This is my second year of teaching, and I have an extremely difficult boy in my class. I manage the other 33 kindergartners pretty well, but this child, Charlie, seems to be in a power struggle with me. What do you suggest that I do with him?

I sympathize, and I'm sure every teacher reading or listening to this does too! At one time or another, every one of us has had a "Charlie!"

Well, first, I would try as hard as I could, every which way, to make friends with him. I'd say that a good relationship is an essential basic for effective learning Have a private conference with him. Tell him you're so glad he's in the class because he's such an interesting person. Think positively. For example, when he refuses to follow directions, think of it as independence. Compliment him on having ideas of his own and sometimes wanting to do things his own way. Tell him in a little while you're gonna ask him to be the leader of a group.

Here's another thought. When you want him to focus and he wants to goof off with pals, think of him as being a friendly fellow. Compliment him on being a fun kid who other children like to play with. Tell him that later today you're going to give him a chance to play with so-and-so — name a child who doesn't mingle much with the other children. Then tell Charlie there are lots of kids in the class that need his help — that you need his help. Ask if it will be all right with him if you sometimes ask him to help out.

The purpose of all this is to get the two of you on the same side instead of in the "me against you" situation you're now in.

Then, within the hour, keep the two promises you just made. Begin a new policy of smiling at Charlie a lot. Give him positive attention every hour or so. Give him a feeling of personal power by inviting his ideas when planning an activity. Ask him to read to another child who needs attention. If he's not an actual reader, "reading" may mean looking at the pictures and chatting about the book together. You know what I mean. I'm sure you can think of many ways to invite Charlie into things and make him feel worthwhile.

I think it's always important to form an authentic friendship with every child we teach. A child who feels that you believe in him and like him is much more likely to cooperate.

Of course, we should always look at the bigger picture, too. Such as the fact that a new teacher needs lots of support from seasoned teachers. And the fact that more than 1,000 research studies suggest that kindergartens shouldn't have more than 19 children in them. And the fact that some children have exceptional emotional needs and need professional help beyond what a classroom teacher can provide. I know it's a national habit, but I don't think it's right to blame the individual teacher or child for everything!

Still, regardless of whatever else you can do, I'd say that forming a friendship with Charlie is the first thing to do.