December 21, 2007

My principal gave me this big ‘ol book to read. Discipline in the Secondary Classroom: A Problem-by-Problem Survival Guide, by Randall S. Sprick, Ph.D. Survival indeed.

Anyway, I’m plumbing through this book, trying to decipher exactly how much of this will pertain the my immediate problem, and it slowly dawns on me that my problem has little to do with procedures or rules or how I implement disciplinary tools. Granted, all of those stem from the root cause, but they alone are not the major issue. Overall, I’m finding I just don’t get along with junior high students like I should.

1. Sarcasm: This is the bread and butter of my conversational abilities. I can be outright funny, or just silly, but for the most part, my humor is dry and best with a bitter cabernet sauvignon. It’s not that I’m hurtfully sarcastic, or that I think the students are stupid. On the contrary, I expect most of them are far smarter than I give them credit for. I don’t know if that’s good or naive (as some of my colleagues at school have indicated), but I don’t think badly of most the children. My sarcasm tends to get in the way, however, because I don’t think they understand my humor. Thinking back to where I was as an eighth grader, I was hanging out with a group of girls that were very bitter and angry and very sarcastic, and it took me a long time to acquire that taste. When I did, I nearly pissed myself with laughter. And it doesn’t help that my whole family is really sarcastic, but I guess that doesn’t work too well with thirteen-year-olds.

2. Intolerance: I don’t put with much from anyone. Even if I’m not that type to get in someone’s face when they bother me, I don’t usually let them have their way just because. This translates to junior high kids in that I don’t want them messing around, and that should be enough. They need another reason more than me saying no. That sort of respect should be included with the fact that I’m simply older than them and I have the degree and I know what I’m doing blah blah blah. Such flawed logic. And while I don’t actually express this idea to students, I think I do reflect it a little in my actions.

3. Impatience: If a student has been pestering me, I tend to fly off the handle. I’ve gotten better over the last few months, but part of my principals problem with me has been that I don’t use the discipline system in a way that’s appropriate. I’m sending kids to the office for silly reasons and having no documentation of previous offenses. I use the referral as a threat in the classroom, and the students have picked up on it, and joke about it now. Clearly, that tool is probably long useless. I can only imagine what happens when a student gets to the office, and they can’t do anything with that I’ve given them.

4. Discomfort: I don’t feel comfortable with most of the little processes involved in being a teacher. The disciplinary process, the need to be gentle, the assumption that they really don’t know better.

It’s all about interaction. So I’m reading and reading, and trying to glean the tools I need to just be better at talking to people, essentially, which has not always been my strong point. Baby steps, baby steps.



  1. Okay, this? HUGE! This self-analysis is worth WAY more than any books you might read. Knowing what part YOU play in the classroom dynamic is vitally important – I just can’t say that enough.

    Here’s my thinking on it – and I KNOW a lot of people disagree, but I don’t care – you SHOULD be extended a little pro-forma respect, and for just the reasons you outline. Yes, yes; I know that respect has to be earned, blah, blah, blah. My point here, though, is that, as a culture, we’ve stopped making the assumption that people deserve our respect until they give us reasons not to respect them anymore. Kids aren’t being taught to respect their elders (well, MOST kids… mine are – though I also make allowances for those elders who prove themselves unworthy of it). Teachers aren’t respected for the knowledge they bring – or the work they do – either by their students or, in most cases, by the parents or administrators, either.

    Yes, you get respect by both living as though you’re worthy of it and by giving it back. My point here is that we should be able to walk into a classroom with the assumption of that respect, and we should be able to keep it unless we screw up in a big way.

    Now, I recognize that I’m talking hypotheticals here – this doesn’t generally happen in real life. The question, then, becomes “how do we establish this environment in the classroom.” I answer that by coming in with my bitch on and doing a little intimidation, but I also do it by being genuine and flexible if the situation warrants it. A lot of this is, as I’ve mentioned before, amorphous and difficult to articulate – I’m I being even remotely sensible?

  2. It’s been my experience that the band teacher is often the person at school most able to garner respect and affection from his students. Kids in band are already involved in an activity they have chosen, i.e. first problem solved, they want to be there. There’s also a need, unlike the post I made about this in a more general sense over at Mrs. Chili’s for kids to do stuff together. Blowing your horn, banding the drum, tuning, twittering or other such behaviors are more of an interference in a band setting than in a regular classroom. It strikes me that establishing and maintaining a routine – come into the band room, tune, be in chairs with instruments and music ready, and respond to the conductor’s directions, are necessary elements of a band classroom.
    Let me make a note on sarcasm, event the gentle sort. It’s perhaps the most corrosive and destructive weapon a teacher has. Kids don’t see it as being gentle when coming from a power figure. They may use it on each other and on those with power over them, but it just isn’t a useful tool for getting what you want in class.
    Respect is a funny word. It has two important dimensions, both important – Have and Show. Teachers need to show respect for students in every interaction they have with them. And it’s reasonable to expect students to show respect. In this matter you need to define what behaviors you expect them to exhibit showing respect: take off hats, sit quietly in seats, remain quiet while others are talking, and so-on. It might be useful to take some time when you return to school after vacation, to develop a list with your classes to define the specific behavior that shows respect and let them know that once such behaviors are estblished, you expect them to observe them. You might also get them to define what behaviors of your would be recognized by them as showing respect. Having respect is a different matter altogether. This is the kind of respect that must be earned rather than demanded. You gain it through being the kind of teacher or student who deserves it.
    Losing your temper doesn’t help you at all. Sometimes letting students know how you feel is useful, allowing your negative feelings to manifest themselves in anger – shouting, throwing things, getting red in the face, throwing kids out of class – doesn’t get you much. I had a colleague once whose voice became increasingly soft and gentle as she grew more emotionally charged. It really worked for her. I found that my silence was a powerful tool, just silently waiting for attention while looking relaxed and completely ready to begin, often bought me the response I wanted, which was my students’ attention.
    This is just a few ideas that might be helpful. Learning to get a group of early adolescents to focus on what you want them to do and how you want them to behave takes lots of work. My best wishes to you. – Ted

  3. This all makes sense to me. I’ve heard quite a bit of this before. However, getting it all involved in my daily routine is certainly a bigger deal.

    Again, thanks all.

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