Fifth Grader Pulling Teacher's Chain

Dear Dr. Sylvia:

Q. I teach a class of fifth graders. One morning a boy came into the classroom with a pacifier hanging out of the side of his mouth. I took him aside privately and asked what he was doing. He just shrugged. I told him he had to get rid of the pacifier or go sit in the principal's office because it was too disgusting. He chose to walk out. Since then, he's come to school in the morning with the pacifier, and if I take it away (with a rubber glove) by force, he'll walk out anyway because now he "feels violated that I took his property."

I told the principal that I draw the line at a fifth grader chewing on a pacifier. I find it disgusting, not just because it's unsightly, but because it's emotionally immature and it grosses me out. The boy has absolutely no medical need for it. The Principal wants me to accommodate the boy because his mother won't be of any help, but I refused.

Was I wrong? When the principal hired me, I made it clear that I don't tolerate emotionally immature or age-inappropriate behavior. However, this is a school that has a heavy dance program. The kids in this class are all in the ballet program. Most of them are physically small for their age. Could this create a maturity problem?

A. While it may be true that fifth grade boys who are small are less mature than those who are tall at that age, there isn't a single fifth grader who has an emotional need to use a pacifier. You must feel thankful that this school year is over.

Because the boyís parents are not supporting the school and your principal is urging you to accept the student's behavior, you undoubtedly engaged in a battle that you couldn't win. It's hard to imagine that he wanted to leave class, but apparently he enjoyed winning a battle with you more than he enjoyed school. One approach would have been for you to ignore his nonsense and he would have likely tired of it. Another would have been to ask him to sit in a desk hidden by bulletin board dividers that would have made him invisible to the class but allowed him to listen and do assignments. He could have had the option of taking his regular seat without his pacifier. At least you could place him in the last row of the classroom so few students would have to notice his silly oppositional habit.

It appears that the child and his parents need some counseling. His parents may soon find out that the opposition he practices on his teachers and they apparently support, will spread to his home and they will be the victims. They may then recognize the need for counseling. Here are two Rimm Laws that apply to this family problem:

Rimmís Law #1: Children are more likely to be achievers if their parents join together to give the same clear and positive message about school effort and expectations.

Rimmís Law #9: Children become oppositional if one adult allies with them against a parent or teacher, making them more powerful than an adult.

Parent respect for teachers and schools is crucial for children's achievement.