Friday, September 25, 2009

Finders Keepers

I feel like many of my posts are focused on the challenges of teaching…so I’m going to add a touch of comic relief!

This actually happened to me a couple of weeks ago, but it is so hilarious that it warrants being posted for the world to read. In our guided reading, our class was reading a story called “The Pumpkin Box”. The character in the book liked to dig for things and one day he dug and found a time capsule. My students were to think about a time when they found something (relating their personal experiences back to the text). One student said they remember when they found a toy that they had lost. Another student remembered when she found her mom’s keys. And then there was “Daniel”!! Daniel explains a time when he found….wait for it….a BILLION dollar bill!!! So, of course, my CT and I thought did not really focus too much on this because clearly he didn’t find a BILLION dollar bill. But that was his story and he was most certainly sticking to it!!

Daniel said that he found the BILLION dollar bill outside somewhere (he forgot where) and he gave it to his principal. By the time he got to this point in the story, the entire class was in an uproar- “You’re telling a fib because there’s no such thing as a BILLION dollar bill!!!”, “You must mean a MILLION dollar bill!” My CT and I tried to get him to fess up about the validity of his story, but he was about as adamant as someone who was telling the truth!! If I didn’t know any better, I would’ve believed him!!!

So when things in the classroom get tough, think about how much easier your life would be if you were the one who received a BILLION dollar gift from a student!!! I don’ know about you, but I’ve got my fingers crossed!! Who needs the Lottery when you can have a BILLION dollar bill!!

Stop Picking on Me!!!

There are two students (one boy- “Luke”and one girl- “Melissa”) in my class that are perhaps the most stubborn and rebellious students I have ever worked with. They are frequently engaging in behavior that does not coincide with the expectations in the classroom or school. With the majority of students in my class, when they are being disrespectful or disruptive, I address it and they correct the behavior. With these two students, every situation becomes an argument or a challenge. They never accept responsibility for their actions and have, on numerous occasions accused me of “picking on them”. They defy the warnings that I give them and consciously choose not to replace the poor behaviors in an attempt to challenge my authority (my hypothesis). Once I “make them mad” it is a lost cause for the rest of the day

Melissa and Luke have had a profound impact on the classroom dynamic and my teaching. When they refuse to work, they make it seem like it in our class you can do whatever you want, and when you want to do it. Luckily, the other students haven’t modeled this behavior yet. It isn’t fair to the other students that they have to work, even if they don’t want to, but Melissa and Luke can work when they feel like it. When working in small groups, these two students frequently refuse to cooperate. One two separate occasions I have gotten so fed up with their poor attitudes that I have sent them back to their desks. I was spending so much time getting them back on task that I was neglecting the students who were taking care of business. So, what purpose did that serve? Melissa and Luke just went back to their desks and doodled, distracted others, or whatever else they felt like doing.

They have also made me question whether or not I am targeting them throughout the day. I also feel weary of enforcing consequences for their misbehaving because of the drama that ensues each time I ask them to correct their conduct. I hesitate to say that I am afraid of them because I am not. I guess I just feel like they are going to be defiant no matter what, so why even bother I know this is not the mentality I should have, but I do not know what else to do. . I sometimes feel like I am arguing with my little sibling or cousin, but I still end up “losing” in the end. I talked to my CT about it and she said that in no way am I targeting Melissa and Luke. Oddly enough, she does not encounter the same attitude that I get with these students. As I discussed with the two students myself, if every time I look up you are doing something you should not be done, I cannot be picking on you. You need to correct you behaviors so that I am not always seeing you misbehaving. I also make it a point to praise these students when I see appropriate behavior. I tell them that I love how quietly they walked in the hallway or how patiently they waited for me to come around to assist them. Even with encouraging positive behaviors, I still have not made any headway with decreasing the amount of attitude I get throughout the day on most days.

