Tag Archives: Classroom Management

THE GOLDEN RULE

poster

 

THIS IS THE THIRD POST FROM GUEST BLOGGER, MS. ORTIZ.

Growing up, I was taught by those who raised me that we should treat each other with respect. The Golden Rule, treat others the way you would want to be treated, always came up in these conversations. I try to live by this rule as much as I can, although I fall short from time to time like everyone else. So many adults drummed the Golden Rule into my head as a child that I just assumed it was universally followed. It was, after all, a Golden Rule.

Now that I am sitting in different classrooms, learning how teachers  interact with their students, I have noticed that the Golden Rule is not being followed by everyone. You probably think that I am referring to the students and you are partially right. I have seen students be disrespectful to their teachers countless times, both when I was a high-school student and now that I am observing classes. In high school I assumed that students deserved their punishment when the teacher deemed them “disrespectful”. My upbringing taught me to respect both the Golden Rule and authority. However, I now see that this outlook was based on certain assumptions, assumptions that failed to consider the antecedents of certain disrespectful student behaviors.

My classroom observations have been teaching me that some teachers are not following the Golden Rule, even though they insist their students follow it. If a teacher demands respect, they should also show some level of respect in return. Even though students know of the Golden Rule when it comes to their teachers, it gets difficult for them follow if some of those teachers do not model that behavior. There have been instances when I lost respect for a teacher because they showed little consideration toward their students when addressing them. I was conditioned to just let it slide because, if I got into an argument, I felt there was no way for me to win. However, not all students will let an insult pass by without them having a say about it. This usually ends in an argument with the teacher. If a teacher says that students have to respect them and the rest of the class, but then the teacher calls them names, makes them feel stupid or perhaps insults them out of frustration, how can a teacher expect respect in return?

Students are human beings with feelings, even though they may not always understand those feelings. If they feel as if they have been debased, they usually answer back in kind. This is by no means a justification for poor student behavior, just a call for some empathy. How would you react if you were told that what you did was dumb, even though you were not taught how to do it? How would you react if you were constantly put down instead of being encouraged to constantly to do your best? How would you react if your culture was insulted in any way, shape or form, intentionally or not? If it was one adult saying these kinds of things to another adult, there would be an argument between them. Even though teachers are supposed to have authority, some students will not allow a teacher to insult them, especially in front of the entire class. They will speak up and possibly insult the teacher in return. One also has to take into account the fact that students usually close ranks when a teacher insults one of them, especially if the insult has to do with one’s culture and/or values. This diminishes the teacher’s authority and makes it difficult to maintain control of the class.

Yes, unfortunately I have seen such situations in the time I have been observing classrooms. In an era when NYC teachers have virtually no recourse in disciplining unruly students, the only authority at their disposal is moral authority. It is tough to see how a teacher can make it to June without it.

Even though I have seen teachers who say things to insult students, this certainly is not the norm. The majority of the teachers I have had, and the majority of the teachers I have known throughout my life, generally followed the Golden Rule even when their students did not. Furthermore, I believe the times I have seen teachers lose control of themselves was when they were frustrated, a point all human beings reach from time to time. Perhaps the teacher felt that saying something shocking or especially mean was the only way to get their students’ attention.

A teacher should not let their frustrations drive their actions because it may end up alienating their students completely, reducing the influence they exercise in the classroom. This has the potential to create a vicious cycle of frustration and alienation, each feeding off the other and making it progressively harder for the teacher to have effective classroom management. From my perspective, it is easy for me to talk about the Golden Rule because I have yet to be charged with controlling a classroom. In a way, I am grateful for the opportunity to witness these candid classroom moments. They have taught me much about the dynamics of student behavior. There is value in learning what to avoid when I start my own career.

One thing this has taught me is that the classroom is a reflection of the teacher. It is ironic to learn all of these theories in college that take the view that the teacher who teaches best teaches least. Since classrooms take on the personality of their teachers, does this mean that the teacher who teaches least has students who learn the least? Is this not also a manifestation of the Golden Rule?

For now, it seems as if the Golden Rule is the only pedagogical theory that holds water.

Angry Teachers Compilation

When I was a student, I would love it when one of our teachers flipped out on the class. It was great entertainment and killed a few minutes we could have spent on boring stuff like learning.

A part of me still takes a guilty pleasure in watching teachers totally lose it. As a teacher, I sympathize. But as that teenager that still lurks in my heart, I am entertained.

This poor guy was obviously having a bad day. His students did not help matters.

Professor flips out over yawn.

Don’t mess with this guy’s calculator.

