I hear many teachers I meet say things like this about their kids:
He is so disorganized.
He loses everything.
His book bag is a disaster.
His work is always sloppy.
His room is so disorganized.
He doesn’t follow directions.
He never double checks his work.
He leaves for school and forgets things at home.
He finishes the work and then forgets to turn it in.
He waits until the very last second to do anything.
Next comes the brainstorming session. How do we get this kid to stop these actions? Obviously these are not traits of a successful adult. There is no way he will make it through high school or (insert gasp)…college. He is broken….We….must….fix….him.
Why must every kid who does not behave like a teacher be fixed? Why must an IEP be written that forces the behaviors to occur with tricks and coercive manipulation.
You see, I am that kid. I forget…everything. If my wife asks me to go into a room and get a light bulb, I come out with a pencil. I thought my projector in school was stolen for three weeks, I eventually found it in a drawer I placed it into. Yesterday I spent $20 on audio cables that I lost, I found them this morning. I have spent half my life driving without a licence because I constantly misplace it. I was the kid racing through the halls in school trying to make it to my locker to get the book I forgot and make it to class on time.
When I was little, I can distinctly remember walking out of the bathroom at the Yale football game and my father uttered what are possibly the earliest words I can remember anyone saying to me: “Paul, if it wasn’t attached to you, you would leave it in the bathroom.”
As an adult I get to do things that kids can’t. When I forget something at home I can drive back and get it, when I leave my lunch in my car I can go out and get it, and when I leave my lesson plans home I can go to a plan B. Sometimes I just miss out on things. In an unbelievable coincidence, After writing everything you just read, I stopped and went to work outside. When I came back inside 5 hours later I realized that I had forgotten to attend my student’s Boy Scout Eagle Court of Honor. Sometimes my forgetfulness really just sucks for me, and others.
No one has been able to fix me. I know about making notes, keeping a calender, writing lists. I have been yelled at, preached to, and asked “why” more times than I can remember, but I am just slightly better at remembering things now than I was 30 years ago. I did try to remember the Court of Honor. I had the invitation in a place where I would see it everyday, and I placed the gift on the table this morning so I would see it whenever I came in. I just went out to mow the lawn, the mower broke, had to take it apart, finished the lawn, decided to fix the deck, and when I remembered the Court of Honor it was 2 hours too late.
When I talk to teachers and sit in meetings and hear what teachers say, they are not being mean, they just look at things from their very organized perspective and it’s hard to believe that someone can be successful if they are not as organized and neat as they are. The kid is living in the teacher’s space, and needs to conform to the teacher’s systems that are in place, usually with no options…and that’s hard for a lot of kids. I can walk all the way back out to my car when I get into my class and realize I forgot my book bag…when a kid comes to class with a paper can they even go back to their locker right outside the room?? I went to a conference yesterday and forgot a pen. When I asked to borrow one no one told me that I had come unprepared, they just let me borrow one. If someone yelled at me I would have just thought they were mean, I would not have learned a lesson.
I would like to take you on a quick tour of my messy unorganized forgetful life in the video below:
So the next time you have an issue with the forgetful messy kid, identify exactly what your problem with the student is. Are they not following your system and time table? One that you probably just created to help yourself first, students second. Or are you upset because of how the student’s organization and mess reflects on you? Or are you just upset because you simply cannot control them? I can tell you that any punishment or coercive trick done to me actually just drove a wedge between myself and the person trying to control me. None fixed me. None made me “better.” I still forget, but luckily I feel at home surrounded by kids who do the same. Kids who will grow up and be successful even if I let them go back to their locker to get their notebook, even if I let them hand in their work a day late, even if I lend them a pen every single day, even if I have to hand them the same directions three days-in-a-row. I have more important things to do besides teaching them how not to forget. I prefer to spend our time together doing things that will not be forgotten.