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 …