Fire Extinguisher

Classroom Management Tip: Call The House, Not The Dean

Jose Vilson Mr. Vilson 8 Comments

Fire Extinguisher

Yesterday, something occurred to me as the dean walked past my class and our school had a change of period, I hadn’t once called the dean for anything this whole year. The students I’ve had this year are on average the same as most of the other classes I’ve had, behaviorally and academically. They’re still precarious about studying and homework (something else I’ll have to discuss next week), and they’re still learning about the limits I’ve created, a “social” learning environment that sometimes becomes too gossipy. Yet, for some reason, I’ve decided that I wasn’t going to take any grievances with students to the dean, but to themselves and then their parents.

Over the last five years, I’ve learned a harsh lesson in classroom management: you can’t call the dean for everything. Yes, the dean is there to enforce rules and ensure that students keep behavioral disruptions down to a minimum. However, there’s a few secrets they don’t say until they’ve had it:

  • The dean doesn’t want to hear about gum chewing, uniform compliance, or mildly chatty individuals. They’d rather hear about utter disrespect, classless behaviors, and repeated tardiness. Degrees of defiance matters.
  • The dean not only called the parent you’re about to ask the dean to call, but has them on his proverbial speed dial and has a good relationship with the parent already.
  • The dean doesn’t just work for you; he works for the whole building directly or indirectly.

Some of this fluctuates in time and place, but I’ve found these three tenets hold true for many schools. The implications of these tenets means the following for teachers:

  • You have to find ways to nix or dissuade unrecommended behaviors from happening. If they’re hungry and eating breakfast in your class, have them stand outside with you or sit somewhere else while the others are working? If they’re chewing gum, get them as they enter in, not in the middle of class. And if anything, just give them a look that you know and you’ll be speaking with them after class about it.
  • You need to build a strong relationship with the parent like the dean has. Deans shouldn’t act as surrogates or conduits, but supplements to your arguments about issues concerning the student.
  • You work with other classes; stay calm.

Students don’t see this idea of time the way adults do. When kids act out in the class, you wait, step back, hold your composure, and calmly make your warning to the class. Every so often, we need to light a fire under our students (and do we ever). However, similar to the dean thing, if you keep using it, it loses value. You want to call the dean or use the diatribe in special cases. Be specific and immediate with the student, and get the rest of the class back on task as quickly as you can, if possible.

When you have to speak about that specific behavior with the class, you have about 24 hours to do so: right after they do it (I’m ambivalent about that because the heat of the moment can make you lose it), at the end of the day (better), or the next day in the beginning of class (best, because you’ve given it time to cement in your head how you’re going to act). Whatever you do, don’t let it fester. Don’t tolerate it. Don’t let your dean do any of these things for you. It gives you the power in the relationship. At first, I didn’t get it, but now, after five years doing this, I’m glad when I don’t have to see him at all.

Yes, the fire extinguisher is a great, bright tool, but see if simply turning off the stove or dropping a glass of water on the fire works before using it.

Jose, who doesn’t always appreciate learning things by getting burnt …

About Jose Vilson

José Luis Vilson is a math educator, blogger, speaker, and activist. For more of my writing, buy my book This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class, and Education, on sale now.

Comments 8

  1. NYC Educator

    Great advice Jose. I couldn’t agree more. I haven’t called a dean in years, except when I sub. I don’t care when I sub. But in long term relationships with kids, I like to let them know it’s me they need to worry about.

  2. ms_teacher

    Agree!! I decided to not make a big deal over things like gum, eating in class & cell phones as long as my students didn’t make a big deal over them. My students could bring a snack into class in the morning as long as it was somewhat healthy & they cleaned up after themselves. They also were allowed to chew gum as long as they were discrete. If a cell phone went off in class, I never made a big deal out of it. For kids who didn’t bring a pencil to class, I had the small golf pencils (you can get 100 in a box for real cheap), pens they could borrow as long as they gave me something of value so that I could get my pen back.

    For me, it’s a lot like parenting. If we make a big deal out of everything, then when something serious happens, it’s hard for kids to understand why now is so different than before.

  3. Stephen Lazar

    This is all great advice, Jose. The best teachers know they need to deal with problems their selves in order to further build relationships with students in class so that the problems don’t persist. The one piece I would add to what you said is to never use immediate class removal, except in the emergency case of there being immediate danger. When teachers kick students out of class, they give up all control over the situation and lose the ability to directly address whatever behavior was problematic.

  4. Post
    Author
    Jose

    NYC Ed, for some reason, I’ve actually had better luck subbing than when I’m in class with them. Then again, it could be because they don’t know me and all wonder why is it that all my main kids respect me.

    Ms_teacher, parenting? Oy vey. Soon, I’ll know the joys. Until then, I’ll take your word for it.

    Stephen, glad you brought that up because it’s just another reason why I wouldn’t call the dean. Kicking students out makes it harder to get a relationship going. It took forever, but I’m learning what to do there. Slowly.

  5. Joan Young

    Not much I can add as you covered it so well!. Kudos to you once more for reminding us that we are the ones who have the power within the relationships we have with our students. If anyone is going to connect and make change with them, it’s us. Thank you for your inspiration, as always!

  6. Dawn

    Ditto to all of the above. I didn’t use the dean after my first year of teaching. Students preferred it too- they knew that they were going to be dealing with me, and that I didn’t feel that we needed to get a third party involved. Plus, my level of tolerance increased for “unruly” behavior…I just started learning that kids were going to do “kid” things, and I needed to decide what was best for the entire group (like Ms_teacher, disruption was alleviated by setting up the room for students to be self-advocates). The dean wasn’t in my classroom all day each day, so s/he wasn’t the expert on how to handle conflicts on my turf – I was. Discipline isn’t a fantastic part of our job, but as you all mentioned, it is key in developing relationships. Plus, I bet you would all agree that what starts as a discipline issue can often become great connections with students.

  7. Ericka

    I enjoyed reading your response to how to use/not use the Dean, but there is no DITTO here. What happens when the student behavior is openly disrespectful, readily insubordinate? What happens when calling the parent becomes a situation where the number is disconnected or a random business or fax number or call center in Nebraska (and your teach in NYC)? What happens when you do reach a parent, and the parent blames you, or tells you it is your problem, or they are going to do something, and the behavior doesn’t change? What happens when you try incentives with the child, behavior/academic contract, flexible seating, and everything else you can name, and still you have made no progress. Then what? Do you call the Dean at this point? Do you call the guidance counselor who is always busy with paperwork? When the student disrespects the Dean, and all of the other students and faculty witness the disrespect and due to “red tape”, the student cannot be suspended, then what? Remember, law enforcement says kids should not be suspended because they commit crimes, and local politicians support this belief. Now the student(s) is in school, and consistently disrupting the learning process. Now what? Where does a teacher go from here?

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