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Your Worst Nightmare

A new 11th grade student at Lincoln Academy, a school for learning disabled students, arrived with an "attitude" and a massive cumulative file documenting her previous "educational wars." After trying numerous strategies, Kim Statler, a veteran  teacher with 25 years experience, is at a loss as to how to reach this student.


The first six weeks of school had been a learning experience for Kim Statler. She was a veteran teacher with 25 years experience. For the past 10 years she had been at Lincoln Academy, a private residential high school for students with learning disabilities. There were 110 students who had been identified, through psychological testing, as having some form of learning disability. The school's structured program focused on small classes and individual educational programs designed to minimize a student's area of weakness and maximize his or her potential.

Study skills and writing strategies were the hallmark of the English Department. Students were assigned to teachers for two periods a day. Kim, a member of the department, had a knack for reaching those kids who were often labeled as "impossible," She faced one of the biggest challenges of her career, however, the day she met Anna.

Anna had transferred to Lincoln Academy as a junior. Her student file, filling two binders, documented her extensive educational and behavioral difficulties and included three thorough psychological reports. Her academic scores on standardized tests indicated that reading and English were her forte and that mathematics was her area of disability.   She was three years below the expected average in math. Her full scale IQ was documented as 114. Anna’s parents, exhausted from her educational struggles, enrolled her in Lincoln hoping that the small class size and structured approach utilized by the school would help her. They also felt that putting her in a residential program would give them some needed respite.

After reading Anna’s file, it seemed to Kim that Anna used temper tantrums to avoid work she found challenging or frustrating. It also seemed that people in the past had not seen Anna through her fear of failure. Kim decided that she needed to maintain high expectations for Anna in the area of English. She also knew that she would have to weather Anna’s inevitable temper tantrums. Kim was determined to support Anna but was equally determined not to let Anna slide by as others had done in the past.

Kim's adventure with Anna began the first day of school. After the first period class began, the door opened and in strolled a pretty, somewhat awkward, teenage girl. Kim asked her name and showed her to one of the empty seats. Anna grumbled under her breath but took her seat. Although Kim was supposed to report all late students to the office, she realized that several new students would have difficulty finding their way around the campus on the first day. Kim went over the class rules and, in order to learn more about the students, asked them to write a composition about what they would like to learn in reading and English.

The students began to quietly jot down their ideas as they examined the piles of materials that Kim had arranged around the room. Anna closed her eyes and pretended to sleep. Kim sat down next to Anna and asked what kind of books she liked to read. Anna was silent. Her file indicated that she enjoyed reading and writing stories and poetry so Kim pulled out a Robert Frost anthology, a collection of e.e. cummings, and several modern novels with a variety of themes that might appeal to a l6-year-old girl. Not a flicker of interest stirred in Anna’s eyes. Kim told Anna that if she had any books at home she would like to read, she could bring them in and Kim would look them over to make sure they were appropriate for school. As Kim walked away, Anna commented, "In your dreams, lady!" Kim chose to ignore the comment.

Kim’s experience was that students rarely presented behavior problems the first week of school. Not so with Anna. From the beginning Kim found it disquieting that she could not evoke any positive responses from Anna. Seeing no alternative, Kim gave Anna detention on Thursday of the first week due to her continued tardiness and refusal to complete classwork. Still seeking to build a positive relationship with Anna, Kim decided to meet her in the classroom instead of the detention room so they could have a conversation about what had transpired during the week. She arranged a table and chairs so that she and Anna could sit down together and hopefully come to some positive decisions about Anna's behavior and her educational program.

The door opened and Anna appeared with a dangerous look in her eyes. Anna let the door slam with a resounding crack. Her backpack went sailing across the room.

"Why did you give me detention?" Anna yelled.

Kim calmly stepped out from behind her desk and motioned to the table saying, "Anna, won't you please come in? Let's sit down over here so we can talk. I'd like to explain the detention process to you. I'd also like for us to talk about what I can do to help make my class better for you."

Anna proceeded to walk up to Kim until she was literally nose to nose with her. "The one thing you can do for me is to just leave me alone. If you don't bug me, I won't bug you. But understand this: I'm not going to sit in detention for you or anybody else and you can't make me." Anna was clenching and unclenching her fists as she spoke.

"Anna, please calm down. I'm not trying to ‘bug’ you, I'm just trying to help you do well in school." Kim sat down in one of the chairs by the table and invited Anna to do the same. Instead, Anna began to kick the bottom of the nearest student desk. The desk rocked back and forth and finally crashed to the ground. Anna grabbed her backpack and flew out of the room, slamming the door once again. Her parting shot to Kim was, "I’m calling my mom tonight and we’ll see who has detention!"

Kim went to the office and called Anna's parents so she could explain what had transpired. Anna's mother listened to Kim’s explanation and then sighed, "You have to understand, Ms. Statler, that Anna is quite headstrong. We have found through the years that it is better to let Anna go her own way rather than fight with her over every little thing. She can make your life miserable until you finally give in. We have learned to pick our battles carefully."

