Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Haircuts, Fights, and a Passion for Teaching

at 6:32 PM
What do all of the above have in common? Last week.

Last weekend I got my hair cut. Barely. Just a trim. I also re-did my highlights, but they ended up actually darker than my normal hair.

Never underestimate the power of Jr. High students to notice a change in your hair.

The very first day back, at least 3 students in each class had to comment on my hair. "Did you get a hair cut?" "Did you dye your hair?" "I like your hair!"

Even just wearing my hair in a different style makes students comment on it. And while I try not to allow irrelevant conversations in the classroom, I've found that answering their questions instead of putting them off, or telling them they're off topic, is actually more helpful in a number of ways. The first way is that when you ignore a question, it just makes them more excited to find out the answer, so they get antsy. The second, is that when you answer them it helps to establish a rapport. And as I'm becoming more comfortable in my job, in my role as their teacher, and in my place at the school, I'm allowing myself to open up more and really establish that rapport. The effect is better classroom management. Because they actually care what I think, because I listen to them.

My "bad" kids now make sure to tell me "hi" and "bye" every single day. I have a student who won't leave the classroom without asking, "Did I do good today?" (despite the fact that every day I correct him "Did I do well today? Yes, you did." )

So when they do things that aren't appropriate, the fact that I'm disappointed in them is more of a damper on their attitudes than when I used to get upset at them.

Friday there was a big fight at school that ended in lunch ending 10 minutes early, the paramedics, and two expulsions.

Monday, a student of mine covered an entire two inches of desk in a puddle of ink during 2nd period.
I noticed that something was going on that was distracting two rows of students, while we were watching a movie. I moved the kid who was distracting people to my TA desk, by the door, where I could keep an eye on him.

When I stood up and walked around the room, I saw this:

I held the student after class to clean it. However, 3rd period was next. If there was ink on the desk, I have about 5 students who would make a beeline for the mess, which would just exacerbate the problem. I moved the desk out of the row, and had my student start to clean it. One of my good girls walked into the room and I told her to have the students line up outside. Not a single student entered the door for the 3 minutes I needed, and they were all perfectly lined up when I went out to check. I don't know how she did it, being such a quiet girl, but I was very appreciative.

When the students did enter, one of my louder problem students made a comment. "I don't have the patience to deal with your shenanigans today." Because I sounded disappointed, not upset, 3rd period was the best they've been in a while.


Tuesday, break ended 5 minutes early due to another fight, this time involving one of my students (also from 2nd).

Tuesday, 2nd period was right before lunch (we have a rotating schedule). My students came, of course, talking about the fight. I silenced them. I told them I didn't want to hear a word about it. They listened. Then we finished watching our movie and filled out the graphic organizer.

Our AP showed up to talk to my student who had covered my desk in ink (I'm surprised he took the time to come talk to him, despite all the other issues they've been having in the office).

After he left, my students were mostly finished with their work, and antsy to leave, but we had a few minutes left.

I turned to them, and spoke very quietly. "When you see your friends about to do something stupid, stop them." I continued to talk at them, explaining how they needed to be responsible for helping their friends make good decisions, how watching something bad happen and not saying anything about it was just as bad, and how in order to be productive members of society they had to practice these behaviors now. About halfway through the conversation one of my students raised her hand.
"Are you talking about the book, [student name who put ink on the desk], or the fight?! I'm confused!"

"All of it! The reason we read books like this is to help teach you things that relate to your life, like making good decisions!"

"So I was supposed to stop the fight?" This student is best friends with the girl who instigated.

"You knew she was about to go punch someone out. If your words weren't enough to stop her, you should have gone and found an adult."

The conversation continued, and while I only had it with that one class, I think it spread. My students in that class have so much potential. If they could get over their apathy, they'd make amazing leaders. I still have high hopes for them, and it was the most interested they'd been in a conversation in a long time.

There was almost another fight on campus today. My coworker's students told her, "there was supposed to be one at lunch, but for some reason there were too many teachers around." We'd gotten an e-mail saying that we had 3 separate instances of girl-on-girl fights in the past three days. There are three expulsion committees being formed (my student was suspended for 5 days). Of course there were more teachers out at lunch!

Today in class we started an in-class essay. I emphasized how important it was to follow directions and stay focused so that we could cram this essay out before Spring Break and then they wouldn't have anything to worry about over break.
I'm now comfortable enough with my students, and I was comfortable enough with the lesson, that I could have fun with it.

We've been teaching Persuasive Argument for the past quarter, and are continuing it into this quarter. We have quarterly benchmark writing assessments throughout the district and we score them by site. We noticed some consistent problems in the last batch of essays from these students and I wanted to address them while going over the prompt for the next essay.

I was getting animated while explaining that their claim shouldn't be wishy-washy! The last benchmark was about whether or not UFOs were alien spacecraft. Students were supposed to pick a side and convince their reader to agree with them.

"Over 50% of the essays we read ended with 'Well, believe or not, it's up to you!' Nooooooo!!!!! It's not up to ME! It's up to YOU. You were supposed to convince me to believe what you believe! Don't tell your reader to choose! Make it impossible for me to choose anything BUT your answer!"

Lots of arm waving and exaggerated voice accompanied this.

2nd period gem:

"Well, it's like reverse psychology..." said one sassy student.

"No! It's crappy essay writing! Don't do it!" Giggles ensued at my language.

4th period gem:

"Wait! Are you actually get upset over bad essay writing?!" exclaimed my loud one.

"Why do you think I'm an English teacher?! C'mooooooon!" (Ok, I was getting pretty goofy by the last class of the day).

Every classes ended with the students able to tell me what we were writing about. We'll see how it goes tomorrow.

2 more days until Spring Break! Pray for no more fights this week, please!


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