The disrespect that these students show me almost on a daily basis is not acceptable. As frustrated as I get with them, every interaction I have with them, I am conscious that I am not holding grudge or being mean. Every time we cross paths, I want it to be a new start. Unfortunately, these two students won’t let that happen….at least not yet! For next week, I want to have a one-on-one talk with the students. I would make sure, though, that it did not seem like I was targeting these students. I want to highlight positive behaviors that I know they have shown in the past. During this meeting, I will also talk about negative behaviors I have seen as well. I would present students with behaviors they’ve exhibited and ask them to think about why they may have gotten a number and what they could have done differently. My ultimate goal is for the students to walk away knowing that I am not picking on them, but that they are responsible for their behaviors and must face the consequences of them. Maybe we could right up an agreement that says what the students will agree to and what I will agree to. In this agreement, I would also clarify what will happen if students do not hold their end of the deal. This is just one idea, but whatever I choose, if it does not work out, the next step will be having a nice sit-down or conversation with their guardians because their negative attitudes and behaviors cannot continue.

I could also take this situation and create an opportunity to confer with each student briefly to discuss great things I’ve seen them do and maybe some things they can commit to working on. After these conferences, I would maybe have the class right down some things that they think I could work on and turn them in to me. I want them to know that I am not perfect and even teachers have things we need to work on. The ultimate goal is for students to understand that anyone can improve their behavior or attitude at any time, but only they have the power to do it.

Monday, September 21, 2009

What a Waste!!!!

First, I would like to thank everyone who has commented on my posts! Your insight is welcomed and I have learned so much from what you all have said to me. I am growing and becoming a better teacher with each passing day and you are helping to make that even more profound……THANKS!!

Well, now for our regularly scheduled program….the realities of teaching!! Okay, so today was a pretty good day, the usual challenging students were still at it, but it was overall a good day. There was, however, something that happened today that made me wonder about its effectiveness. Let me explain. A student from a 4th grade class was misbehaving in his classroom. The class as a whole was out of control because there was a substitute for the day. This student, who I’ll call “Joe”, was totally acting out. Early that morning, my teacher extended an option to the sub that she could send any unruly students to our classroom. Guess who came to our room after lunch….yep, it was Joe! The sub entered our classroom and asked (a.k.a. insisted) that Joe spend some time in our room because he was not behaving. The student came into our room and my CT told him to sit in a chair in the front corner of the class.

The student spent about 20 minutes just looking at the walls and I asked my CT if she wanted me to work with him on his assignments or discuss his behavior and what he could do differently next time. My CT told me no because he needed to sit and think about what he did. She felt that if he sat there long enough doing nothing, he would not act in such a poor manner again because he wouldn’t want to sit and do nothing. Joe ended up spending 1.5 hours sitting, not engaged in any learning, conflict resolution, or behavior modification.

Basically, I think this was a complete waste of time!! All it did was make the student even more upset and his time just sitting around did not do anything to discuss and modify his conduct. Joe was also a cross cat. Student (reason why he left our room after 1.5 hrs) and is probably at an even greater loss by not being in class to learn the material.

I don’t think this situation was handled well at all! Students need to be called out on their behavior, but they also need to talk about the consequences, and what they can do differently the next time. If these types of discussions do not take place, I do not feel like students are held accountable for their behaviors or given tools to improve. I feel like even when a student misbehaves, they still need to be valued. Today, Joe was not treated with respect today. I feel bad for him, but I know if presented with the situation when I am teaching, I will do things differently.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Survival of the Fittest Teacher

I will officially consider today the most challenging day of my student teaching experience!!! I was so flabbergasted by the behavior of my students that I am STILL at a loss for words! Where do I even begin???????

I started to write about all of the things that went wrong today but I am not going to do that. I have vowed to try to be as constructive as possible and I want that to continue. Please know, however, that I have done my fair share of venting today, so I am not keeping everything bottled up, only to explode soon after! So no, my students did not follow directions today, nor did they respect each other, do their homework, or walk quietly in the hallway. But, at the end of the day, I love them to the moon and still want only the best for them. So, objectively looking at the chaos that was my day today, I feel like I did contribute to some of the madness. I believe that even though students are responsible for the behavior, teachers can contribute to problems in the classroom by having a short fuse, not implementing immediate consequences to poor behaviors, antagonizing students who need to be left alone because you want them to cooperate on your clock, and the list most certainly goes on. Below are the things that I want to work on to maintain more control of the classroom, respect student space and needs, and maximize the time spent learning:

