Don’t Assume Anything

2 09 2013


“Pay attention.” “You have poor self-control.” Students understand what you mean by those statements. Right? Maybe not.

If students don’t clearly understand what you want them to do or stop doing, then how will they know how to comply?

Here’s a story to illustrate.

One day my fellow second grade teacher was absent.  I knew that one of her students, Bruce, was difficult to manage.  He had ADHD and often got into trouble.  My heart was tender to students like him who had ADHD.  He had a problem of skill not of will.  Usually, he didn’t demonstrate willful misbehavior.  He needed to learn skills to prevent impulsive misbehaviors.  I told the substitute that when (not if) Bruce misbehaved she was to send him to me (in my next door classroom).

As expected, Bruce was sent to me.  The infraction: he threw an eraser at his friend.  When my students went out to recess, I came back to the room to talk with Bruce.  He was pacing around nervously.  I calmly said, “Bruce why don’t you sit down in this chair.”

He knew the drill.  Rather than sitting down, he began to confess.  His nonstop confession went something like this: “I know.  I know.  I did something wrong.  I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean it.  There was a lot of noise going on.  I don’t know why I did it.  I’ll never do it again.  What’s my punishment?”

“Bruce, I just want you to sit down in this chair.  Sit down and calm down.”

He complied. His silence told me he relaxed. So, I asked, “Do you have a problem with self-control?”


Adults often assume young children know what we mean when we say common phrases.  Bruce wasn’t being disrespectful.  He obviously didn’t understand the concept of self-control.

“Did you want to hurt your friend with that eraser?”

With a shocked look on his face he replied, “No!  Of course not.”

“That means you have trouble controlling yourself,” I explained. “You have a problem with self-control. People who have trouble controlling themselves do things they don’t really want to do.  They act before they think.”

He understood and quickly agreed.  “I have that problem.”

I went on to explain that there is a solution to the problem.  “If you accept the Lord as your Savior—”

Bruce interrupted and began to tell me the story of when he trusted Jesus as his Savior.  In his usual nonstop fashion, he related every detail – every day – every word.  It was precious and genuine.

“Oh I accepted the Lord as my Savior when I was five. In Sunday school they taught us about Jesus dying on the cross. He died for my sins. All I had to do was ask Him into my heart—to be my Savior. One night when my mom was putting me to bed I told her I wanted Jesus to be my Savior. I prayed and asked Him to come into my heart.

Bruce just needed to know how to rely on the Holy Spirit to help him have more self-control.

“Bruce, when you accepted Jesus into your heart, the Holy Spirit came into you. The Holy Spirit is God’s power in you to help you show the fruit of the Spirit. Like self-control. The Holy Spirit can help you have more self-control.”

“How can I get that help?” inquired Bruce.

“Just stop before you act and let the Holy Spirit take over. You’ll have more self-control.”

We ended our conversation with a prayer. Soon after, I returned him to his class.

The next day, the substitute reported how things were going.

“All the students are still misbehaving…not paying attention, not doing their work, calling out…”

“How has Bruce been?” I asked.

“He’s the only one who’s been behaved. Ever since you had a talk with him. What did you say?”

“I helped him understand ‘self-control.’ And taught him the Holy Spirit can help him show more self-control if he simply stops before acting.”

We all need to rely on the Holy Spirit to keep us from doing things we’ll regret.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.”  Galatians 5:22-23



15 responses

3 09 2013
Jennafer Gaventa

Wow. What a great story!! I think sometimes we do forget that students do not understand the simple terminology or phrases we use. Thank you for sharing and reminding us about this.

3 09 2013
Vicki Chandler

Hi Jennafer,
You’re welcome. The longer I taught, the more I appreciated simple solutions for big problems (who has time or energy to plan big solutions?). This falls into the category of teacher-friendly, easy to implement strategies.

3 09 2013
Debbie Azevedo

This is a good reminder that sometimes just a quiet, simple conversation can help a discouraged, overstimulate child.

3 09 2013
Debbie Azevedo


3 09 2013
Vicki Chandler

Yes, Debbie. Thanks for pointing out that Bruce felt discouraged. Often children with ADHD feel they are trying their hardest, without any recognition for their efforts. Many times their behavior is not noncompliance, but rather a lack of skills.

4 09 2013
Austin Arseneau

This is an encouraging story. I appreciate the strait-forwardness you practice with your students. Also, to hear how the Holy Spirit has helped Bruce has encouraged me to stop before I act too.

5 09 2013
Vicki Chandler

We all need to follow this advice…to stop before we act. There’s great relief and hope that the Holy Spirit can help us from blowing it!

5 09 2013
Michael DeLuca

Thank you for sharing this story. It is a reminder that often the reason why some students misbehave is because they are misunderstood. Sometimes all it takes is a little effort to show the student that you care and are willing to understand them.

5 09 2013
Vicki Chandler

So true Michael! A little effort to show a student you care pays off with HUGE benefits. Sounds like you’re a caring teacher…one who seeks to understand your students.

5 09 2013

I was very encouraged by how you explained to Bruce that the Holy Spririt was able to help him. I often do not think of giving students a biblical response in these circumstances. So Thank You

5 09 2013
Vicki Chandler

When I taught in public schools, I didn’t have the privilege of offering my students biblical hope. So, when I returned to Christian schools I appreciated the freedom to invest Truth in my students.
I appreciate your honesty…I think most teachers don’t initially respond to misbehavior with a biblical response. We get into habits…there’s never enough time…our heads are full of what’s next on the schedule.

5 09 2013
Brigid Shehan

Thanks for posting!! I dealt with similar situations at camp this summer and was able to use the same method you used to encourage good behavior.Glad to know I was doing something right! It’s really sweet when children realize how their behavior can honor/dishonor God and to see how they change as a result.

5 09 2013
Vicki Chandler

Awesome, Brigid! Thanks for sharing your story. It illustrates this method can be used in different settings. It certainly is a precious thing to witness a child understanding how they can honor God with their behavior (and also to see the Holy Spirit in that child convict him/her of dishonoring behaviors).
Your response to campers reminds me of when I first began my career in education over 36 yrs. ago. Many times the Holy Spirit led me to do exactly the right thing…often got a confirmation later (as God’s encouragement to me).

5 09 2013

I loved reading your response to his questions about how to get further help from the Holy Spirit! The theme of my summer camp this year was “Help” and it’s wonderful to hear about the “real-life” application that a good parent or teacher can provide at home and know that some students get the opportunity to be encouraged throughout the year.

5 09 2013
Vicki Chandler

Yes, Sarah, we have access to divine help. Often teachers and parents can feel helpless, at their wits end…but we’re not alone. There’s abundant hope for any situation when we’re guided by the Holy Spirit. It’s never too early to train young children to practice using God’s inner strength.

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