Most well-informed and experienced teachers would agree that being flexible and willing to meet students halfway are essential qualities for working successfully with difficult students. Because most students are compliant with school rules, and readily acquiesce to teacher authority, however, it sometimes difficult for teachers to deal with the student who also seeks to assert power, and to be acknowledged as being powerful. David was one such student, who combined a keen intellect and well-developed academic abilities with a clear sense of his own power, especially in situations where he was being required to submit unconditionally to the power of others.
When 14-year-old David first arrived at the school he would always seem to lose his pen or avoid taking it to his classes, although he had all his books and other materials. This would annoy the teachers greatly, often getting lessons off to a bad start. As a result over the subsequent weeks teachers tried many positive and negative reinforcement mechanisms that they knew, but still he did not bring a pen to class.
One day at the start of a lesson after the daily 5 or 6 minutes of ‘Where is your pen today David?’ both student and teacher frustrations were at boiling point, when David asked: ‘Well, why don’t you keep a pen here for me?’
The teacher’s initial reaction was a refusal to comply with the request. The teacher was concerned that to concede on this point would undermine her authority. This was in spite of the fact that she secretly acknowledged to herself that it really wasn’t a bad idea and wished that she had thought of it first. Swallowing her pride, she decided that a good idea was a good idea. Over the next few weeks she kept David’s pen in her desk and gave it to him at the start of the lesson and he returned it to her at the end. Then one day David brought a pen with him. After that he never needed the teacher’s assistance in this matter again.