By Kelly Noda, MA, CAS firstname.lastname@example.org
A few years ago, I encountered a set of notorious twins who challenged my classroom and behavior management skills honed carefully by years of teaching middle school students and parenting a “strong-willed” child. I had no formal ABA training; in fact, I was brand new to the school. I didn’t recall doing anything to merit these 15-year-old sophomores’ placement together in my class, especially in a period that ended up as the last class on Fridays. I’d been warned of their tendencies, their “attention-seeking” antics by my colleagues. Head-shaking, commiserating ninth-grade teachers wished me the perfunctory “good luck” after a disbelieving exclamation of “You have them BOTH in the same class!?” I can still see the piteous looks on their faces.
The mother of these boys (who is an absolute angel) was in email contact with me daily to monitor their behavior and progress. There were diagnoses and accommodations plans lined up to help us teachers with these boys, which I kept within arm’s reach to reference for ideas. I slogged through a few months of redirecting, ignoring, minimizing, clarifying, one-on-one conferencing with the student, conferencing with the parents, etc. etc. etc. all the while documenting and classifying interventions; until one day, I unknowingly started implementing positive behavior supports.
My daughter’s therapist taught me to use PBS and token economies at home, so I began applying the same ideas in the classroom. Every day, I found a way to complement each student, especially those twins. It wasn’t easy, but as an example, when class clown #1 was asked to read aloud, and he did so in a silly accent, I praised him for his oratorical prowess. It actually worked. I got compliance. I got work turned in. I got on task behavior. I survived the twins, and instead of joining in the finger wagging in the teacher’s lounge, I was fist pumping my way through midterms.
I was lucky enough to teach one of the twins again in summer school two years later. When they both graduated, I couldn’t contain the pride I felt in how they’d both matured and succeeded in spite of their past behaviors, their diagnoses, and all of the teachers who wrote them off as “bad kids.”
When working with children, whether as a parent or a teacher, we have to be creative and willing to try the unexpected. I don’t consider myself a guru of behavior analysis or classroom management, but I learned to find the positive in each of them and the benefit of changing my approach. With all we know of motivation and affective filter, we must strive to support students with positivity. At least try it to see if it makes a difference. In my experience, it truly does.
About the author: Kelly Noda worked in nonprofits for five years and taught writing and public speaking in middle school, high school, and college for ten years. She has a degree in cultural anthropology from the University of Alabama and studied psycholinguistics and rhetoric at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. She is currently pursuing a Master’s in Applied Behavior Analysis from the University of West Florida and serving The International Board of Credentialing and Continuing Education Standards as Director of Development.