Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Sep 20 2012

Taking Responsibility

A kid got sent to my office today for being tirelessly difficult and disrespectful in class. The hard part about working with him is that he absolutely refuses to take responsibility for anything. After a lot of talking, I finally got him to admit to five different things he had done during that class period, but then he wouldn’t accept that any of those actions had actually been wrong. So we started working on that.


We started talking about how he’d been standing up in the back of the room, throwing things up and down. This was the conversation:

Me: “Well, are students supposed to be standing up in class?”

Him: “They can if they want to.”

Me: “Was the teacher teaching at the time?”

Him: “No.”

Me: “What was she doing?” (I’m trying to give him the benefit of the doubt, thinking maybe she was working with a small group and he was at least not interrupting a whole class….)

Him: “Nothing.”

Me: “Was she talking?”

Him: “Yes.”

Me: “Was she talking to the whole class or a small group?”

Him: “The whole class.”

Me: “Was she talking about science?” (She’s the science teacher.)

Him: “Yes.”

Me, absolutely incredulous: “Um, if she was standing in front of the whole class and talking about science, don’t you think she might have been teaching?!”

Him: “I dunno.”


I had to walk out of the room to keep from laughing in front of him.


We went back and forth like this for a long time, until finally I decided that today was not his day for an accepting-responsibility breakthrough and I was wasting my time. Then I let myself get exasperated and quit dealing with him. I told him pretty clearly that I was sick of him fighting me on every little thing and didn’t want to talk to him anymore, and then I gave him one of our reflection forms. He was a little startled at my sudden irritation (which I think he knew was fair of me) and actually started to write it. The one catch was that he insisted on my help for every question. “What do I write here if I didn’t do anything wrong?” “What do I write here if this wasn’t my fault?” “What do I write here if no one was affected by my actions?” My answer to everything was some variation of a super-irritated “I don’t care. I can’t deal with you anymore. Write whatever you want.


Then he got to my favorite part, where he had to identify who was affected by his actions and what his plan is to fix any damage that was done. Again, he asked me what he should write. Still in my annoyed voice, I started making a laundry list of people. “You could put your teacher, since you were disrespectful. You could put yourself, since you missed so much class. You could put your classmates, since you stopped their learning. You could put your mom, since she’ll be mad. You could even put me, since you really irritated me and wasted my time.”


When he turned in the reflection, he’d written the following things:

I’m sorry to myself, and my plan is to be better next time.

I’m sorry to my classmates, and my plan is to apologize.

I’m sorry to Ms. Mathinaz, and I’m going to give her a hug.


As soon as he was finished, I sent him out. As he passed me at the doorway, he actually paused to hug me. I melted.


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