March 17, 2014
March 17, 2014
When I do teacher-training seminars, I open up one segment for teacher complaints. Almost always a teacher confesses and tells stories about losing control in the classroom due to student misbehavior or students using their native language too much. After hearing such stories, the rest of the teachers always empathize and give advice. Without fail, I then ask the teacher registering the complaint, “When did you give your students permission to do the things they do to annoy you?” There is usually a long silence. Then I ask everyone to think about it: “When do we give students permission to misbehave?”
Students are always testing their teachers out. It is a part of school culture for kids to see how much they can get away with. If teachers nip undesirable behavior in the bud, they will not lose control of their classes. If they tolerate misbehavior, they are sending signals to their students that they have permission to disrupt the class.
I vividly recall my first day as a twenty-one year-old teacher in Brentwood, New York. My class of eighth graders sized the new, “nice” teacher up quickly; they decided I was easy-prey and took control of the class before I realized what was going on. Jokes were made; chairs were thrown; the boys laughed; the girls screamed, and I stood there in shock. How did this happen? What was I going to do? How did I get myself into this situation?
I went home that night feeling like a victim. When did I give those students permission to victimize me? I knew for sure I could not psychologically endure a repeat performance of such a scenario the following day. I stayed up all night thinking about my situation. In the wee hours of the morning, I eventually devised my strategic game plan.
The next day I opened up all my classes with my rules, my expectations of students, homework requirements, test schedules, behavior dos and don’ts, seating charts, the whole thing. As I had stood before them in shock the day before, they sat in their seats in shock facing me as I rambled on and on about what the game plan was in MY eyes. And I stuck to the standards with consistency and tenacity the whole year. As a result, my precious first year students not only made academic progress but also treated their classmates and me with respect. In the long run, we all bonded based on the positive experiences we were able to encounter in English class. It was a win-win situation for everyone.
Very often we are told that bad experiences pave the way for good ones. I am forever grateful to those kids who rampaged my English class and my psyche the first day of my teaching career. It was the first and last time I ever felt like a victim in the classroom.