The Eclectic Teacher|
by Ginny Hoover
Working with the At Risk Continued!
Last Night I Had a Nightmare and . . .
There I was with a new class totally out of control. Now in my dream I knew I was retired, but I also felt the awful reality of a group of middle schoolers who were professionals at making the lives of teachers miserable and loving it. I made all the normal attempts at gaining control. I put out a bush fire here and while I did that another broke out. They were in cahoots and well practiced. One group even moved to the back of the room to rap. (What can I say, this really was a nightmare, so some realism is lost!) This is when the feeling of hopelessness can make a teacher lose the battle!
After realizing the situation was a lost cause, I walked over to the button and pushed it. Now that caught their attention and I could see their little minds work…which person would come? An administrator? The security guard? Instead they heard me ask for the counselor immediately. That made them look at each other looking for guidance. What is she doing? How should we respond? They decided to continue on course. I stood at the front of the room making sure no one was injured waiting for the counselor.
He arrived. I walked quietly over to the door and in hushed tones I made my request. The counselor merely smiled, waved at the class, and moved quickly away to complete his task.
I walked back to my podium, looked up with a sly smile, and asked, "Would you like to know what comes next?" Things quieted down slowly. They looked at me and there was no panic recognizable by my countenance. There was no look of resignation. That was the beginning of their defeat. They realized somewhere, somehow, I had power. That power came with the choices I was about to offer them.
After the noise finally became silence, I announced, "Hey, nothing too awful. I just asked the counselor to bring me some information. Your parents' or guardians' names, their work numbers, your home numbers, the name of your status offender officers or probation officers, and any other pertinent numbers. He also agreed to make home visits with me to anyone who had adults not available via the phone." I flipped out my cell phone.
They began to sputter. I woke up to my son saying, "Mom, want a breakfast biscuit?" Man, he didn't have to ask me twice. I was up and to the kitchen making coffee in seconds. And it was then I thought, today is the deadline for an article for the Gazette, that awful nightmare is just what I needed to get going.
Things to Remember
What would I have done? Well, I'll tell you. I would start over again fresh. I would have told them the slate was clean, but from this point on there was a new plan in force. If they decided not to act properly I would start making calls with my phone list in hand. (And I also would have explained that I wouldn't require that they do the work, not if that was their choice. I would have explained my expectations--that anyone who wanted the "F" for the class could have it, but they were to be very quiet about it. They were not to interfere with the learning environment. They couldn't draw. They couldn't write notes. They had my permission to sit quietly and do nothing. Now, that is VERY boring and it usually doesn't take long for the stubborn ones to come around to doing something.)
When an individual acted up, I would have initiated action by calling the status offender officer or probation officer if one had been assigned to that student. He/she would be very interested in learning of misconduct. Some officers would have been to the school in less than an hour.
I would have called parents. If some didn't speak English I would have grabbed someone on our staff that spoke the language. I would have called them at home, or I would have called them at work. But the real key here is THAT I WOULD HAVE CALLED THEM EVERYDAY UNTIL THE CONDUCT IMPROVED.
I would have had a class roster, so if a very large group acted out, I could quickly check off the names and write briefly what the misconduct was. This action, a call list plan, would give me shoestring control. I would need more, but this would be my start. It would hit them where it would hurt the most. Now I know there are many parents/guardians who would brush me off, but there would be enough students concerned with this procedure to make a major turn around in class conduct.
In a less than perfect world, I would continue with my plan . . .
By not passing off the situation to a principal, I had power. I used that power to my advantage. When teachers pass off a problem, they also give up the power. If the principal decides to do nothing, then nothing can be done. I don't like that scenario, so I don't use administration unless I have no other choice.
By not showing exasperation, I lessened their power that depended on me exhibiting an emotional reaction.
I hit them where it would make the most difference to the majority of the class. Those who had status offender officers or probation officers would have a big penalty to pay. They would have heavily monitored study sessions and extra hours of community service.
Next, it would be important to realize that some parents/guardians would not respond in a positive manner. I would very politely explain to them that the actions of their child was harmful to the learning environment and while their child's decision to fail my class was their personal decision, their conduct also made it impossible for others to learn—therefore, the problem was a high priority for me and I'd appreciate their support.
I would have made those visits to homes without phones with the counselor, another teacher, or security guard.
Administration would be used only if another student verbally or physically attacked another person. Because I had access to a Time Out room it too could be used. I also had a list of other teachers who would take students into their "corner" area (a reciprocal deal). Leaving the room in these cases would be student choice. The student could chose to stay or leave. If the choice was to stay, the student would also self-monitor his/her conduct.
Hey, this would just give me a start in an uphill battle. But how a teacher responds to seemingly hopeless situations makes a world of difference. One thing I'd like to point out, with this system of choices I did nothing to lessen their respect for me and I emphasized my respect for them and their classmates.
A gang leader once said to me, "Mrs. Hoover, it's not hard to be good in your room. You give us respect, but you don't live in my neighborhood."
That was a tough one but I replied, "I promise to give you respect in my room, but I do ask for that in return. I can't change your after school experience, but I can make things better for all of us in school. If you go up those stairs with me to my classroom, I want it to be a sign that you understand my rules." He followed me.
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