N.: A Success Story

N. was a handful in every class in which I substituted. He was constantly off-task, talking with his neighbors, complaining about the assignments, and wandering around the classroom. Attempts to redirect him were met with dismissive or rude comments. Conversations about his behavior resulted either in N. walking away or becoming increasingly agitated. Writing him up or sending him to the office provided only a temporary reprieve–he would return to class angry and the distracting behaviors continued.

I was aware that N. had an IEP and that he often struggled with his classwork. He did not, however, want extra assistance with his work. He did not want to have attention drawn to his challenges in any way. Conversations with the special education teacher revealed that N. was reading at a very low level. Often teachers accommodated this by providing N. with video or audio in lieu of text, but this required that N. be sent out of the classroom to avoid embarrassing him. This was not an option for me as a substitute. Exacerbating the situation was the fact that most of the work left for classes involved reading, writing, and completing worksheets. N. acted out to cover his struggles with reading.

When I substituted for a class with N. again I had a plan. After explaining to the class what was expected, I suggested to the class that we read the text allowed and work on the worksheet as a class. This would allow us to finish the assignment quickly so that maybe we could play a game or watch a short video at the end of the class. This was greeted with enthusiasm. N. was surprisingly quiet. Although he did not complete his worksheet, he created fewer distractions than usual.

The next time I had N. in class, I mentioned that I needed to create an answer key for the worksheet, and asked for a couple of volunteers to work with me. I chose one of the students who volunteered and asked N. to join us as well. He agreed, reluctantly. With my two “volunteers”, I pulled out the text and the worksheet and suggested that we read the passages allowed and then work on the worksheet. I read while the N. and his classmate followed along in the text, and then together we discussed the answers to the questions on the worksheet. Again, N. was more focused, and this time he completed some of the questions on his worksheet.

I continued to alternate these methods whenever N. was in class. Even when N. wasn’t present, other students began asking if we could complete assignments as a class or if I needed help with an answer key. N., too, eventually started volunteering to help me at the beginning of classes. By the end of the year, we had a routine going that worked well for both of us and benefited other students as well. While this might not be possible to use all the time in a regular classroom, I believe that after establishing a relationship with a student like N., other methods of coping with their challenges could be devised. The key was to develop trust and open lines of communication.

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