Sunday, September 14, 2008

Check Yourself

“Check yourself before you wreck yourself!”

Teaching checks and balances to my 6th graders, I try to explain the purpose of having them. “Has anyone ever heard someone say ‘check yourself’”? I ask. “Yea! Check yourself before you wreck yourself!” comes the resounding response. I make a mental note to make a giant poster with that line on it as a feature of my new and improved classroom management plan…

There’s a lot of sugar coating going on in my school. The students call roaches “water bugs.” Call it what you will – that is a cockroach that you are smashing under your air jordans over there. But there is a unanimous consensus about the semantics of the bugs. In the hall the kids are sweet as sugar, as if big smiles and “Hello Miss Klein” can make up for period after period of them behaving as though I am not present in the classroom with them. In the classroom it’s “Yo, Miss!” to get my attention. “EXCUSE ME! Do not address me as ‘yo miss’” I admonish them, before launching into my hundredth mini-lesson on classroom behavior.

It has to all be spelled out for them, with no loopholes. I’m always anticipating the knowledge gaps that I’ll have to fill in. I want to teach cause and effect, but can’t do that without teaching them inference. I want to teach them election, but first have to teach them government. Anticipating the loopholes is the key to success, and it’s true in management even moreso. For example – the rule that you must raise your hand to speak is entirely inadequate, unless you also establish that they must be called on by me. You end up with lots of kids shouting out with their hands waving around in the air.

“Miss, she called me a potato head.”
“I didn’t hear that, but I hear your voice right now,” I can only judge what I do see or hear, so in this case the poor potato head boy is going to lose. His assailant was simply more stealth.
“But Miss!!!”
“I still hear you, you need to learn to ignore people who are bothering you.”
“Miss – it’s true, I heard her call him a potato head.”
“Don’t call names,” I remind the offending student, and then I tell the offended that they must “learn to ignore the people who are bothering you.” In an ideal world, this approach would teach kids self-control – not to be responsive to every provocation. So far it just has made me seem very unfair and unsympathetic.

They need to learn self control, respect, and personal responsibility if they are going to go any further in the world – three things that on the whole are really lacking right now. And again, like I ask myself about everything, about a hundred times a day, what really makes me qualified to teach them that?

1 comment:

  1. La, you are qualified because you are the only one there right now to do it. So that makes you qualified. Love you.