Who Has the Problems?
There is a well-known saying in special education: "There are no students who cannot be taught, but only teachers who are not quite proficient at teaching, and teaching materials that are not quite appropriate." This saying not only applies to classroom learning, but can also be modified to apply to moral discipline: "There are no students who cannot be taught, but only teachers who are not quite proficient at counseling, and rules that are not quite appropriate." Therefore, if there are so-called "problem students," it's not that the students have problems, but rather that the teachers do. And the problem is not that the students are learning wrongly, but that the teachers are teaching badly.
II. What Are the Problems?
One parent, who had worked in the field of kindergarten education for many years, couldn't understand why her child had been blacklisted as a "problem student" by a certain teacher. How could her child, who had always been the teacher's pet, suddenly have problems after switching to a new school? I told her that yesterday there was another parent who asked me worriedly, "Does my child really have problems?" I told her, "If I said your child had no problems, I'd be lying to myself and others; if I said your child has problems, I'd be making a big deal out of a small matter. If a child in her teens had no problems, then it'd really be a problem!" The parent left feeling much relieved. Hearing me, the parent who had worked in kindergarten education for many years couldn't help smiling. The frown on her face disappeared. "You are truly a teacher who understands psychology. This makes me feel much more confidence in the school." My purpose in telling this story is not to show off. Rather, I am hoping that parents and teachers will recognize one fact: No child is a "problem student," and no child is completely without problems. It is just that some children have bigger problems and others have smaller ones. Adults should not use their different worldly standards and personal yardsticks to classify and label children, and then treat them differently. If adults overlook the latent psychological problems of "good students," one day those psychological problems will result in physiological symptoms of sickness and evolve into peculiar behavioral problems. Further, if adults overly exaggerate the obvious behavior problems of "problem students," such behavior problems will eventually evolve into abnormal psychological problems and break out in frightening physical problems. In general, "problem students" will become more and more common, and there will be more and more problems, until the situation is out of control. Therefore, it should be said that: The real problem is that teachers do not how to deal appropriately with students' problems.
Two years after I graduated in Taiwan, I was young and headstrong. I was so dissatisfied with the way the Disciplinarian dealt with two "problem students" that I almost took him to court. I resolutely led the two students out of the Disciplinarian's office and supervised them myself. Even though I had so ruthlessly criticized him, he was nevertheless dedicated to education. Not long afterwards, he asked me to serve as advisor to the Disciplinarian's Office. I started to counsel "problem students," continuing this work for one and a half years until I resigned and came to the United States. The students I counseled included boys and girls, with the boys in the majority. Their problems included suicidal tendencies, masochism, sadism, attempted rape and murder, and so on. In comparison to these, arguments and fights were relatively minor cases. Even at night or on holidays, I was always prepared to go out at any time to catch runaway children or resolve gang disputes. At the time I was only a "big kid" of twenty-three or twenty-four. Although I have been formally trained to be a Chinese teacher and have taken a few courses in psychology and education, I am by no means a psychologist, a specialist in special education, or a detective or police officer. What made me dare to go out to handle these prickly problems? I didn't consider myself to have any special ability; all I had was a lot of guts, plus an observant and sympathetic heart!
III. How Can the Problems Be Resolved?
Below are three prescriptions that I often use and depend on.
The first prescription: Make friends with the student and show your concern. There's a proverb: "Children who are loved will not become bad." However, this does not mean to spoil children. If you want to influence people, the easiest way to do it is to mingle with them, like the saying, "to mingle in the same light and dust." Then they will be willing to tell you things, and will even listen to your opinions. There is one principle I deeply believe in: Before you have gained a person's trust, you cannot teach him. Therefore, winning his trust is the most important first step. Don't be overhasty to preach to or instruct him, for he will immediately oppose you. When that happens, it doesn't matter how much learning or eloquence you possess. Even if he doesn't angrily overturn tables and chairs in his embarrassment, or rebel against you, he will not truly submit in his heart. He may appear to go along, but behind your back he won't.
The second prescription: Listen to him and sympathize with him. If you earn his trust, you must then help him work out the anger inside of him. When discontentment and enmity build up in a person's heart, they will eventually lead to an outburst more frightening than the explosion of an atomic or hydrogen bomb. By listening to him talk, you give him a chance to let out his feelings and alleviate his tension. Don't be afraid if the child complains! No matter what kind of child he is, if he can still complain, then he can still be saved. The saddest thing is when someone gives up. For children who refuse to speak or who are totally apathetic, you absolutely have to get them to talk, even if all they do is complain, swear, or scold. As long as they will talk, you can discover where the root of their problems lie.
The third prescription: In talking to him, guide him according to the situation. When you discover where his problem lies, you have to prescribe the right medicine. In teaching a child, you must make him understand two things: First, everyone is endowed with wisdom; if he can calm his mind down, he will think of a way to solve his problem. Second, you are his friend, but you are also his teacher. When he is still lost, he can come to you for insight and advice at any time. You should remind him constantly of the first point. Regarding the second point, avoid advertising yourself. Simply let him sense your authority and be subdued by it without his realizing it.
IV. How Can You Let People Sense Your Authority?
I have a prescription with three ingredients, which I would like to share with those who are interested, so we may study them together.
The first ingredient: You should be very knowledgeable and your knowledge should be accurate, but you should not be afraid to admit your deficiencies and mistakes. Authority should not be based upon making a show of being lofty and profound, pretending to understand what you don't understand, or insisting that others acknowledge the values of your own time because of your senior status. You must diligently and humbly seek to learn new things, so that you can understand the present age and not let the generation gap separate you from children.
The second ingredient: Develop a sincere and objective attitude, but be straightforward and to the point in your speech. Use positive and encouraging words. Avoid being sarcastic or acting disgusted. You can be gentle at times, and stern at others, but always be sincere. Don't try to show off by being smart. Using incorrect information or vague generalizations to evaluate children shows an irresponsible attitude. Children are very sensitive and will eventually be able to tell whether you are sincerely concerned or are just saying nice things to please them. Their trust can only be won by someone with a firm standpoint who speaks objectively.
The third ingredient: Rules should be simple and clear, and should be applied in a fair manner. Overly complicated and detailed wording, just like extremely strict rules, are something that everyone abhors. Why should you expect others to follow something that yourself dislike? You should give students rules that are clear and easy to understand, not ambiguous. In applying the rules, you should be expedient and flexible, but also keep a firm stance; the principles cannot be changed casually. That's why before you make a rule, you should put some deep thought into it. Take into consideration all the individual situations as well as unexpected cases. After making the rule, you should keep your word firmly, making the rule generally applicable and long-lasting. If you often talk tough, but cannot be tough when the situation comes up, or if you keep changing your rules, or if you just give up and decide not to pay any attention to students, you will lose your authority and the trust of the students. This is definitely not a proper attitude for parents or teachers.
Finally, the "licorice root" that no medical prescription should be without is patience and perseverance. If you lack patience and perseverance, then everything that's been said above is simply "making plans on paper," not of much use. Don't expect a child to become good overnight! Children with problems are usually weak-willed; they are certain to repeat their mistakes over and over. Avoid congratulating yourself over an inspiring sermon you give a child, because you will immediately find yourself either disappointed or angry. Think about it: If the child could really "never make the same mistake twice," he'd be qualified to teach us; how could he be classified as a "problem student"?