Thursday, September 5, 2013

Let "Down Time" Work for You

And now a question from Chedra Philpott, an English teacher from Lake Chester, Nebraska: "I tried to gain some control over my rowdy class by giving assigned seating and moving some of the non-participants to the front. One social butterfly who loves to sit sideways in her desk chatting, and rolls her eyes at everything I say, was moved up front. Robbed of her audience, she glared at me coldly for all of first period. It was almost unsettling. I know this is the daily life of a teacher, but sometimes it simultaneously ticks me off and sucks the enthusiasm right out of me."

Thanks, Chedra. I have just four words for you: "Better you than me." But seriously.

I very recently had a similar situation, esp. re: the sideways-sitting-now-I-hate-you girl. Here's what I did: When they began to say how much they disliked this new seating arrangement, I fired back with "Now you know I've been feeling the whole dang semester!" Then, at the bottom of a quiz, I wrote a note to the sideways sitter encouraging her to find a way to seem more involved and enthusiastic before she began her studies at the next level.

Then she really hated me, but it didn't last, and she soon became a more frequent contributor to the class's general misunderstanding of what I was failing to teach them.

But here's something that works better. As an English teacher,you may find your class time is frequently devoured by the school's other little necessities: assemblies, yearbook photos, guidance-counselor visits, registration, schedule pickups, administering flu shots, things like that (I call these "Disrupt-O-Days," and I've come to accept them)

So occasionally, you find yourself with a pocket of time not quite long enough to start a discussion or to make a valid point or to give a test. One way to respond is by having the kids begin to prepare for whatever's going to happen next or to review whatever just happened, ensuring that not a precious second of learning time is wasted.

On days like this it's good to wear those reading half-glasses so you can peer threateningly over them should a student start checking for split ends or gazing wistfully out the window at a sunny day whose pleasure she's been deprived of. The half-glasses, when peered over correctly, really help create either the corporate-bully or evil stepmother look, whichever one you find most effective.

Or . . . you could allow your students to quietly do anything that's not illegal on the state or local level while you unobtrusively mingle with them, small talking and getting to know them a little better. You'll gain points just from this small gift. And they weren't going to learn anything in those few minutes anyway.

Ask some of the hard cases what they plan on doing with their lives and if they plan to go to college and if they're involved in any of the school's extracurricular activities (even though you should already know this from a first-day writing or something). You're just asking. You don't have to say, "Well, you're doing a real crappy job of preparing" or "Sure hope you don't need a letter of recommendation from me, Mr. Knucklehead." You are free, however, to offer genuine helpful advice.

By acting interested in them and genuinely listening to them, while they're held captive in your class, you may not need to say such things. Suddenly you're more human. If you find out one of your texting sideways-sitters plays volleyball, go watch her. Now you're even more human. Now you're almost likable. 

It's not fun, even for a teenager, to make a somewhat likable human miserable.

Hope you can try this, Chedra, and thanks again for your question. I'm having my staff try to round up that bag of multicolored paper clips you requested, and it should be in your mailbox by early October.

1 comment:

  1. Doc Star,
    This question is perhaps unrelated to your current post, but nonetheless here it is: As a new teacher people are always speaking to me about disillusionment. I'm generally not the type to think I have nothing to learn but in this regard I was fairly confident that I had a pretty realistic view of education as a profession. But, halfway into my first year, it happened. As I was planning for my third quarter in a PLC group I asked the other teachers on my team how they were planning to pace students' outside reading of To Kill a Mockingbird. The response was wholly depressing: we read the novel entirely in class with our standard students.
    As it turned out, I did have something to learn. I was absolutely shocked that we were not asking students to read a book outside of class! What happened to the days of reading at home and discussing in class? When I posed this question to my peers I was told: "they just won't read it outside of class," along with much encouragement to "go ahead and try it" accompanied by several "good luck"s. So what it is the truth? Am I truly in need of disillusionment? Is it truly impossible to get low level kids to read a complex text outside of class? if not, how do we achieve it?
    Your coworker,
    Amanda Dickson