I learned more about them from colleagues over the last couple of years.
This summer, I finally read the book "The Five Love Languages of Children."
I don't know why I waited so long, or why I decided to read it now.
But I'm glad I did.
Before, I understood the concept, and I more or less recognized the phenomenon in my neediest students.
Now, having read the book, I see so much more.
The basic premise is that love is expressed and received in five ways: acts of service, gifts, physical touch, quality time, and words of affirmation.
Each of us has a primary love language.
The only way we feel loved is if we get enough expressions of love in our primary language.
I am doing a pretty sad job of summarizing the book, but hopefully you get the idea. If not, read it.
Anyway, the reason I am writing about it today is because I had a realization over the weekend.
I had a realization about pencils. Not really about pencils, but they illustrate the point.
As teachers, writing utensils are the bane of our existence.
Some kids just never seem to have one.
Last year, I had a kid like that (Every year, I have a kid like that!).
Let's call this particular kid Antonio.
Antonio never had a pencil.
He also never got up to get one himself from the loaner tray on my desk.
And he insisted on sitting in the very back of the room.
It drove me crazy.
He was passive aggressive about it too.
Until I brought him something to write with, he would just sit there, slouched low.
It wasn't like he caused any disruption. He didn't; he mostly laughed at other cut ups.
But he wouldn't DO anything.
Before long, he had me trained.
Without thinking too much of it, I developed the habit of checking in with him and bringing him a pencil near the start of class.
I know, I know, he should get himself a pencil and I am enabling him.
I felt manipulated too.
As I handed him a pencil, he would smile up at me with this coy little gleam in his eyes.
Somehow, though, I kept doing it.
I knew he wouldn't attempt any work otherwise.
And I knew it mattered to him, though I had no idea why.
I do now.
Antonio's love language was acts of service and gifts.
What made him feel loved and valued and safe in my classroom was for me to do something for him, to give him something.
The implications of this revelation are mind-blowing.
Maybe the kid who doesn't come to class with a pencil isn't being disrespectful or thoughtless.
Maybe that kid isn't disinterested or disengaged.
Maybe his (because, for real, its mostly boys) love language is acts of service or gifts.
Maybe, instead, he needs you to prove your love before he can be safe enough emotionally to think.
Of course, I can't realistically give every kid a gift or act of service or words of affirmation or quality time or physical touch before teaching every day.
But, I can do two things.
I can be more intentional in our efforts to meet the emotional needs of our neediest students.
I think I do it instinctively and I've often wondered why or how I get results with students who tend to struggle in other classes.
Meeting the emotional needs of students, albeit without realizing it, might be the answer.
And, more importantly, the second thing I can do is adjust my attitude.
My attitude is usually pretty positive, actually, but when it gets hard, my attitude still needs adjusting.
Instead of feeling annoyed, irritated, resentful, manipulated when students are continuously needy, I can recognize they need love, and they are asking for it in the language they understand best.
The Antonios who never have a stinking pencil.
The fragile girls who stand too close and overshare in the doorway each day.
The kids who refuse to use their time wisely during class, but are happy to keep you at school until 6:00 while they do all their class and home work.
The huggers. The sneak up and grabbers. The blindfolders. All the slightly creepy, barely appropriate and sometimes uncomfortable ways kids whose language is physical touch insist on, well, touching.
The kid who will do the work, but won't turn it in unless you walk over and get it.
All the crazy-making, nonsensical, illogical behaviors teenagers exhibit without even realizing it.
Instead of letting them get to me, which they do some days, I now have a more logical basis to ground my responses.
Plus, my attempts to guide them to make more appropriate behavioral choices will be much stronger.
Instead of telling them what not to do, I can give them love in their language as part of the correction, especially with the touchers.
It makes sense why some kids need fist bumps and high fives, while others want prizes etc.
I have always been the person who maintains that we, as teachers, can't take it personally.
That kids, even teenagers, are not obnoxious jackholes trying to torment us.
That understanding and kindness gains more than punishment, retaliation, sarcasm, or domination.
That love matters. It matters most even.
But in practice, it is easy to forget and respond out of irritation.
So, I guess, reading the book didn't so much teach me something new as it reinforced what I already believe.
It gave me the language to explain how I respond to students.
It reminded me of what is important as I start a new year and start building relationships with new kids.
That reminder is a good thing.