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Posts Tagged ‘Discipline’

I woke up early this morning (my first back in the U.S.) thinking about school. I have been out of the country for the past month, and now have a little over a week until a new year starts with all the joys and challenges that brings.

What was on my mind this morning was actually an incident from last year. I had an incredible class last year, and I’m looking forward to seeing many of them after the summer. There are very few years as a teacher when you have a class in which there is NO student that you don’t like. Last year was one of those years for me: No one that annoyed me, no one I hoped would be absent, back teaching a subject I love, just an incredible year. While that is an amazing thing, it makes preparing for this year a lot harder. It’s true that I’ve heard every year from at least one 7th grade teacher, “This is the worst class to come through the system!”, but by the time they get to us as 8th graders, they’re usually not bad (except the traditional 5 to 10.) The class coming up has mixed reviews (Some teachers loved them; most had a few challenges.) Still, going from the best class you’ve had in 10 years at the school to the unknown is bound to be rough.

So, what was on my mind this morning was an incident from the last week of school. I was in the midst of writing my traditional “end of the year” letters for my students, and when I wrote one particular student’s, I started crying (and I’m not usually a crier). So you understand, I put a lot of thought and prayer into the letters and try to say what I feel each child needs to hear. The kid that made me cry was a rough kid. He had had a hard life–more difficult than most of our kids who have hard lives. But, in the course of the year, he had shared bits and pieces of his story with me, and on a few occasions, I was able to see through the chink in his armor to the little boy he was hiding with the “tough guy” exterior.

When I read the letters to my students the next day, a number of students cried over their own letter, but his was the only one I’ve ever read that made someone other than the person it belonged to cry. I had warned him that his letter had made me cry, but he let me read it anyway (and I cried again, as did many others in the class.) When other classes came in later in the day, I heard the same statement, “I heard you’re going to make us cry.” I explained that some students do and others don’t, and that more people had cried in the previous class because I had when I was reading someone’s. They immediately guessed the student, so word had gotten out (as things do in a small school.) A student asked me, “Why did you cry over (student’s name)?” The answer I gave surprised even me. I said, “I don’t know. Maybe because no one else ever has.” The truth of that hit me like a ton of bricks. If even part of the stories I’ve pieced together about this student are true, his dad has never cried, his mom can’t stand him, and his siblings beat him up. So, in all likelihood, no one has ever looked at his life and loved him enough to cry for the things he’s suffered and the wrongs that he’s experienced. No one has watched him make bad choices and grieved for him. Whatever way he’s made, he’s made most of it himself. To me, that’s not how it should be. Somewhere along the way, I had gotten a huge heart for this kid without realizing it until I started typing.

As I gear up for a new year, I know some of the kids I will have are students that have caused a lot of problems for other teachers. I already know them by reputation or discipline reports, or from having to write them up in the hallway. And yet, if I keep in mind this situation from last year, I will remember that this kid was a student who had gotten in trouble, and who, from the exterior, made others assume he was trouble, and yet, I had seen a side of him no one else had. If I approach each student (remembering that looks can be deceiving), searching for that chink in the armor that will let me see what’s really going on with them–if I look beyond the external to the heart of a child, I will have no problem loving each one. And when a child knows you care, it’s amazing what kind of a year you can have!

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I have often said that relationships are the keys to effective teaching. Apparently, it is also a key to stopping fights.

While some may not have the “opportunity” to even witness a fight, at our school, they are a fairly regular occurrence. Since I came, I have personally broken up over a dozen, so I average a couple a year. Today was one case in point. Here’s what happened:

I was at my desk between passing periods (usually I’m in the hall, but I was finishing up putting a few grades in.) when I heard raised voices in the hall. It’s normally loud in our hallway with about 200 seventh and eighth graders milling around about 50 yards of hallway, but this was a different sound. I rushed into the hallway and saw the circle forming around 2 girls who were yelling at each other. One was one of my eighth graders; the other a tenth grader. I immediately got in the middle of them. I asked the tenth grader what she was doing in this hallway, as the high school hallways are in a different part of the building. She ignored me and proceed to reach over my shoulder, put her hand in my eighth graders’ face, and push her away. Now, both girls are feisty Hispanics, and I knew immediately that pushing someone’s face meant my eighth grader was 2 seconds from swinging.

I put my arm out in between them, made eye contact with her and said, “NO! Go that way.” She immediately obeyed, so I was free to deal with the other girl, who I was able to grab and escort out of the hallway. She was still resisting and cussing, and eventually, I was able to get her to the office. I went back and pulled my eighth grader into my class until I could get her an escort to go to her class.

So, here’s the key: This eighth grader was someone I have spent a great deal of time caring about. She has struggled more than a lot of kids I know, and I was able to encourage her at some of her lower points. Because we had a relationship, seeing me in between her and her enemy overrode her natural instinct to start swinging. She told her next hour teacher, “I’m so glad Miss Brailey got in between us–I can’t afford to be in any more trouble.” Taking time to care about people may help you out when push comes to shove…literally.

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I had a rare opportunity today to teach a life lesson.  Just before Fall Break, my last hour class had left the computer lab a complete mess, so I decided they would not be allowed to use it the next day.  They had projects they were supposed to finish, so I knew this would be an inconvenience for them, but I wanted to teach them to respect property and follow directions.  So, I opted to have them write a 2 page paper on appropriate behavior in the lab.  Needless to say, that went over like a lead balloon–heightened by the fact that a number of students had missed the announcement informing them that they would have to make up their project on their own time, and their class is 8th hour.  They were on the verge of mass revolt.  By the time the dust settled, I had sent two kids to the office for refusing compliance and attitudes, and two more had only managed to remain in class when they found out the office made them do the same assignment I did.  Lots of grumbling ensued (Albeit mostly silently after 2 referrals), and then we left for fall break.

Which brings us to today.  I opened their hour today asking them what their options are when they feel like they are being treated unjustly.  “Get mad.” said the girl whose attitude got her a free pass to the office.  “How’d that work for you?”  I asked, and she smiled.  I proceeded to explain that we are not often treated the way we deserve.  For example, I am held accountable for my students ISTEP scores, when many of them refuse to try.  This is unfair.  Like them, I am penalized for something I didn’t do.  What ensued was a great life lesson where we were able to discuss their options when they disagree with an authority.  I explained how to ask a teacher to speak to you in the hallway (which takes the teacher off the defensive), how to offer solutions to a problem (Like cleaning the lab or silence while working), how to weigh when a situation is worth fighting about and when you need to just suck it up and do it, and finally, I discussed the fact that I don’t see having a bad attitude one day as indicative of a bad person.  What had been a negative situation which frustrated all of us turned into an opportunity to learn how to handle conflict in a respectful way.  The class completely turned around after that.     Often, all that is required is a bit of dialogue and any situation can be turned to your advantage.

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