- Don’t argue with students…..poor behaviors=negative consequences…end of story. I feel like I spent way too much time today arguing with students about whether or not they were actually doing what I “accused” them of doing. Assuming students understand expectations and resulting consequences, there is no need to debate whether or not it was fair or why they are in trouble and “Billy” isn’t.
- Praise those students who are taking care of business. Today, especially, I know these students were overlooked because so much time was spent dealing with the students who behaved poorly. I do not want to help create an atmosphere that inadvertently puts value and attention on inappropriate behaviors that are in no way deserving of it.
- One thing that I want to CONTINUE doing is discussing the day’s behavior with students. When there has been an issue with behavior, I always try to talk to the students about what I observed and ask them to tell me what contributed to their unacceptable behavior today. I focus on positive behaviors that I have seen in the past and want to see every day instead of the negatives ones. Most students are usually receptive to this and seem to appreciate that I want to understand why their behavior changed instead of just judging them as “being bad”. There are a couple of strong-willed students who refuse to talk to me and/or get very defensive during this time , so I have learned to wait until they cool down and are ready for a constructive dialogue.

At the end of the day, I can say I survived the most challenging day yet!! I am glad this day is over with and am ready to get back in there and start fresh. New day = new start. I can’t lie though, I am so happy that I have my methods courses ALL DAY tomorrow (never thought I’d say that). A break from the kiddos gets no complaints from me! I will see them for a few hours at the after-school program, but that will be a breeze!! Oh wow, and Friday is a school improvement day so no kiddos then either….I might just miss them by the time Monday gets here!!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Tattle, Tattle, Tattle-Tellers

Frequently each day, I have students come up to me and tell me that someone cussed at them, some hit them, someone stole their mechanical pencil, or something to those effects. Some appear to be serious while others seem to be simply trying to get attention. Either way, in most situations, I did not see what happened.

This type of “tattling” is becoming more and more prevalent. It usually happens like this: “Lisa” gets in trouble by me for throwing a pencil eraser across the room. As I am reprimanding her, she tells me that “Mike” threw something at her too. Sometimes, it isn’t even spurred by a specific event. For example, “Tony” may come up to me as we are in the process of lining up for Specials and say, “Mark” hit me. These situations seem minor and more like he said, she said, but they have been causing a little frustration for me because I do not know what I should be taking seriously. How do I decide what is worth reacting to and what is better left ignored? What I fear is that I may choose to ignore something that is actually a valid concern and a student suffers because of it. Furthermore, if I choose not to ignore something, how should I respond/what should I say to that student? Do I even have the right to call them out if I didn’t even see them do anything? Overall, I have been casting most complaints to the side as “tattles” and honestly, I believe they are. I just wish I could refine my discretion as to what is serious and what is not.

I am certain that I will encounter more pressing issues in my career as a teacher. However, this is a situation that if left unresolved can really disrupt the classroom dynamic. I want my students to know that if there is a problem they can come to me and I will demand that they are treated with respect. On the other hand, my students need to understand that we do not have time to tattle. I also want to help them see that the more they come to me about insignificant things, I naturally grow less likely to believe them when there is truly something serious going on. I believe that part of my responsibility as a teacher is to help students learn to self-assess the situations in which they find themselves and determine if it is really worth bringing to my attention. Most times, students are capable of handling the situation without the intervention of a teacher. For example, if someone is bothering “Tony”, he can kindly ask that person to stop tapping their shoulder/stop humming, etc. I am aware that if I am having trouble knowing how and when to respond to these situations, my students almost certainly are too. I am committing myself to making sure that both I and my class have the tools needed to make the best decisions in these situations.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Sick of Complaints...So I'm Complaining!!

Okay, so I need a place to vent and I couldn’t think of a better place! It has nothing to do with my school, CT, or students. The issue is with my cohorts in my year-long student teaching program. I feel like this is the whiniest group of girls I have ever worked with!!!! They complain about everything from the new math curriculum (which I think is quite wonderful!), our methods course work, our methods textbooks, having class in the morning, having class in the afternoon, reflections, reflections, having classrooms in which some students do not speak English at all, and the list most certainly goes on. I guess my frustrations stems from the belief that as student teachers, we are professionals. I understand that sometimes you just want to get things off of your chest, but when every meeting turns into a total bash about some aspect of our experience, it starts to get a little old.

