Sunday, March 2, 2008

Keeping control in a difficult classroom

I promised I would speak of teaching and education on this blog and I do believe the time has come at last.

First of all, I'm a long-term substitute at a local Middle School teaching 6th grade earth science. That's 6 classes a day, 45 minutes each, with about 32-38 students. So 200 children walk through my classroom everyday and I have to reach ALL of them!! That's a challenge!!

I will begin to address the many challenges of teaching in this blog, but the first should come as no surprise to any instructor - Classroom Management! It is impossible to get them to learn anything if you can't get them to be quiet, sit still, stop stabbing each other with pencils, etc. (Beware ye readers - this is a LONG one)

My students are quite difficult; not all of them, just a few select individuals that required a bit more time than others. I will summarize some of them here:

1. The distractor, aka: "Turtle Boy" - this is the child in class who, bored with the work, decided to repeatedly say the word turtle in my class, over and over, until I sent him outside for 10 minutes. He has continued to be an issue, but I moved him to the front of the classroom - in a bench seat so he can stand if bored - and spoke to his mother. The problems have been limited. But the most important thing I did was sit down with him after class and talk about his behavior and the affect he was having on other students. He's a deeply sensitive kid and so when I mentioned that his behavior might keep OTHER kids from being able to work and result in them getting kept behind - that's when I saw it click!! Since then, he's been quite helpful and as long as he finishes his work, I give him a certain amount of lenience in his busy work.

2. The sloth, aka: "Whatever boy" - this particular student tests exceptionally well on standardized tests but refuses to raise a pencil in class or turn in a single sheet of homework. I'll admit, this one had me frustrated, baffled and angry. He didn't disturb the rest of the class, but seeing a child with potential choosing to waste it is heartbreaking. So one day, on one of his many lunch detentions with me, I started asking questions that had nothing to do with school. Through the 12 year old grapevine I knew he was dating one of my best students so we chatted about her. Slowly we developed a friendly relationship rather than battling. Then one day when we had the room to ourselves again, I simply asked, "So, what's up with the not turning anything in?" I had fully expected the traditional, "I don't know" but instead got a thoughtful statement about him realizing that the elementary school couldn't hold him back (he'd been held back once already - maximum in california) and so he just didn't want to try anymore since there was nothing the school could do to him. Wow! I was floored!!! So we began discussing how he's in a new school now with new opportunities. We finally worked out a system of work for him (he'd rather work at lunch or before school than take things home) and let him help others to demonstrate his intelligence. So far it's working and I've become an adult he can share things with now.

Well, this post is longer than I thought so I'll summarize with these two categories of students. You will notice one distinct commonality between these very different students...they both needed to be heard!!

Sometimes as teachers, we tend to look as kids as numbers (test scores, absences, tardies) and not for the very unique individuals that they are. I am learning now how to move past that and take the time to connect with EVERY student. It must be working since I have 7-10 kids before school and another 7-10 kids at lunch in my room. We sit and talk and they know they can talk to me privately at anytime. They also know that I have a duty to talk to counselors and CPS about worrisome things, but that doesn't stop them.

I love being a teacher but it took the difficult students to remind me why I like it so much! Funny how that works!

(I'll continue the list of students in the future - maybe some new teacher will benefit from the concept and another student will benefit from the approach)

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