awww, it’s nice to hear nice things about yourself…

This year at promotion a number of my students were honored. As we were handing out the diplomas, a teacher-friend of mine noticed me stuffing some extra paper in a few of them.
“Whatcha doin?”
“Oh, I’m stuffing their nomination sheets into their folders. Even if they didn’t win, it’s nice to read nice things that someone else wrote about you.”

I thought the conversation ended there, but apparently my friend took my words to heart because I just got a copy of a letter that, apparently, nominated me for teacher of the year at our school (I didn’t win–our FANTASTIC science teacher won–and she is definitely an inspiring choice). The sentence that stood out the most for me was

“And she calls them “her kids” because each and every one of them is special to her. And because they know she values them, some of them perform only to make her happy…”

Now, I’ve often been asked why I have so few discipline problems (I’m youngish, and short, and… many people expect my classes to seem more chaotic than they are). I think this is why. I value each and every one of my students. Even the ones who stick noodles up one nostril to pull it out the other, or go home and “borrow” an Ipod from someone else (we got it back), or just generally have to struggle with school. I value and respect each and every one of them.

It was nice to hear someone thought the same of me.

and, you’re outta here!

My team has adopted this new disciplinary tool. Called “red cards” they are (supposedly) for those students that push the envelope in class after class but never quite get nailed in any particular situation. In theory, they sound great. Kids can be tracked, and if any child pushes the situation in one class, they can get nailed in the next one. If they get a warning in one class and continue to be dorks, they get an infraction (basically a demerit) in the next. However, as a teacher who has very few discipline problems to begin with, I’ve found that these cards have backfired big time.
I’m not sure I can quite articulate exactly why they have backfired. I can only say the litany that I’ve been repeating in my head since I first had to hand them out.

Well, if we only hand them to the kids we “expect” to be bad, and kids always do what we expect…then, really, this is going to be bad. Quite bad.

Discipline, for me, has never been negatively preemptive. What I mean by that is that I don’t try to go in and squash all bad behaviors. Anyone who has ever been in a middle school classroom knows that that would actually be impossible and require either a virulent stomach flu wiping out half of the class or an act of God. Instead, my discipline really focuses on making a huge, embarrassing, gigantic deal about whatever great thing they have done that day. Finger shaking is not a huge part of my teaching, but I must give twenty high-fives a day. And it works! I rarely have discipline problems worthy of a demerit, and I almost never (once in two years) have had a student that had to be escorted. I’m no pushover (my procedures are my ten commandments, obey or be smited!), but I’m also not going to sweat the small stuff if my normally tough kids are in class and learning.
I just hate carding them before they’ve committed a foul. I think I’m going to vote to abandon the idea at our next meeting.

row, row, row, your–be quiet!

Well, it’s that time of year again. I am (almost always) a die-hard “heterogeneous grouping” fan. I love having kids of different ability levels working and collaborating together. But, once a trimester, generally in my more distractable class, I feel the need to go back to rows. Whether it’s the over stimulation of Halloween or the nearness of the Thanksgiving break, my first block class has started to vibrate in their seats an alarming amount. That, coupled with the talking they have a greater tendency for anyways, prompted me to scoot them all back into rows.
And what a difference it has made! They’re much quieter, more focused, and those that will always be a distraction now have fewer people to distract. I think I’ll leave the rows this way until after Christmas, and then go back to the table groupings. It should give us time to get over the “hump” in the middle of the year when it feels as if we are always getting ready to go on vacation.
Of course, I don’t like that their conversations, when they are on task, are now limited to the people directly next to them–but I am figuring out ways to have them share with the “wider” group. It’s just so hard for these students, who have almost none of the basics that help make someone successful, to also be “independent” but we’re working on it–and part of the goal is making sure I don’t go crazy until well into February!