18 October 2008

Unruly Classes – Ordinary People Being Leaders

Teachers have a job like no one else. No kidding.

Get unruly with a cop you can get arrested or detained.

Get unruly at a restaurant and you’ll be refused service.

Get unruly with your partner and they will tell you to get out.

But, get unruly in a K-12 class and the responsibility of a teacher is to run through their discipline system with the priority to keep you in class and have you be educated. My discipline system worked like this:
- first incident of disrupting class was a verbal warning.

- second incident of the same behavior was calling home, which sometimes meant stopping class – thereby disrupting 25+ students learning the content.

- third incident of same disruptive behavior was a “Responsible Thinking Form” and trip to the Dean.

- fourth incident was writing a Referral, which goes in student permanent file, and a trip back to see the Dean.

What I saw as a teacher was that there is a very small minority of students who are disruptive but then they can disrupt the entire class.

I think there are two ways to reduce disruptive behaviors and thereby support students who want to learn in excelling. First, remove disruptive students. Public K-12 classes are not experiments in behavior modification. Students that continually disrupt more than one class need to be set free. Put them in an alternative learning environment or put them to work at a job skill or a job. The worse action to take, for teachers and students who want to learn, is putting them back in a classroom.

Second, teachers need to be better leaders, which definitely requires a certain chemistry; a mix of content knowledge, people skills, presentation skills, some degree of being technology savvy, and compassion. I do agree that it’s tough to train leaders. Think about it, we can take an ordinary person and spend thousands and thousands of dollars to make one Navy Seal. But has anyone built or even researched the effective program that turns and ordinary person into a K-12 teacher?

Students nowadays are more prone to be technology savvy, able to multi-task, and obviously looking to understand more about life and their role in it. The television shows and movies they watch cover serious stuff and that comes with them to class, along with everything else that is happening or not happening at home. Today, young people are inundated with sex, violence, speedy advertisements, and dysfunctional behaviors at all levels of life. K-12 students today are not a docile blank slate waiting to be filled. They have an undying thirst to understand.

When you look around at the majority of new teachers, what do you see?. They are 20 something and fresh out of college. Kudos to them for making a decision to support education, but they have little life experience to offer students. My concern is that we are filling K-12 teacher slots with young teachers who lack the life skills to be able to teach because they are unable to match or exceed student thirst. They haven’ been out in life enough - yet. Sure they know the content, but can they deal with what else is happening in a K-12 class?

The chemistry of teaching isn’t easy. We all had at least one teacher that knew everything but couldn’t control the class. Or, the teacher that was everyone’s friend and no one learned a darn anything. Remember the teacher who filled every class period with worksheets and s/he just sat at their desk? And then the nightmare teacher, where you did exactly the same thing every day in class.

Life experience is priceless – no matter what profession you are in. It means volumes to the students when you can pull life into a lesson and talk to the lesson content. That is called engaging students with life outside of class. The other point, students are always taking everything to the limit – don’t all young people do this? I did. Young people need to test the limits to see what they can get away with. The challenge of new teachers is that s/he hasn’t built up a repertoire of meaningful social experiences to deal with “behavior incident” situations because they have been learning the subject content.

K-12 teachers must be a solid leader in the land of young people thirsty to comprehend our complex world. We owe it to new teachers to train them, not in being book smart, but in the comprehensive chemistry of effective K-12 teaching. If you know of a “pre-service” teaching program that you think offers the right chemistry for training teachers please let me know.

What helped me the most as a new teacher?
Harry Wong – a must read and then DO IT.

Multiple Intelligences – Harry Gardner

Even though he has little research his ideas are compelling and helped me understand individual students.

K-12 Grants for project learning and service learning

Make Your voice Heard – Report cards

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