Pretty Sure I Got This

Jose VilsonEducation, Jose

Today was one of those days in which I had my homeroom for the entire day. That happens every 2 months or so, when they have a state-provided exam and the homeroom teacher has to administer said exam, order them alphabetically, and still have the same students for a double period of class right after lunch. It’s a daunting task to have the same group of students for 5 periods, but it’s particularly trying when it’s my homeroom, a class that’s gotten a bit of a reputation for being the worst-behaved class on the floor. It’s not just one or two headcases: at this point and time, every teacher who has them only wants literally 1/2 the class to go on trips based on academics and / or behavior.

I’ve had a bit of difficulty with them lately as well. I understand; the state exams are over, and it’s getting a little late in the year. Every relationship goes through a period where you wonder what the hell you’re doing in it to begin with. Nonetheless, many of the students have gotten particularly spiteful as of late, and in turn, I’ve had to show them I’m from the hood. (Secretly, I wonder why we act in our rather callous and dogmatic behaviors as urban teachers, but in more affluent settings, there’s less need for that, but really I know the answer. More to come at some point.) I have yet to curse at them, but I’ve let them know more often than not that I’m playing with them, and it’s taken a bit of a roll on my sanity.

For many of the children, calling houses doesn’t work, because with some of the students, their parents are either never home or the parents only pay you lip service. I’m not saying all, but some. Yet, that seems to be the 50% of my class I’m having a hard time with. So I went to my defaults: progress reports, interviews, and summer school status alerts. Theoretically, and ideally, I shouldn’t be lording that over their heads, but for a moment, it really worked for them.

Then, it all went to crap. Finally, today really, I decided that I’d get even more direct and concurrently make them more responsible for every action they do.

1. I now go on elongated rants and make a big deal out of every little thing they do that’s out of line. It’s similar to the Broken Windows Theory: if even the smallest thing goes awry in the classroom, then it opens the floodgates for bigger things. My lack of meticulousness has cost me before.

2. I changed their seats, and paid little mind to their interpersonal history. I tried sitting them with their enemies and they ended up arguing more often than not. I tried sitting them with their friends and they talked more than at any other point in my class. Finally, I sat them at random, paying attention more to behaviors and remedying them than just trying to squash a grape with a Louisville Slugger.

3. I pulled out the grade book from the very beginning, and had it in front of me the whole time. Many of us would agree that a student’s work behavior more than other aspects of their academics will eventually determine how successful they are as students. Thus, if I grade them on their preparedness, their participation in the conversation, and their willingness to try and ask questions, all while not disrupting other people’s learning, then I’m training them to become better students in any and every classroom.

4. I’ve handed things back to my kids more promptly. Before, I’d take too much time to give my kids back their assignments and exams. Now, I’ve trained myself to take no more than 2-3 school days to grade their work. I also already grade them during class, as aforementioned. That gives a clear picture of their academic success more readily.

5. If after I called out “5 … 3 … 1” I still don’t get quiet, I make the offending party stand up. Not all the offending parties, just a central one. That worked twice today, and it got their attention really quickly. I then had the person sit back down and told the parties involved what the proper procedure was for class.

I don’t know what it was about this set of rules I added to my repertoire, but it really made me feel that I could teach for the long haul. Sorta like Bruce Leroy in The Last Dragon, I kept getting submerged in water, but I just got The Glow. Even one of the girls who actually got really nasty with me said, “Mr. V, this was definitely a good change.” After the seat change, there was no attitude from her at all.

With only 26 days left in the NYC schedule, it’s imperative that we keep our sanity. What are you doing in these last few days to tighten the ship before it heads to shore? For the non-educators, what did you think of the disciplining aspect of some of your teachers? (There’ll be a follow-up post to this.)

jose, whose looking forward to all the trips he has planned …