Friday, February 27, 2009

Digging Out

Well I think it is about time that I let everyone in on what happened when I went in on Thursday and put the hammer down – so here’s the scoop.

I went into class and started it like normal, with a greeting and asking students to sit down, and then I brought it down on them. I pulled out the teacher voice for a little bit and told them that this was how it was going to be – a three strike policy. They did not seem too enthused about the situation; much less the fact that I did not show them the class policies either (as I figured they knew them as they signed the sheet at the beginning of the semester). So I started class from there and the students started racking up the strikes. Before I knew it I had six students on strike one. Remember that strike two is actually kicking them out.

Class continued on and the students continued some of their normal behavior, getting out of their seats without asking permission, talking out of turn without raising their hand, and various other things that broke class policies. So I stuck to my guns and started handing out strike twos – meaning that students would get kicked out of the classroom. So I kicked out two students pretty quickly, based on their behavior and the class was really quiet now as they understood that I meant business. Then from there two more students got kicked out because of their behavior in the class, not raising their hands before talking. So all in all, I had four students in the hallway, of which I used Anne to go out there with them. After school I sat down with the students that were kicked out and had a little chat with them. They thought that my expectations for them were ridiculous – two strikes and they are gone from the class. So I listened to them, heard them out, and really just kept my mouth shut. I did not want to make the situation any more heated than it already was.

As I left the school and headed for soccer practice, which I have discovered is really helpful for me; I started to reflect on my day. Being a coach, I have gotten a little bit of an insight into how hard I must be as a student teacher to mentor. I can’t even get my goalies to listen to what I am saying at time, how must Anne and Kristin feel at points? Anyway, after soccer I started to reflect on my day pretty heavily on the way home. I considered if the policy was a little too strict, three strikes for the whole semester and they never retire. Plus, one student came up to me after school and told me that she believed that she deserved a first strike. That blew me away, a student self reporting a strike. Her reasoning, though, was that I picked on a few certain kids and kicked them out, when I should have been giving other people strikes too. This shook me up a little bit. I wanted to think that I had everything under control and that my students were actually learning. Let me say, too, that Thursday was the most productive, most helpful, learning environment that I have ever been a part of during 6th hour. But I wondered if I was being too harsh? Did I really miss some kids and their first strike? If I did, I really would feel bad. Plus, I also wondered what I would do tomorrow, Friday, in the classroom. Would I continue to enforce my policies or not? Would I go over the class policies on Friday or not? Would I just continue on and stick to my guns a little bit more? What would it be?

So today, Friday, came and I was all ready to stick to my guns and grin and bear another day of teaching these students in my way, but then I had a revelation. I want this to be an enjoyable experience for them too. I want them to have a say in what they need to do in this classroom; however, that does not mean that I need to take everything they say and actually apply it to my teaching. So I started off class letting them know that I wanted to know what they thought about the three strike rule. Of course there was backlash about how it was too strict, too hard, and totally unfair. I knew that was coming, but what I did not expect was what came out of a few of the students that rarely talk. One student in particular had many good and thoughtful things to say about how the class was treating me very disrespectfully, which from a students’ standpoint was good to hear. In fact, that sentiment was echoed by many others as well. So that was nice that they realized the issue. However, they did not completely understand the solution.

Yesterday I was watching, at my supervising teacher’s request, a video attached to the awesome book (apparently, it was really good the part that I read) called The First Days of School. In there a teacher shared her classroom management techniques, but a thought that she said (and Anne has echoed this many times) was this: “You can have the best lesson plans in the world, have the most engaged students, but if there is no classroom management you are back to square one.” Those words really resonated with me. I do have good planning and good engagement, most of the time. I can always get better in both of those areas. However, the classroom management piece scared me. That’s why when today the students asked, they asked, to try and create their own class policy I gave them time. I know, I probably should have been covering poetry or making sure that everyone properly understands poetry in a new light, but this was important to them and it was important to me. I felt that it was valuable to actually receive their written feedback too. So I had them gather around each other and have a conversation, while I stayed out of the way. They were respectful and really listened to each other; however, they did not come to many solutions. What I prefaced this whole assignment with, was the fact that I would look at their suggestions to help me inform my own policy for the classroom. In addition, I did not want to be that teacher that does not have his classroom under control. I want to have control, I want them to learn, and I want this to be a positive environment for everybody. So I gave them time. It was really interesting watching them talk to each other and try and figure things out.

One thing that a student did accuse me of was that I did not know how to handle a classroom; because I am a student teacher and apparently I have no clue. I was a little upset after this comment because I have put in my time, I have learned the techniques, and I have tried implementing them (without much success). The interesting thing is that they notice that they have screwed up, although they will not admit that or even give me anything to work with.
In addition, they want to have a Socratic seminar style classroom. I told them that they cannot have a Socratic seminar setting with the amount of chatting they do over other students and how they talk without raising their hands. It will have to be something that I will take into consideration when they can actually show me that they can listen and respect each other. However, I held my ground and need to let them know where else I have taught and what that means – basically I need to gain a little bit of credibility with them. I can’t do, though, until I actually get the class under control, which I can’t do until I have a solid policy that the students think is a little fairer and that I can work with at the same time.

Know that I am not giving into their demands, which is the worst thing that I think could happen here – the class goes back to the way it was. I have got the students right where I want them, listening and actually wanting to contribute to the class discussion and I am not going to give that up for anything. I need to, and will preserve, because I am getting out of this hole.
To that end, I also have been taking time for myself. I went running the other day and then tonight I actually played soccer on a co-ed team. It was awesome to actually take some time for myself and really spend some time taking care of me. This weekend I look forward to having a friend visit and spending some time up in the mountains and away from my teaching to recharge and get myself ready for the week. I am figuring out this balance thing, one step at a time.

All in all, I think it has been a good past few days. I have worked hard, learned a lot, and will continue to learn as the new week starts. One day, one shovel, and one class at a time – I am getting out of this hole.