Friday, September 21, 2007

Get Out

I know that classroom management is one of my weaker areas, so when I requested a teaching placement where I'd be able to work on this, Stanford responded in kind. Enforcing negative consequences is neither fun nor easy, and nobody really leaves the situation happy. Theorists will probably tell me I'm doing the wrong kind of classroom management, but there's a certain point where I don't know what else to do. Yes, I'm working on all the proactive prevention, the reasoning, the transparency, etc. but what happens when that fails?

Yesterday a student was texting in class. School policy, which we strictly enforce, is that if your cell phone is out the teacher will take it and give it to one of the deans. Then you can find the dean at the end of the day to get your phone back. When I told this kid to give me his phone, he said no. Most kids don't resist, but I was prepared. "You can give me your phone, or you can go to the dean's office and give her your phone directly. If you go to the dean's office, you'll get in more trouble; if you give me your phone, you can stay in class and we'll be fine. Either way, you lose your phone." At first he said no again, but after I repeated my spiel he finally handed it over.

I put the phone in my pocket. I didn't want to put in in the desk where it could get taken, and I didn't have a key for the locked cabinet, so my back pocket was the easiest. Phone Boy was fine, although not really doing his work (as usual). About a half hour later, I was leaning over to help someone, when suddenly Phone Boy got up and snatched the phone out of my pocket. Are you kidding me? Then he tried to bargain with me: "If I get to keep the phone, I'll do my work." Of course this whole time the rest of the class (which was already off the wall) was freaking out because half of them didn't see the phone and thought that he had just grabbed my butt. And on top of that, my CT was out in the hall dealing with two other kids who had been out of control. I called security to escort him down to the dean's office.

Today I taught an entire class period by myself. A student we'll call Disruptive Kid, one of the kids who my CT was dealing with in the hall yesterday, was being so great. Until we had a large group discussion. The kid cannot stop talking, which is fine when they're working in groups, but not when we're together as a whole class. I tried repeatedly to ask and tell him, nicely and not-so-nicely, to be quiet. He was so distracting and just set off the rest of the class. I didn't know what else to do, so I sent him into the hall. When we talked afterward, he knew why he'd been sent out, and he apologized earnestly. But he also admitted that he can't stop talking and he gets bored so he just talks. We'll be working on that some more.

I hate the way it feels to discipline kids, even when it's something as simple as taking away points from them. Part of it is because I like them so much. Phone Boy and Disruptive Kid are really fun, funny, nice kids in a lot of ways, but they're also extremely reactive. Disruptive Kid, who's over 6 feet tall, asks me pretty much every day if I "want some of this." It's hard to balance--with all the kids--making sure they know how much I like and care about them, while also being firm and consistent about my expectations for them. I kicked Phone Boy out because he broke the rules (so many rules, in fact) and was completely disrespectful to me. Disruptive Kid was not only being disrespectful to me and his classmates, but he was getting in the way of other people's learning. I hate that with some kids most of my interactions are negative. I'm sick of telling them to sit up, shut up, listen up, shape up without getting a chance to talk to them. I know, I know, I'm doing a lot of things wrong, and I've already missed my chance to start off the way I should have, and all that other stuff, but I'm also learning what my possibilities are. Luckily my CT seems to have found the balance. She definitely kicks kids out of the room, but also knows how to figure out what's really going on with them. Until I learn more from her, my classes, and other teachers, at least the kids will have one teacher in the room who they like.


SWE said...

Take heart! You're doing everything right. Starting with liking your students. The other stuff will come with experience and practice. Respect for your students (especially when they're from a different social/cultural background) is one of those fundamental "must haves" for a good teacher. Everything else really can (and will!) be learned. :)

Roni said...

This is something my kids have taught me this year (and by taught I mean say to me directly): students 'like' teachers who 1) they learn from and 2) are easy. Kids only respect teachers who they learn from. Being liked is consequential to the students knowing that you know the course content and are willing to apply rules and consequences frequently and fairly.

