O Captain! my Captain! rise up and hear the bells;
Rise up--for you the flag is flung for you the bugle trills,
For you bouquets and ribboned wreaths for you the shores a-crowding,
For you they call, the swaying mass, their eager faces turning;
- Poem “O Captain My Captain” Walt Whitman
Remember yesterday, when the 3rd/4th-grade teacher promised “fun”? Is my bitter laughter ringing on your side of the computer? I arrived at the school unsure of where to report. The gatekeeper never called to change the job to the 1st/2nd-grade assignment. Since I didn’t see (cough: didn’t look for) the assistant principal, I decided to sign in for the original job and report to that classroom.
As soon as the students began milling in, troublemaker number one was obvious, as he said something disparaging about LeBron James and how the Lakers were going to win, and then got aggressive with any children who said they liked the Celtics. Troublemaker number two was loud, unfocused, and laughed way too much (and loudly).
The LeBron hater was out of control. When I saw him push another kid, I went over.
“You are not allowed to push other people.”
“I didn't push anyone.”
“I saw you, so there’s no point in lying.”
He stared me down (while looking up). But he didn’t know he was dealing with the eye-lock MASTER. Eventually he smirked and looked away. After that, he was better about listening to me and over the course of the day he calmed more. I noticed that saying his name and/or a light touch on the back or arm got him to focus.
The student intern planned to run the day, so I provided support. Except that the intern didn’t have the control of the classroom I’d witnessed from the lead teacher the previous day. There was too much chatter. And no amount of intern tricks made it quiet and respectful enough.
“If you can hear me, clap twice.” Doesn’t work. “If you can hear me, clap three times.” A couple of claps. “If you can hear me, clap once.” About half the class participates. “If you can hear me, clap four times.” All but the biggest offenders, who keep talking, clap.
“Look how nice ----- is sitting there.” “Thank you, -----, for transitioning well.” These children were complimented and thanked ALL MORNING, but the ones who didn’t listen didn’t care.
A couple of hours later, it all came to a head. During read aloud, the intern had two girls take a break for constant talking. Their “break”, meant they went into the adjoining room and chatted, missing the book entirely. Not much of a time out.
Then we met on the rug for Reading Group. As the intern gave the instructions, three girls would. Not. Stop. Talking. She asked them. Warned them. Two girls had the typical response, “Other people were talking. Why don’t you ever say something to them? Why do you always say something to us?” The intern flustered, tried to continue. They talked again, so the woman confronted them again. “This is so boring. You’re telling us what we already know.”
“Why don’t you two girls come with me? I think it’s time you both took a break. We’re going to write a letter of apology.” They looked at me dumbfounded. One girl tried to ignore me. “Now,” I growled. The other girl had already gotten up, and proceeded to stand at a desk to write the note haphazardly. I snatched the paper from her, and got another, plus two pencils. “We’re going to the library,” I announced.
When we got there, I demanded they sit across from me at a table.
“You two were rude and so you’ll be writing a letter to explain how you’re expected to behave in class, how you failed to meet those expectations, and how you plan to behave for the rest of the day. Three paragraphs.”
“What? Three paragraphs?” They said in unison.
“That’s six sentences,” one wailed. (Close enough.)
They begrudgingly wrote their letters and I was happy to help with spelling.
Afterwards, one girl said, “When we get downstairs, she needs to apologize to me.”
“Apologize to you? You were talking.”
“So were other people.”
“Learn this now. That argument will never get you ANYWHERE. You were talking. Bottom line. And an outside observer, I can tell you that nobody was nearly as you two girls. When someone goes through years of school to teach you, they deserve your respect.”
They didn’t respond. I continued, “You will hand her those notes nicely and apologize in a kind tone or we’ll come right back up here. I’ll find something else for you to do.”
They were MUCH BETTER to the teacher after that. More over, when we returned, I went over to each child to ask what s/he was reading and to ask a follow up question or to make a comment. Those two girls treated me kindly as if the whole incident never happened. One even sought me out to talk in the afternoon.
The lead teacher came back a couple of hours before the day ended. The change in tone and respect from the students to the teachers and each other was palpable. The main teacher was the captain of the ship. And she used the same compliment and clapping tactics but more sparingly and with greater effect. When she gave a warning or took away a privilege, it was swift and the kids responded immediately.
The last half hour was “Academic Choice”, which meant there were tables of Banangrams, Boggle, state puzzles, and the Scrambled States of America game. The kids played well.
Afterwards, a fourth-grader, who had been in charge of explaining academic choice and sending students to the tables, was also in charge of “Reflection”. What worked well? What didn’t? Soon it would be fourth-grade week, and the teacher would have the fourth-graders run the class. This was practice.
The students treated the fourth-grader better than the intern and the whole discussion went smoothly. At the end, students were allowed to say whom they acknowledged for doing something positive that day.
“Even though eight of us played Scrambled States, we all worked together.”
“I want to acknowledge Theresa for playing Banangrams with me.” (They go by first names at this school.)
“I want to acknowledge (problem girl) because she knows (another girl) always pushes us on the tire swing. (Problem girl) thought it would be nice for her to get a ride for a change.”
And so the acknowledgements abounded, with the names of the do-gooders and their good deeds placed on sticky notes and added to a poster.
I love witnessing moments like these. Watching the lead teacher reminded me of the teacher I want to be, one who can command a class, forms strong relationships with her students, and garners their respect.
Happy weekend! My next post will be for my father in honor of Mother’s Day.