I didn't know it at the time, but my students were some of the most difficult kids in the high school. Most were with me all day, still others were assigned to my room when another teacher had prep periods or lunch. My supervisor was a school psychologist whose office was located in the administration building across town, and who never left her office except to eat, which apparently she did in quantity. The high school principal was a glad-hand who was all style, no substance. He was at his best hitting on young, female teachers.
All went fairly well during the first few weeks of school. Freddy and the other students performed according to expectations, complaining at most any work they were expected to complete, but doing it anyhow. The kids assigned to my classroom were soon reluctant to enter it, however, and would wait until the corridors cleared before doing so. They grumbled about being assigned to the "retard room." They also started calling themselves Sweathogs, after a popular television show, Welcome Back , Kotter. Having the romantic fantasy that I might also be a "Kotter," I attempted to persuade my students it was "okay" to be in a special education class. My idealism was met with skepticism. Freddy led the charge.
My involvement with Freddy did not end well. Towards the end of the school year he was transferred to an older -- and more experienced -- female teacher's class. His behavior stabilized in the new environment and I was left to ponder what I did "wrong." My ego had taken a severe beating, and scars remain.
I have thought about Freddy over the years and now think I was overly zealous in trying to "relate" to him. I believe that due to my age, he saw me as an equal but also -- given his troubled relationship with his father -- as an authority figure who was not to be trusted. I also think I assumed that because I wanted to develop a positive relationship with Freddy, he would want to do likewise. My naivete, or perhaps narcissism, got in the way. In some ways, I empowered Freddy, and he readily took advantage of that. Maybe I forgot that Richard Dadier's attempt to win over a troubled student in The Blackboard Jungle fell flat.
I learned early on that working with troubled and troubling kids is not easy. It is analogous to piloting a submarine through a minefield or perhaps, flying an airplane into the eye of a hurricane. You might survive a few false moves, but more than that and you are lost. Relationship remains critical, far more so than any prescribed procedure for behavior management, but relationship cannot be rushed. Support from colleagues is essential. An empathic stance combined with patient understanding that trust cannot be manufactured generally brings durable results.
It would be nice if teaching ED/BD kids was like Welcome Back, Kotter. Sometimes it is, but more often it is not.