Q: “One of my students doesn’t want to leave my class. My other third graders can’t wait for summer vacation, but this little girl tells me she ‘wants to stay in my class forever.’ She’s clingy, refusing to leave my side even at recess. How can I prepare her for the transition?”
Dr. Crandall: Young children can become very attached to their teachers, and this attachment can be healthy and very sweet. If it gets in the way of your student’s ability to engage in the experiences that foster her development, however, you need to help her separate.
First, try to understand the reasons behind her clinginess. What triggered it? I assume you have already discussed your student’s feelings with her. Have you also spoken with her parents or guardians? Is something happening at school or at home that is sapping her self-confidence or stretching her resiliency? If you believe your student’s behavior has emerged spontaneously, she may simply be nervous about the future.
Because most third graders are still quite concrete cognitively, you may allay some of your student’s fears by helping her understand exactly what the future will look like for her. Can you take her (and the class) to meet the fourth-grade teachers, and see the spaces where she will spend her time next year?
In keeping with this theme, help her make a list of the things that will be the same at school next year and those that will be different, along with a list of her hopes and dreams for the summer, fourth grade, and beyond. During recess, engage her and one or two peers in a quiet game or activity, and then slowly disengage yourself.
Q: “My sixth grader refuses to do his work. He listens in class but won’t do the actual assignment. His mom died last year, and I got his dad and stepmom involved but nothing happened.”
Dr. Crandall: Start with the assumption that students want to do the right thing: to achieve and connect with others in a positive way. So if they’re failing at one of these goals, there’s a reason.
First, you’ll want to assess whether he has the skills to complete the work.
If this pattern of declining to attempt assignments has persisted for a while, your student may have a learning challenge.
If you’re certain he has the requisite academic skills, you can assume the breakdown has more to do with marshaling the mental energy to produce written work. He may still be traumatized about losing his mother and unable to pull together all the pieces to complete assignments.
Try to break down work into manageable parts. Provide rests and rewards and pair him with a peer.
If your efforts are unsuccessful, bring together the school counselor and his parents to explore other causes and solutions.