Thursday, December 28, 2006

Learning Classrom Management.

While I have been trying to defend education, I must post a bit of absurdity. In one of my classes in the school of education, the subject of classroom management arose. Being a group worker, I sat back, eager to hear her discourse on group dynamics and how to intervene. Here's what she said:

"Let's say a student or two are being noisy," she started. "First, give them THE LOOK."

At this point the teacher scowled, her left brow rising ridiculously near her hairline and her lip curling in a manner to do Quasimodo justice.

"If they don't respond to the look, wait a moment and then give them your NEXT LOOK, and say the student's name."

She then gave forth her NEXT LOOK, the eyebrow twisted maniacally, and her face twitching so she looked like a rotweiller ready to pounce. Sweat broke out on her brow and a scent drifted to us. She was actually able to spray pheremones. Cross my heart. You could see them like dust motes in the sunlight.

"Now some students need a bit more," she said. "In that case I recommend walking to that student's desk and usually they will respond to your movement, to your proximity. If you need to, gently touch them on the shoulder for a just a second and say a name. They'll get the message."

At this point I had to go to the restroom. I returned a few minutes later and froze at the doorway. Here's what I saw. The teacher had seperated the classroom into pairs. We were now sitting in couples, facing one another, taking turns with first, THE LOOK, then THE NEXT LOOK. I'm in the doorway watching these adults practicing their stern looks, knitting eyebrows, thrusting out jaws, gnashing teeth.

I did the only thing I could do. I left class and went to dinner. