Good classroom management is not a plan outlined in multiple pages with multiple outcomes for various infractions or events. It is more often a simple discussion between student and teacher out in the hallway. The teacher encouraging and positively motivating the student, pouring his heart out to the student and letting the student vent his frustrations without fear of retribution or a negative referral.
Such an encounter happened today.
Yesterday, a student I liked skipped out on “serving a tardy.” This is when students, who have been tardy to school in the morning, must remain at school for 15 extra minutes after school. This student chose to leave without remaining for the extra time. Today when he came in he found out he had been dropped from level three to level two (the level system at our school is a way to motivate our students to improve their behavior and possibly return to their schools as quickly as 68 days after they enter our program). This angered him greatly. He came into my room without his name tag on (name tag colors indicate the student’s level) and set down in a huff. He didn’t sign in for lunch, nor get his work out for the day. And then he wanted to start talking about what happened to the other students. This is not permitted according to school policy.
I spoke to the student at my desk quietly and said quite a few things, none of which come to mind now. He sat back down and signed in, but still didn’t put his name tag on (this is officially “out of dress code” and is subject to disciplinary action). After I tried to start class, he still was hot under the collar about it. I asked him out in the hallway and we talked.
I told him how much I respected him and how smart he was and how much potential he had. I told him he mattered to me and how I cared about him and what happens to him. I asked him if being angry about this and misbehaving even further would achieve anything. I asked him if further misbehavior had ever achieved anything in the past and he shook his head. He told me why he left without serving the tardy. I told him that ultimately this boils down to him being tardy and we have to stop that from continuing. That all this trouble snowballed from that event (he has been tardy more than a few times). I told him that I’d help him as much as I could even if meant buying him multiple alarm clocks and putting one next to his bed, and then one across the room, and then one down the hall, and one in the living room – anything to get him out of bed. This got a laugh. That was important. In the light of laughter many things can be seen as silly over-reactions. We talked about him wanting to be a train engineer. I told him I felt he had a real chance of doing this and he was a good kid and a smart kid. I told him how I felt he was taking two steps forward and that sure this was a step backwards, but why destroy everything and take two more steps backwards. He agreed. He asked to be sent to ISS. I told him he didn’t need to go down there and I really didn’t want to send him there. He told me he just wanted to be by himself for a bit. I asked him if he just wanted to sit out in the hallway to decompress for a bit and work on some other classwork (some various questions about the turn of the century in U.S. History) and he took me up on the offer. The rest of the class was correcting a quiz from the day before on the Gilded Age and I told him I’d take care of that for him. I asked him to put his name tag on. When I went back out later, he had his name tag on the desk, but at least it was out and not in his pocket. I cut him a lot of slack. That’s what he needed – compassion and understanding. He knew he broke the rules. But he felt he had to under the circumstances. He had a meeting with his probation officer and had to make it to work as well. But apparently he hadn’t told anyone this. He was late to work anyway. I talked to his next teacher, who has a reputation of being extremely strict and no-nonsense with students and he would run a real risk of being written up by her. I explained to her what happened and that he seemed calm now and maybe she might just want to give him some space. She appreciated it and told me later he was fine in class. I saw him in the hallway after 2nd period and asked him how things were going and he responded in the positive. I have him in 5th period as well and he was fine. He was fully recovered and I felt so proud for him. He made the right choices.
I know it probably wasn’t easy for him and I’m going to make sure he knows how I feel tomorrow. Students like this kid are smart and have goals even if many mainstream teachers just see him as trouble. Kids like him just don’t believe that many people believe in them or care. They need to know they have choices in behavior and actions. They need to have them spelled out sometimes. What it boils down to is this: the four or five minutes I spent with him, while my other students were correcting their quizzes, reduced the time that other teachers may have had to deal with him as a classroom management “problem.” It may have saved him from being dropped down to level one from level three. I may have saved him from being suspended. But what I know I saved is that he felt good about himself and about being at school. I could see it how he behaved in 5th period and in the smile on his face at times during the rest of the day.
It’s these kind of successes that make working at an alternative school so worth it. Classroom management is about relationships and knowing your students. It’s about being able to know how they tick and what makes them tick. When you know that about your problem students, you may just find that your “problem students” become some of the most contributing students. They all have a contribution to make. They just have to know it and believe that you believe it. Make sure your students know they matter to you. Convince them in word and in deed that you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else than with them at that moment.