Everything I've read suggests that classroom management is the cornerstone of successful education. I've read countless books about the topic, ranging from the light (The Reluctant Disciplinarian) to the heavy (Not In My Classroom). I took a sixteen week course on classroom management, which I aced. I've powered through blogs and articles in teaching magazines, peer-reviewed research and second-hand anecdotes. I think I've heard everything that has ever been said about classroom management.
I was so not prepared.
First, a bit of background about this particular school. It's classified as "urban," and has over 50% of the student body on free/reduced lunches. Since I have started back, there have been two bomb threats, a teacher being verbally abused by a student to the point of tears, a student (in my classroom) being escorted out and frisked for weapons, and an attempted kidnapping. And that's just the stuff that I've seen.
I thought I was doing decently with classroom management, but the last few days have shown me otherwise. I stood guard over a particularly long, particularly strict detention session. The students were not allowed to leave the room, speak to each other, or leave their seats without permission, and it lasted for three hours, while the rest of the students went on a fun field trip. I noticed that, when I was the only adult in the room, the students would start talking quietly, passing notes, and even throwing things when they thought I wasn't looking. I would use proximity, "teacher-eye," verbal and non-verbal cues, and seat re-arranging, but it didn't seem to work for more than a few minutes, tops. When my cooperating teacher walked into the room, they snapped back to attention, instantly. No malarkey with Ms. Awesome in the room, no sir. That, my friends, is respect.
I want that!
She's never had to take any real disciplinary action, since I've been there. They're already trained with her - they know that she's got the authority. So far, I haven't had any authority. As far as the kids - or I - knew, my only threat was something along the lines of "Don't make me tell your REAL teacher!" (which, let's face it, is just too pathetic to use). I should have asked about that, earlier, but with the way they were acting during my observation period, I didn't think about it.
I asked Ms. Awesome about it, and she explained how she handles things - warn them, toss them, talk to them one-on-one, and if that doesn't work, "snap-suspend" them (any student sent to the office is automatically suspended for 24 hours - it's written into the teachers' contracts). She told me that I have the authority to do the same. "Basically," she told me, "You build a gallows and hang a few. Then you just have to remind them that the gallows is still there, every now and then." Her shtick is to be as nice as possible AND as strict as possible at the same time - the kind of balance that the best teachers seem to learn.
Now, a three hour long silent detention with the only 15 kids with enough outstanding offenses to disqualify them from a field trip is a different breed of beast than ordinary classroom teaching. I could try to hedge the situation by saying that things don't get that out of hand during my classes, and only one of the students in that detention was one of mine, but then I overheard a student saying something along these lines:
"We just sat there whenever Ms. Awesome was in the room. Oh, but we talked when Magister L. was the only one in there. Because, I'm sorry, but...*giggle*...no."
Ouch. In kiddo, veritas. I'm seriously lacking in the respect department, and it's time to earn my wings.
Monday is a teacher in-service (my first), but Tuesday? The gallows goes up, and it's time for some show trials. I'm not looking for trouble, but when the time comes (and it will), the hammer's coming down. Not authoritarian, but assertive. Expect a good entry next week, heh.
Signin' off, brainslingers.
-The Educational Man of Mystery
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