One of the most annoying points of complaint comes from one girl who is so upset that she got a new student from a French-speaking country in Africa and speaks no English. First off, she refers to him as the “African kid”!!! I’m sorry, but that just sticks out to me as totally offensive…how about using his name or saying the new student?? Just a thought. Anyways, she talks about how frustrating it is that he doesn’t understand anything, doesn’t know how to walk up the stairs or in a line for that matter. I wonder if she has ever stopped to think that maybe his life experiences in his home country did not lend themselves to walking up stairs or walking in quiet lines not touching the walls or talking. Just a thought. I just feel that as educators, we have to be tolerant and understanding of experiences that differ from our own. It doesn’t make us stupid or incapable of learning, it simply means we have a different wealth of experiences to bring to the table. I did speak up a little, but sometimes you just can’t win. Ignorance is bliss for far too many. I do pray that they get it together for the sake of the children; they cannot afford to be exposed to such narrow-minded views.

Based on these last few weeks, I know it will be a long year. Hopefully the constant complaining and inability to accept the diversity of learners is not contagious. To make sure I don’t catch this virus, I am committed to reflecting on my own beliefs, comments, and practices and making sure they exhibit the compassion and desire to make change that dwells in my heart. Maybe my peers will be infected with those instead!! Hopefully that turns out to be more than just a thought!

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Real Life Behavior Management

While working on math with a small group during our intervention block, I had 2 out of 4 students that quickly became complete uncooperative. “Jeremy” was fine at the beginning. He was finished answering the problems early. He tried helping one of the other students but grew frustrated because they were not “getting it” quickly enough. “Jeremy” then started distracting other students by talking to them, he was drawing all over his worksheet, not responding when I would call on him, and simply not cooperating when his cooperation was needed. “Phillip” soon followed “Jeremy’s” lead. Out of nowhere, Phillip starts giving me attitude when I call on him. He completely ignored me when I would ask him a question. Eventually, I got fed up with their antics and demanded that both of them return back to their desks since they obviously did not want to cooperate. They both stomped off, snatching papers and pouting all the way back to their seats.

This was a very difficult situation for me. I ended up spending more time trying to get them to focus on the material than I did making sure that the math concepts for clear with everyone. Because I wanted to make sure that everyone benefited from the small group work, I think I put up with their behavior for longer than I should have. This impacted the students because the other two students who were working diligently lost valuable time with me. Also, Jeremy and Phillip got the attention they were looking for, but in the process sent me to a level of frustration that I had not experienced so far in the two weeks of school. I was mad at myself that I neglected the other two students but also irritated that I was not able to successfully get Jeremy and Phillip back on track.

I have now been exposed to the reality that students do not always want to work when and how I want them to work. Looking back, I think that Jeremy was off task because he was bored with the pace of the small group. He is one that takes a little while to understand a concept but when he gets it, he gets it. When seeing that he understood what he was doing, I should have had something else lined up to keep him occupied and challenged. I think he was subconsciously trying to tell me he needed something else, but I misread what he was doing. I later talked with him about his behavior and explained to him that if he is frustrated, upset, or even bored, he needs to let me know because otherwise I think he is just misbehaving. He was very receptive to my suggestions and I think going forward, both him and I will be more aware. Phillip on the other hand, would not even make eye contact with me afterward. I know he is very stubborn and holds grudges for about as long as he can. I just understand now that he is a follower and will behave as others are if he sees it gets them attention. Perhaps the most important thing I have discovered is that there must be zero tolerance for misbehaving because the learning experience for others is compromised. I can stop thinking about what more could have been accomplished in the group if I didn’t spend half of the time trying to get the other two on track. Student learning is my first priority and I will set the expectation that unruly behavior is not going to be tolerated. I also want students to know that it is their responsibility to communicate with me how they are feeling because I cannot read minds. I think that by establishing those expectations, I will hopefully be able to ensure that learning is taking up the majority of the time in the classroom.