I Didn’t Do Anything!

I substituted as a teacher for a third grade class. Third grade is my favorite, because they all want to “help” me teach. They’re old enough that they actually can help me – and they’re young enough that they actually do what I ask them to do.


There was one boy in this class, though. We’ll call him Fernando because, well, that’s his name.

Like Dylan, Fernando didn’t seem very interested in his work. In fact, he spent much of the day with an empty worksheet in front of him. He gazed around the room, kicked things around under his desk, played with tiny little pieces of paper, laughed without provocation on a regular basis, and distracted everyone within 15 yards. At one point, he literally flooded the sink area, and poured a cup of water onto another student’s desk – dousing everything in sight.

I thought I had it under control.

Since he seemed to be having trouble getting the words from his head to his paper, I broke out a fidget toy that I bought for Dylan. It’s a really cool toy.

“You can use this,” I told him, excited to give him an option that no one had previously considered.

He played with it for a minute.

“I think I’m all right,” he said, and handed it back.

The afternoon went on, and Fernando did – quite literally – none of his work. If he put his name on his paper, I thought he was doing well. I tried ignoring him. I tried praising him. I tried lecturing him. I tried encouraging him. I tried rewarding him. I tried threatening him. I moved him to a seat far, far away from all of his classmates.

In fact, I tried every, single behavior modification trick I knew.

Fernando still didn’t do any work.

Finally, somewhere after 2:00, I said, “Fernando, I give up. Go to the principal’s office.”

“No!” he said. “I didn’t do anything!”

“I know you didn’t do anything,” I said. “You haven’t done a single thing all day long.”

“I’ll do my work!” he said. He started writing at a furious pace. He had half his paper finished in 30 seconds.

He finished half his paper in 30 seconds.

Fernando wasn’t like Dylan at all. Fernando had no trouble writing, or getting his thoughts onto paper. Fernando just didn’t feel like doing what he was supposed to do.

So Fernando spent the afternoon with the principal, while I spent my last hour in that classroom kicking myself for believing that all children with behavior problems had learning disabilities.

There really is a difference.

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