Remember, you asked to see the warts…

March14

In dy/dan » Blog Archive » What We Aren’t Talking About Dan asks, why aren’t we writing about classroom management more? Lord knows, new and other teachers out there could use the advice. I ponder on what has become of my reflection and weekinlab posts. I think I’ve lost my voice by trying to do microblogging about a whole seven days. What do you my readers think? What do you want to see?

THEN, Dangerously Irrelevant: Cell phone cameras in the K-12 classroom: Punishable offenses or student-citizen journalism? throws out the gauntlet of all sorts of teachers and students behaving badly.

Here’s some analysis (via dy/dan » Blog Archive » Keeping Tabs On TMAO So You Don’t Have To) that sums it up in TMAO’s inimitable way:

TMAO comments on Joanne Jacobs’ reblog of Scott’s Teachers Gone Wild series.

Exhumed for y’all:

Good teachers don’t have these problems. They don’t. Good teachers would never let classroom culture degenerate to this point, and if it did, they would not resort to screaming, throwing fits, and cursing. Please. These are not accurate cross-sections of anything except the various ways bad teachers make bad situations worse.

I’ll bet all the money in my pockets that you can see these same kids at different points of the day acting in dramatically different ways. Why? Because student behavior is a function of educator quality.

Did you watch the first video all the way to the end? Did you hear what the girl in the front row said? “Sir, we’ve been sitting hear for 1/2 an hour and you aren’t saying anything. You’re just standing there staring at us. Obviously, we’re going to get bored and talk.”

She’s right. Teach the kids. Be good at your job. Act like a human adult and not some petulant robot child, and watch all these little petty problems disappear.

That analysis read DEAD on for that first video (the last one with the ranting teacher calling the kids animals was just awful). But, for some of the others were so hard for me to hear, that I just can’t make a judgment. The fifth one just didn’t ring that bell for me:

[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/XWxkDXLS5C0" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]

I’m not hearing the teacher yelling, or even responding that much. It looks like a passing period. Other students are going up to the teacher handing in work, while the girl in the foreground is having her say (or hissy fit depending on your point of view). It’s not like the other films, where all the kids are enjoying the show, and it brought me back to something TMAO said:

Good teachers don’t have these problems. They don’t. Good teachers would never let classroom culture degenerate to this point, and if it did, they would not resort to screaming, throwing fits, and cursing.

I don’t know if I’m a good, mediocre, or great teacher, but I’ve had kids go off like that. So in the interest of keeping it real, I’ll share a couple of situations from this year that I wrote about…

Here is where an entire class chatted their way thorough a fire drill, ran into one another like Keystone Cops, and generally gave me an ulcer… Miz Mercer’s Microblog – ARGHHH! …the maraschino cherry on that whole retched experience was keeping about 10 kids after school to write them up for their behavior, and having three of the kids start going off on me about picking on the black kids, etc. Oh, and it was the first day that an AmeriCorp member was in my classroom (her eye’s were popping out of their sockets at this behavior).

What did I do? I let them yell, and scream, turned my back to them, and asked the more reasonably behaved students if they knew what they had done wrong, what the right thing to do was, and gave them a minor write up for not following directions (maybe worth a short detention), and let them leave for home. Then I sat there, and waited for the kids going off to catch their breath. I didn’t bother arguing with them about how racist I was (what would the point be, really?) I told them in a calm, even tone, that I was not going to talk to them until they were ready to listen, and that the students who did follow my directions were going to get my attention first. I didn’t bother yelling, screaming, or reasoning with them. I wrote them up, let them leave, knowing I would get it back from them later, just not at that point.

The class as a whole had to redo the drill with me the next day, to my satisfaction. A couple kids kept goofing, they got to keep working on it with the AmeriCorp tutor (really, they had to be able to do this with anyone, even a young stranger watching them), while the others went to the lab and wrote to me about better choices, and fire drill procedure to reflect on what we had all learned. I had my discussion with my malcontents then, when they were in a place to listen.

Some would say those children should never have gotten that out of control, but really that’s not realistic. Some kids (usually for reasons well beyond their control) don’t have great inner resources. It’s my job to try to teach that to them. One of the students from that melee is featured in my next story… Miz Mercer’s Microblog – It must almost be spring… This student delivered a line many will be familiar with, “You ain’t my momma.” Now, I could go for cheap laughs, and a nice one liner and say something witty, like…

1. Thank THE LORD for that…

2. At least I’d know who your dad was (believe it or not that was my husband’s suggestion, which I didn’t think much of, dh used to play and win “the dozens” on the school yard with gems like that)…

I took another option. I took a deep breath. People are talking about different things they do that are great CM techniques. Building rapport (very critical), creating community (amen, my brother), etc. My biggest lesson, being a hot off the collar kinda gal, is sometimes to shut up, let the kid say what the will, then behave like an adult. It’s what the taxpayers are paying me for isn’t it? So my response was…

3. No, I’m not your mother, I’m your teacher, and I’m asking you to sit down.

and delivered it in a calm, measured tone, without any sarcasm. It did not get instant compliance, but he did shut up and eventually sit down.