This looks like a NYC classroom. It seems like there are 40 students in this room.

This teacher believes in America.

Substitute teaching is never easy.

This teacher has had it and it finally came out.

Another teacher who has had it.

And my favorite….

Thoughts on these videos? What could the students have done differently? The teachers? As teachers, are you concerned that you might show up on Youtube one day?

Teacher Interrupted

I was trained in the days when a teacher’s classroom was their castle. We were told that, no matter what the curriculum said, we could close the door and do whatever we thought was best. Nobody, except administrators, had a right to walk into your classroom without permission.

This is an idea that I still take very seriously. There are 30 teenagers in front of me 5 times a day. I am responsible for their safety and education. There is nobody else there: no principal, no security agent, no chancellor, no Bloomberg, no education reformer, nobody. It is just me and the kids, many of whom would rather be doing a million other things with their time.

It is a tricky thing to get 30 inner-city teenagers to care, or at least not tune out, a 50-minute lesson on the Ming Dynasty. Armed with nothing but chalk and charm, I have to help teenagers arrive at knowledge they might never hear or see again. Bringing students to the place where they are receptive takes work, patience and preparation.

And this is why I hate being interrupted.

We are in the middle of a lesson, maybe a student is asking a question or I am answering one, and then the phone rings. “Can so-and-so come to the office after the period is over?” So now, instead of just trying to deliver this lesson and keep the kids engaged, I have to remember to deliver this all-important message to Johnny that he should come to the office.

When do I do this? Do I slam down the phone and say in front of the class “Johnny, go to the office at the end of the period”? Do I try to keep on teaching, walk over to Johnny while 30 eyes are on me and whisper the message in Johnny’s ear? Do I wait until the end of the period and tell Johnny as the students are filing out of the room? Will I even remember to do this when the period is over?

After the 50th or so call from the “office” this year, I realized something: none of these calls are important. If there was one such call during the year, it would stick out as an emergency. I would say “oh wow, it must be important, they never call from the office.” But they always call from the office, every day. I am required to step out of my role as educator and into my role as gopher for people too lazy to leave the comfort of their own desk.

My new policy: you want to talk to a kid, go find him/her yourself.

But I suppose I have to be careful what I wish for. There are those other interruptions where visitors physically appear in my classroom. Sometimes it is a school aide who needs to drop off some bit of info for a certain student. Over the past few days, it has been my fellow teachers who have found reason to visit students in my class. Last week, a teacher stood at the threshold of my classroom door (which I keep almost always open) and stared in scanning the rows of students. The students started chuckling at this. A few days ago, a teacher came to my class to drop off some review sheets for his exam.

While I understand there might be those moments that you desperately need to see a few students, I try very hard never to disturb another teacher’s classroom. I believe I have done it once all year and felt terrible about it. What goes on in the classroom is the most important thing to happen inside of a school building. I treat it as a sacred thing. Disturbing class time to me is like handing out leaflets in church while the sermon is taking place.

It is not that I am insecure about my classroom management. It is that I know the type of work that is behind bringing students to a certain intellectual and emotional place. That place is very delicate. Any disturbance, any side comment, even a change in body language can throw off the entire balance. A ringing phone or an outside visitor dispels all of the mystique in one short moment. The class might not get out of control, but that delicate place certainly gets lost.

I was much more tolerant of this stuff at the start of my career. People would call or visit and I might even engage them in empty banter. We would go back to the lesson after the person left without missing much of a beat. After 12 years of visitors and disturbances, it gets tougher for me to be so accommodating.

Part of it is that most people, including teachers, think that students are going to be in groups or working independently when they call or visit. Having the teacher answer the phone or track down a student is not a big deal in these situations, since the teacher is not doing much direct teaching. However, I am a traditionalist. This means that I largely establish the rhythm of the class. Either I am asking a question, writing notes or listening to a student. At the same time, I am formulating where we should go from that point and how to make the next smooth transition. There are a million things happening inside of my brain. A ringing phone or a visiting teacher is very distracting.

I suppose this gets to the heart of the matter. After 33 years on the planet earth with ringing phones, outside obligations, orders barked and the general din of New York City, I value more and more the time that exists for quiet reflection. The classroom is probably one of the only places where kids get a chance to do some actual thinking in a relatively peaceful environment. For 50 minutes, we can seal ourselves off from the world, leave our problems behind and enter a place of abstraction and ideas that few children will rarely experience again.

These are the ramblings of an old man I suppose.  There is nothing I can do to stop these disturbances, but it gets tougher to make my peace with them.