got any materials?

Teacher’s voice: I’ll tell you what. I’m going to give you some paper and give you a pen and if you want you can use that, OK?

Bobby: No.

[sound of materials being shoved off the desk]

[teacher sighs]

Polly Bath: Ever had a student like Bobby in your classroom? It’s maddening, it’s frustrating. What did Bobby do yesterday? The same thing you saw him do today. What is Bobby going to do tomorrow? The same thing you saw him do today. What’s Bobby likely to do next week? The same thing.

Instinctually you want to walk over and take his hood off his head and say, “Sit up and pay attention and learn. This is a great class.”

We can’t do that.

Bobby is one of those children with some emotional disturbance. It’s hard to say whether a kid is making it up or being defiant. He presents as being defiant and he presents as being disrespectful in some adult’s eyes. Bobby lives in a very different world. The world he doesn’t understand is the one we’d like him to understand.

Everyday I do exactly what you saw me do. I go up and I say to him “Bobby, you want to join us today?” and he says “No.” I give him materials and he puts them on the floor.

I’m waiting for that ONE day that if I consistently be there for him and he stays in my classroom….

Remember, DON’T ask him to leave. How’s he going to learn if he’s not there? He’ll put his head down with his hood over his head in the office somewhere and that’s of course more comfortable. But if he stays in your class, he’s going to hear what’s going on, and he’s bright enough to take in that instruction.

One day, If I’m there for him, he might peek around that corner of his hood, he may pick up that paper and put a little design or a doodle on it. If he does, I’m getting somewhere.

These kids are depending on you more than you can imagine. Believe me, it’s hard to walk by a kid with a hood over his head who refuses to lift his head up off the desk. But the more I push him away, the more I’m feeding into what he wants.

Teacher: Hey Bobby going to join us today?

Bobby: Does it look like I’m going to join you?

Teacher: Here’s paper, here’s a pen.

Teacher: [to class] OK let’s go ahead and get started, you all. Here we go. Remember that thing we were talking about yesterday? Page 273? How exciting is this stuff? History is going to repeat itself at some point right? All right you all, let’s get started.

Bobby: [For the first time he pulls the pad of paper toward himself. On the top he writes on it. Camera zooms in. He’s written his name on the top of the page–“Bobby.”]