A couple of years ago, my daughter started a peculiar behavior at school. It happened often, and it always happened in math class. She would spit on her paper. She would make raspberries with her lips and spit and drool all over her math worksheet. Then she would tear holes in it with her pencil or her fingers.
When this behavior would occur, the teacher would scold her. She would remind her about germs and let her know that spitting on her paper was not appropriate. The teacher would lecture her about correct behavior in the classroom. My daughter’s desk was often pulled away from her friends.
This behavior continued for a period of weeks. The teacher was frustrated and was out of ideas.
Fast forward a couple of years.
During class, my daughter leaned down and licked her teacher right on the arm. This, of course, is inappropriate behavior for a junior high student. But the teacher didn’t lecture my daughter. She wasn’t pulled away from the other students or removed from class. Yes, she was reminded that she shouldn’t lick people, but she wasn’t scolded.
The teacher tried to figure out why my daughter had licked her arm, and the teacher told me about it—not to tattle on my daughter, but to see if I knew why she might have licked her.
The teacher knew there was a reason and a purpose for her behavior. She wasn’t frustrated with my daughter; she was frustrated with herself that she couldn’t figure it out.
This was a stark contrast to a couple of years before.
My daughter licked her teacher during the same class for the next three days. The teacher continued to try to figure out what my daughter was trying to communicate.
On day four of my daughter licking her teacher’s arm, the teacher made the connection. She was licking her teacher each day when a certain song came on. She was trying to tell her teacher that she had a toy at home that plays the same song – a toy dog, and dogs sometimes lick people. Mystery solved.
The two tales above show the difference in how people respond to behavior that is unusual. Some demand that everyone follow the social norms. Others presume competence and respect enough to look for the hidden meaning.
While I’m not saying it was wrong for the first teacher to tell my daughter not to spit, I am saying that perhaps if we take the time to examine the whole picture, we may come to understand the meaning for the behavior.
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