When asked what my “classroom management plan” is, I've always said that I build strong relationships with my students; as result, good behavior and hard work follows.
When a kid respects you and knows you respect them, they work hard and diligent. If they have a momentary outburst or disrupt the class, a simple ‘look’ usually gets them back on track. It’s mutual respect that comes from relationship-building, and it’s why I’ve never had to send a student to the office or given out a detention in 5 years----- until last week.
I’ll spare you the details, but a small group of students in one of my classes has halted learning on many occasions for the rest of the students in my room.
At first I attributed this to my curriculum, and figured these students who are naturally high-energy were bored. I decided I needed to amp up the work we do and make it more exciting and engaging. I made the learning more authentic, created incentives, and brought more and more excitement to this class.
It didn’t work.
The outbursts continued, the paper airplanes continued to fly, and I continued to struggle with this group of students.
So I started pulling individual students aside, and talked to them one-on-one, man-to-man about their behavior. I received sincere apologies and assurances of better days in English class.
But when this group got back together as a whole, the behavior continued. Pack mentality overrode their commitments to me.
Finally, my tolerance for their conduct reached its limit, and I would get angry with this group. I’d stop class and give mini-speeches about respect and public decency, and let them in on how it feels as a teacher to try to direct 31 students through complex material while trying to keep the environment safe and their spirits high.
I was sure this group finally “got it,” and that I would see dramatic changes in their behavior.
The next day one of them let off a stink bomb at the end of class.
I went home that day feeling truly defeated, not understanding why everything I knew as a teacher was failing. Relationship-building failed. Engaging curriculum failed. Heartfelt speeches failed.
A student (who was not in that group) came up to me the next day in class and said, “You know why they act like this, don’t you?” I responded that I really didn't understand. And the student said,”It’s because they can get away with it.”
That’s when I realized that this group of kids was taking advantage of what I thought was grace. My endless second-chances, which were my attempt at winning them over, were more harmful than good. I was tolerating disrespect. I was allowing rudeness. I was letting students believe that it was okay to do whatever they wanted whenever they wanted to whoever they wanted.
I was failing to teach the lesson, which very much applies in life-after-school, that negative actions carry consequences. If you do not work hard, you will not be promoted. If you do not work at all, you get fired. If you are rude and disrespectful to people, they will not want to be around you. It’s a simple concept, but one that has to be taught through experience.
And so the next day, I told this group of students their warnings were up- that there’d be no more speeches, no more gentle reminders, no more changing their seating- any disrespect to me or their peers would lead to a detention.
One of them did not believe me, and so spent Friday after school in the Assistant Principal’s office.
I wish I could say this felt gratifying, but it stung. This isn’t how I handle things. This is not how I manage my classroom.
But then I noticed the rest of the group taking notice. They were beginning to see where my line is drawn, and what happens if they cross it.
I want my students to be smart, knowledgeable, hard working, enthusiastic, creative, caring citizens when they leave my class. I also want them to be respectful, and I am learning that it’s hard to teach them these other things when they don’t have respect down first. So I will continue to jump on tables, do spoken word poetry, plan epic projects, and teach with excitement and passion.
But I will also be giving out detentions and call parents. And that’s okay.