Kim explained that Anna was repeatedly late for class and, after three unexcused absences, had to serve one half-hour of detention. It was school policy and Kim could not change the rule for Anna. Anna's mother said, "Ms. Statler, at Anna's previous school, the teachers just didn’t report her tardiness. It's what works and I think you need to try it. Believe me when I tell you that we just want Anna to get through school and get a diploma. That's all."

Kim didn’t argue but thought to herself, "No wonder Anna is behaving as she is.  Nobody expects her to do anything, even her parents."

The following day, Kim once again assigned Anna to her room for detention. Once again, Anna showed up in a huff. "You just don't get it, do you, Ms. Statler?" said Anna as she slammed her way into the room and took a seat. "Wake me up when I can leave." Anna put her headphones on and laid her head down on the desk, pretending to snore. Kim let her sit like that for 30 minutes. She then tapped Anna on the shoulder and told her she could leave. As Anna got to the door, Kim said, "I'll see you again tomorrow after school and every day thereafter until you change your mind and meet with me for a calm, quiet discussion about school." The door slammed and Anna's sarcastic comment was lost in the clamor.

In the next few weeks, the situation went from bad to worse. No matter how Kim tried to make Anna a part of the class, nothing worked. Anna had been asked to work on an original poetry portfolio. So far, the portfolio contained very few items. The items that were there were very well done so Kim knew Anna was capable of doing the work. Anna had come to class on time only three times in the first four weeks and most of her classwork and homework was incomplete or missing. Anna was quickly entering the Academy's unofficial hall of fame for the most detentions and the class was losing valuable learning time due to the interruptions of Anna's constant late arrivals to class. The commotion of getting to a desk, and the inappropriate comments that were part of a whispered monologue that Anna kept up during the class period were distracting to everyone.

Kim tried to get Anna to cooperate by using behavior contracts. Anna hated to get up in the morning so Kim worked out a program with the administration that allowed Anna to sleep in one day of the week and come to school late if she completed classwork and homework for three days of the school week. This program was successful only once, then Anna decided it wasn't worth it.


The next week, Kim was calculating grades for the first six weeks of school. Anna's averages were 38% for reading and 52% for English. Never had one of Kim’s students earned an "F." Now here was a girl who had earned two.

After tabulating Anna's dismal grades, Kim decided to try again to reach Anna. When Anna slammed her way into the room, Kim walked over and said, "Anna, we have to talk. This lack of communication is really hurting both of us. You are averaging an F in both of my classes. I know that if you worked up to your potential, you would be successful."

Anna, looked up at Kim and said, "You and your phony smile and encouraging words for everyone...what a bunch of baloney! You need to get a life, a real life."

Kim lost her composure and retorted, "You know, Anna, I could just leave you alone like everyone else. I could let you do your own thing, but I won't. I think I'll make it my life's mission to become your worst nightmare. You're in a bad position, Anna. I'm the adult and I'm the one with all the power. Don't say a word; just listen while I tell you how things are going to be from now on. Plan on coming here every time you are late or don't have your work done. For every time you slam the door, I’ll add more time. For every inappropriate comment, more time. And furthermore, no headsets and no head down on the desk. You are going to do schoolwork whether you like it or not. If you don't, you'll be suspended. You say you want to graduate? Well, you're going to have to earn it, my dear. If you have been waiting for me to lose control, you've finally accomplished it. Get out your English grammar book and turn to the section on sentence fragments." Anna was in such a state of shock, she actually got out the book and did the day's assignment without protest.

Anna was cooperative for three days, and then once again refused to do anything. Kim was exasperated and was finding it difficult to even like Anna. Anna was a master at pushing the limits and Kim recognized that she was being drawn into situation after situation. "There has to be a way to reach this student without loosing my cool," she thought to herself.


Discussion/Study Questions

  1. List what you learned/know about each of the characters in the case.
  2. What do you think is motivating the thoughts and actions of each of the characters?
  3. What are the issues and problems in the case?


Additional Questions

  1. What approaches did Ms. Statler try with Anna? Were they successful? Why or why not?
  2. What information does Ms. Statler have about Anna that might help guide her interactions with Anna?
  3. What do you think are the rights and responsibilities of Ms. Statler, Anna, Anna’s parents, and the school in developing an appropriate plan for Anna?
  4. Do you think it is important for teachers to like their students? Do you think it is important for students to like their teachers?
  5. How do you balance the needs of one student with the needs of the rest of the class?
  6. Do you think it is Anna’s goal to frustrate and aggravate Ms. Statler?


CEC Competencies/Knowledge Areas Addressed in the Case

Major Areas:

Rights and responsibilities of parents, students, teachers, and schools as they relate to individuals with exceptional learning needs.

Basic classroom management theories, methods, and techniques for students with exceptional learning needs.

Teacher attitudes and behaviors that positively or negatively influence student behavior.

Other Areas:

Importance and benefits of communication and collaboration which promotes interaction with students, parents, and school and community personnel.

Research-based best practices for effective management of teaching and learning.


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