What To Do With A “Little Stinker” In Class

I was a little stinker in Miss Wingo’s 4th grade class. I knew a great deal about life and felt compelled to show my teacher the errors she was making. I’d jump from my desk and run to the board to dot the “i’s” and cross the “t’s” that in her enthusiasm she had missed. I interrupted her explanations, chatted with friends incessantly and blurted out whenever I felt the inclination. I was rude, outspoken, opinionated and disruptive.

I thought that at the age of 9, I had answered the major questions of the universe. A bit wiser today, I have learned that Miss Wingo was really the person who had the solutions to life’s tough problems.

She was a natural as a teacher, passionate about the curriculum and crazy about her students. And…she was a master disciplinarian. She got me to behave! Yep, I stopped interrupting, correcting, talking out, and disrupting the class. She never raised her voice or reprimanded me. She didn’t punish me or call my mom. She used no behavioral modification, warnings, logical consequences or time outs.

What she did was magic. She invited me to go with her one day after school for ice cream, just the two of us. It was 42 years ago, and I still remember what I ordered: a double dip of rocky road. She asked about my pets, my hobbies, and my family. She was interested in me. She listened. We laughed together. She drove me home. From that time forward, I never caused her another problem. Because on that day, I had fallen in love with my teacher.

I became Miss Wingo’s best ally. All my irritating and attention getting behaviors I saved for other teachers.On some level I understood, even at that age, that if Miss Wingo could like me after all the nasty behaviors I had tossed her way, her acceptance of me was unconditional. Being accepted like that was incredibly liberating and affirming of my value as a person.

I heard another example of this syndrome recently from a colleague. A parent at conferences told her, “I don’t know how you’ve done it!” My child has always hated English classes but this semester he has started reading at home. His writing has improved and he looks forward to going to your class every day. He says it’s just because he feels that you really like him, and he feels comfortable around you. You’ve worked a miracle!”

Building a positive relationship with students can work miracles and is certainly an effective tool that teachers can use to increase the odds of impacting students’ behavior and achievement.

Why is the relationship so important? Because:

  1. 1. Generally, kids don’t want to cause problems and will work harder for the people who love them and treat them well.
  2. Kids determine their value as humans, their self esteem, on how the key people in their lives treat them.
  3. It’s more fun and easier to teach when the classroom is filled with friendly interactions.
  4. Kids must see the model of how relationships are formed.
  5. One could instruct without a relationship, not teach! Even animal trainers know that in order to be effective, they need to start by building a trusting relationship with the animal.


“The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” William James


With some students, it takes more than a double dip of ice cream to build a friendship. But the time and effort dedicated to building quality relationships with students has the potential of having an immeasurably powerful and long lasting impact.

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