The minute I started kicking problem kids out of class and leaning really hard on those kids who disrupt the class, the minute the rest of the kids relaxed and started enjoying the subject. Being a grouch, in a way, helped me commiserate with the majority of kids who want to follow the rules and learn during lessons. They felt supported, I felt in control and more confident, and the kids who were out of line finally internalised that ~they~ where the ones who were out of line, not the grouchy teacher.

Good for you for sticking to your guns. The majority of your students are probably thanking you for it.

Linda said...

I feel your pain. It is always hard to know if the kid is being obnoxious for the pure joy of it or for some other reason. Roni is right that the rest of the kids will like that you put those kids who are disruptive out of the class. The kids you put out may eventually (or even very soon) also realize that they respect and appreciate that you are firm and, most importantly, consistent.

On the other hand, we have been talking with academic support at school a lot. Sometimes, as I am sure you know, the kid is not being intentionally obnoxious. Does he have ADHD or Tourette's or something else that just keeps him talking or disrupting? The balance is harder then. He can't keep himself from talking all the time, perhaps. But that doesn't mean that the talking isn't disrupting the rest of the class. I don't know the answer except to suggest that you might want to find out if he has some sort of diagnosis (neuro-psych) that would offer you some ways of working with him that will keep him quiet but not out in the hall.

I wish it were simple. You want to be liked but you also want the kids to learn. As SWE said, respect is the most important thing. You like and respect your kids and that truly is more than half the battle.

Good luck.

J. Nelson said...

Whatever you choose to wear Geetha, as you see from many of the suggestions as they remember from their past, your students will remember it forever. Thus,
(not to put any pressure on you!)you should choose something that will help them to "remember." Something that will not only help them through this year, but through their life.

Regarding the behavior problems, the earlier suggestions were very much on....think about your favorite teachers and how they handled their classrooms. I'm sure you appreciated kids that were disruptive being taken out of your learning environment.

Having worked with kids with learning disabilities, many are trying to disguise their lack of knowledge in math. They are probably really embarrassed that they don't have a clue as to what you're talking about, let alone being able to give you any kind of answer. They figure it's better to seem "funny" to their peers, rather than dumb.

It's hard to help those kids catch up; you may want to offer an after-school class for an hour to anyone who wants to do their homework with you. Offer water and a snack like fruit, nothing sugary to hype them up even more. You can probably get this donated by a sponsor if you find it's successful and you tell them what you're doing. Make it cool to come to your class to hang out and learn. The ones having the problems probably don't have any support in math (and possibly not at all) at home.

Eric and I are going through something similar, but we're on the other end! Zach's kindergarten teacher is a brand new teacher. Ahhhhhhhhhhhggggggg!!!! Sorry, we know that everyone has to start somewhere, we all do, but WHY OUR SON?! We keep trying to stay calm and let her work through all the discipline problems that new teachers are faced with, but it's hard when you're not sure if she's confident in herself. She mumbles and has trouble making eye contact with us. Her lack of confidence must be showing to the kids, since the adults only see her at drop off and pick up times and we feel it. So, be strong and confident Geetha in whatever path you choose each day, each hour, and yes, each minute, because kids (whether they are your own, or your students) always have a way of changing your plans!

Hang in there Geetha. You are a very special young woman. You too will get past this, soon smiling at the "new teachers" next year!

Best ~ Janice

AP said...

Oh, we do miss the Alex Bakers of the word.

Jen said...

Sounds like you are being WAY too hard on yourself. You like your CT - just ask her for advice. And I think you handled phone boy exactly right. In fact, he needs to know you could press charges for grabbing something out of your back pocket. You could have been much harsher and he probably knows that. With disruptive boy, I wonder if letting him know that his smarts and talking, if channeled well, could be a ticket, but that he's GOT to learn to put a lid on it and put his smarts into some social skills. But you've probably tried that. Yeah, and I agree with SWE too.