Saturday, March 21, 2009

Obtaining Control

So if you have followed me in this journey for a while you know that I have had some issues with my ninth grade class and overall classroom management. Well Anne and Kristin, at the suggestion of their friends and other coworkers, went out and bought me The First Days of School. I went through there and read the section on classroom management and then started to apply some of the ideas to my classroom and also take from there some of the overall ideas and apply those to all my classes. Needless to say, it has gotten better, but it is not completely there yet.

So I rolled out the three strike policy a few weeks ago. The students receive a warning for anything that they are doing that violates the class policies (i.e. talking while I am talking, not raising their hand to add to the conversation, etc.). With a warning I make sure that the students understand what it is they are receiving it for, otherwise they are really confused in the end. From there, if the student continues a certain behavior that is unacceptable they receive one strike. If the behavior continues after one strike, then it goes to two strikes. At two strikes the student is sent out into the hallway and the parents/guardians get a phone call. At three strikes the students are sent out into the hallway and a referral is filed with the student’s assistant principal. These strikes accumulate by the week and so far only one person has gotten to the second strike.

The struggle has not been if the students will follow the policy, but instead how will I enforce it. The first few days were really rough because students all across the class were receiving strikes and it was hard to get them back under control. However, then the students began to realize that they did enjoy the class a little more structured when they could actually add to the conversation. It was hard for me, really hard, to be consistent with all the students. Some students added to the conversation constantly, and because they were doing that they were receiving more strikes. However, those that just sat there the entire period and did not always add to the conversation did not receive any strikes – just because they did not say or do anything in class. So then I ended up punishing those students that were making my class the special, conversational place that it was. Then these students got upset because they really felt that they had a place in the class, and that they were actually adding to the conversation. So that was a tough challenge between making these students feel like a welcomed and valued part of the class and also that they needed to follow the class policies like everyone else. So for a few weeks, and still to today, it has been a tough road to run. Handing out strikes and then explaining to the students why they received a strike while others did not – the consistency piece needs to come and it has over time. The class has started to come back, but I still need to come up with a good way to get back their attention after doing an activity with them or having them work in pairs.

The struggle, now, has been not how strict I want my classroom – because right at the beginning the class was dead silent all the time. Which for some might be a good idea of a classroom, and for me it really felt that I had control; however, it was clearly obvious that the students were not enjoying the classroom. I needed to be a little hard, especially at the beginning and I do need to continue that as I move into the last two weeks of student teaching, but how hard do I really need to be? How much conversation can I handle in one class? How much talking to a neighbor can I handle, especially while I am teaching? What if the student is checking with another student about the assignment for tomorrow? Then that is constructive learning, but at the same time it is while I am teaching and that does not make sense. So now I need to maintain a balance, but I need to come up with that balance in my classroom first. This is the balance between what I will allow and what I will not allow, the balance between students talking and me moving them away from their friends, and the balance between students talking and adding to the conversation by raising their hands and those that add to the conversation without raising their hands. I think that this balance is something that I have not figured out yet, but it is something that I need to continue to formulate and figure out in these last two weeks.
Yesterday in class I had a great conversation, multiple times, with one of my most troubled students that I have had a tough time with throughout my student teaching. Furthermore, my students followed my directions, for the most part, and they participated in the class discussion. Yes, they were typical ninth grade students and did not always stay on task and were chatty, but all things considered (the last period before Spring Break), they were good. They respect me, at least I think so, more than before, and they are trying, and I am trying, to regain control of this classroom.

We have made a step in the right direction and they are coming back. We are still a little way from where I would like it to be, but then again my goal has now become to get them finally to the point where Anne and I have them under control with one week left in my experience.
Reflecting on this experience, if I were to redo everything again, I think it might have been helpful to see Anne teach this class once or twice at the beginning before I took it over. I am only a student teacher and really had no idea, what so ever, how to deal with a group of ninth grade students sixth period. That way I think that I could have seen her style of teaching with them. However, at the same time I have learned, grown, and really evolved into my own teacher through this experience. There have definitely been really tough days, days when I have had to figure it out and really motivate myself, and other days when I know that I could have been better. Trying to define what this class is like, the classroom management part of it specifically, has been one of the biggest challenges of my short student teaching, but probably the most important one for sure.

I have grown, they are coming back, and I will continue to grow and obtain control for the last two weeks of student teaching. Thank you to everyone for their thoughts, suggestions, and overall words of encouragement these last few weeks as I have dealt with this challenge. Now I will try and figure out the balance…yet another challenge…yet another growing opportunity.