Saturday, September 10, 2005

More back to school stories...

I wrote last night about one seventh grader who presents an exciting challenge for me as a teacher. He's just one of many, of course; when I looked at the first seventh grade list, I was like, "Oh my god, they put them all in the same class!" Then I looked at my other seventh grade list and thought, "No, wait, they're all in THIS class!"

I'll probably be blogging my head off this weekend because I have a ton of work to do and this is what I do when I need a little break every so often.

So let me tell you about another of my challenges. And keep in mind that it's only been two days... (not counting orientation, when I really didn't see the 7th graders).

I taught this little girl, let's call her Brittany, in health class last year. At first, I thought she'd be my favorite student: her homework was always letter perfect, her hand always in the air. But it didn't take me long to discover that as soon as she thought I wasn't paying attention, she was trying to trip someone, making a face at my back, insulting another student, etc. And she wasn't exactly the picture of sweetness or honesty when confronted about these behaviors... We had a rough time of it. Health was hard because I saw the kids only twice a week for 1/3 of the year, so I didn't get as much of an opportunity to establish my routines and set my limits as I would have if I'd had them every day.

Well, this year, it looks like I'll have them 4 times a week for science. Yesterday, I had her class lined up outside my door, gave them instructions, and let them enter. It was a mess. Each child let the door swing shut onto the next, few kids got started working - this was not going to work. Back out into the hall. "If the door stopper isn't working, what could we do besides letting the door hit the person behind us?" Brittany volunteered to hold the door. And then, when she thought I wasn't looking, she slyly stuck her foot out to trip the kids as they entered. I caught her eye and said, "You just lost two points off your paycheck. Do you know why?" She nodded. "Listen, if you don't want to do a job nicely, I'd rather you let someone else do it, all right?" Nodded again.

Five minutes later, they were back in the hallway. The tone had fallen apart again after only two minutes. No one following directions. I repeated my start-of-class procedures, let them leave their things on their desks, and we tried it a third time. Brittany was relieved of door-holding duties.

The third time was the charm. We still have work to do, but I rewarded the kids who were quickly on-task, avoided penalizing the others at least for now, and class got underway. I handed out the diagnostic, and they started working quietly. I was kept on my toes moving around the classroom, gently re-focusing those whose eyes had wandered or who needed help. And then a cellphone jingle-jangled. It didn't exactly ring; I think it was the sound of a battery about to die. Regardless, cell phones are only allowed provided they are never, ever seen or heard. Did I mention this was the second day of school?!

Problem was, I had no idea whose phone it was. I didn't even have a strong idea of where in the room the sound came from. Brittany made a gesture that made me think it was hers, but when asked, she denied it. "I'll be honest with you, I can't take that phone away because I don't know whose it is. But if that was YOUR phone, I STRONGLY suggest that you wait until neither I nor anyone else in the class is paying attention, and then turn it off, and make sure that NEVER, EVER happens again." Pause. Stern look. "And if you want to show me that you're a good citizen, you'll come up to me quietly at the end of the period and apologize. Go back to work." Pissed off - er, stern - look.

Five minutes later, Brittany beckoned for me to come over to her. "That was my phone," she said. "I'm sorry." I thanked her for being honest, and told her that because she was honest, I wouldn't take it away this time, but if it ever happened again, her mother would have to come to school to get it. She turned it off and was good for the rest of the period.

She's trying, but it's a fine line between good and evil.

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