That breath is the critical part. It gives me time to make a snide remark in my head, collect my thoughts, and ratchet my tone down so the situation does not heat up.

Now, you may say that some crucial element of community building is absent from my class for that to occur. I think that TMAO was maybe going out a bit about things like this not occurring in good classrooms (he did sorta qualify it later by saying if it did, you would not react that way). The qualification is where I agree with him (except for five, cause I can’t see her reacting at all). Things may happen in your class that are out of control, but it’s what you do as a professional, that can bring it back into control. I could have easily become contestant number six (the one I like to call, “Old Yeller”) on that show. I’m loud, and have an aggressive personality. What I started to do over time, was pay attention to teacher who were quiet in nature and volume, but had good classroom control. They usually had ways that were less intrusive, and more effective at controlling their students. I knew one teacher that was do quiet, he would just make eye contact, shake his head at a kid with a disappointed look, and they would fall in line. Really, anyone with a big voice can yell. I could do it all day long, but I once managed to go to work for three days with no voice, just writing directions to students on the board. Now THAT’S classroom management!

Ending this point, here is a gem from TMAO (cause I kinda picked on his sentence in that last one): Teaching in the 408: The Secret To Building Positive Classroom Culture To build classroom culture, TMAO calls his dad for conference call with his class.

I can’t see doing this myself (mom is severely hard of hearing, and phone communication just is not her place to shine. Dad is likely has an undiagnosed Asperger’s, so ditto there). I think the critical thing here is letting your students see you as a human being with people who care about you and may care about them because of that. I do that by having my dad visit my class. He is very patient doing hands-on activities with kids and shines in that venue. I have my husband visit. In many of the schools I’ve taught at (and dh worked in) males are an endangered species so they enjoy seeing a guy, and a guy that comes with me. One time during a reading selection on twins, I had my sister visit with her identical twin toddlers and they did observations on their similarities and differences. I also share family vacation photos because they are an interesting way to show the Rockies, and other geological landforms. The kids like to see and ask me about my son. Read the post for some other great shares.

Thanks TMAO for another great read.

by posted under reflection | 3 Comments »    
3 Comments to

“Remember, you asked to see the warts…”

  1. March 16th, 2008 at 11:48 am      Reply Larry Ferlazzo Says:

    Hi, Alice,

    It was interesting taking a quick look at some of the videos, and reviewing posts (and comments) at some of the other blogs you mentioned.

    There are clearly some universals of good classroom management — building relationships, having an engaging curriculum, using construtivist pedagogy, being flexible.

    In my experience, though, even with all of that in place, a classroom culture in an urban high school environment is very fragile. Our students are facing many challenges, both in and outside of school, and it’s easy for them to lash out at what’s in front of them (other students and their teacher) if they feel they can’t change what’s really bothering them (father in prison, evictions, etc). And one student can “set off” others.

    My initial instinct in the face of classroom management problems is sometimes to want to punish, but most of the time I’m able to refrain from doing so because it so seldom works. More often than not I’m able to approach a problem with a much more positive perspective.

    However, even though I think I have a good classroom culture in my mainstream classes (classroom management is seldom an issue in ELD classes), and even though I think I’m patient, relatively self-aware, and generally pretty low-key, there have been times that I have not handled classroom management problems in ways that I’m proud of, and have not been as respectful of students nor as good of a role model as I wish I had been.

    I was impressed with many of the comments I saw in the other blogs about the videos, but was bothered by some that were “holier than thou.”

    Classroom management, like life, is not always an either/or situation. It’s important to understand context, which includes the fact that we all make mistakes.

    Larry


  2. March 16th, 2008 at 6:14 pm      Reply alicemercer Says:

    Larry, excellent points. I liked the folks who had the courage to say, hey every minute in my class is not what I would want on camera. I was going on so long on this post, I did not include that I’ve had at least one instance where I yelled at a class because I was not able to get their attention any other way. But, look at some of those videos. There are some signs that the behavior of those teachers and students is the norm, and not that exception. I think you’re right, it’s easy to be holier than thou, but we all lose it now and then, we need to be critical of ourselves, and take critique on this (which I have). If that is business as usual in a class what has been done to set this up (a class where all the behavior problems were dumped–where is the administrative leadership there, a class where the kids aren’t taking the teacher seriously–what has the teacher done to create that, what about parents and administrators have they been undercutting authority?) BUT the reality is you can be filmed, and the courts have said that’s okay. If you have a good basic relationship with your class, even on a bad day, are they going to use it against you? Frankly, in most of those tapes, I can’t come to a conclusion about anyones’ behavior, it’s too out of context.


  3. March 16th, 2008 at 6:15 pm      Reply alicemercer Says:

    Okay, can I add this gem, that is getting a lot of looks:

    http://www.needleworkspictures.com/ocr/blog/?p=257

    since it focuses on what you can do to improve your classroom management in a really practical way?


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