My mainstream ninth-grade English class has been really exceptional so far this year — very hardworking and clearly wanting to learn. They were the ones who responded so positively to the lessons on “exercising your brain.” I haven’t experienced the challenges I had with last year’s class.
Yesterday, though, the ferocious rainstorm that drenched northern California “set-off” kids in many classes at our school, and my ninth-grade class was no exception. There were several incidents of students throwing paper balls or markers at each other — nothing too terrible, but still unacceptable and the first kind of behavior issues I’ve had to deal with this year.
Every ounce of my being wanted to really “tell-off” and punish students (which I’ve certainly done on occasion), but I knew that kind of reaction never works, so I held my tongue and told them we’d talk about it today.
I began the class today calmly telling students that I was disappointed in what happened yesterday, though I didn’t “name names.” I pointed out how positively I’ve felt about them because of how they’ve handled themselves this year and how hard they’ve worked, and that they’ve heard me speak highly of them to other teachers and administrators. I reminded them about the “marshmallow” story we had discussed, and how important having self-control is to their future.
I wasn’t planning on ending my very, very brief talk with a question — I generally believe you shouldn’t ask the whole class questions in a situation like this unless you’re pretty darn positive you’re going to get the response you want. However, it just came out:
“Can I count on this not happening again?”
Much to my surprise, I immediate heard five students say “yes” — the five boys who had been the ones directly responsible for the paper and marker-throwing the previous day.
In terms of effectiveness, I suspect handling things this way is going to have a much more postive longer-term impact than an angry reaction and punishment would have the previous day. It’s probably a good argument for us teachers to have some self-control, too — something I’m not always successful at displaying…
The two biggest factors in effective classroom management are also the two that tend to be most difficult to maintain – Setting clear expectations and consistently enforcing those expectations. It sounds like you’re doing a good job with both – and keeping your cool at the same time.
I’m experiencing about the same sort of “going hairy” behaviour… I realised that I was just plain nagging and lecturing to get my way, rather than dealing with it in a cool and logical fashion.
So today, instead of going around “putting out the fires”, I just recorded the behaviours, good and bad, and at the end of the session, I read them back. I didn’t comment on them, but asked the students to. I tried to emphasise the core value of respect, and being respectful, as something that was a goal for all. Having that non-judgemental and impartial manner, using “I noticed…”, seemed to work a treat! Well, so far anyway 🙂