Tuesday, June 9, 2009
Hmmm...Dorothy's response to my previous blog has got me to wondering about my classroom management. Is part of the reason I enjoy teaching because I get to tell 30+ teenagers at a time what to do?
When I began teaching 14 years ago, I used to wonder if the student-teacher ratio ever occurred to the kids. Did they notice that they outnumbered us 30 to 1? What if they staged a riot? Even if the cafeteria workers came to help, there would still be at least 15 students for every adult. They could easily pin us down.
Of course, they never did. One time a group of freshmen protested the policy (no longer in force) against coming to school with one's hair an unnatural color. A group of rebels, led by a young lady (formerly blonde) with long, green hair, refused to come back to class after lunch. They staged a sit-in at the flagpole in front of the school, changing "Hell no, we won't go." Still makes me chuckle. That's the most unfriendly I've ever seen the students become.
As a classroom teacher, the more likely problem is that one or a few students become difficult during class. I have learned that it never works to escalate the situation. It is always better to get things calmer and then talk with the student(s) as individuals. When a student is difficult, it usually means that she is bored. One of my favorite colleagues often reminds new teachers that the best classroom management is a strong curriculum; if there are classroom management problems, then the first place to look is in the lesson plans.
But "classroom management" sounds so bossy and so impersonal. I rarely think of my time in the classroom this way.
When I was finishing up my undergraduate courses, I took a pre-education course at Lewis and Clark College. It was taught by an adjunct professor; I don't remember his name, and I only remember one thing he taught, but that one thing completely changed my view of education and how I approach my days with my students. "The only real teaching," he said, "is done one on one." I thought he was full of baloney. I knew about class sizes, and I knew this wasn't possible. He was talking pie in the sky, but he was completely serious. "Until you have a relationship with a student," he went on, " you can't truly teach them anything."
That part rang true, and I remembered it. From day one, I am working to build a relationship with each student. I make it a point to have their names memorized by the third day of class. It's not impossible. Work from a seating chart, spend some time on name-memorization games the first few days, grade an assignment for every student within the first three days. Make that a meaningful assignment. I ask the kids to write about something meaningful to them, and I use that as a way to get to know them, too. I work at letting them get to know me. I make a point of saying good morning + their name to every student as they come in the door.
The relationship building doesn't end after three days. The most critical thing I can to do help my students be productive and learning is to treat them respectfully. The Golden Rule works. I refer to them as "readers" or "writers," not "students." If they come in late, I don't make a big deal; just mark the tardy in the attendance book and say, "I'm glad you're here."
Because I am. And so they are, too. And when they know that I am glad to see them, that we have purposeful work to do, that I will help them respectfully if they are struggling, the problems--for the most part--don't even materialize. It's actually not even about control. It's about sharing the planet.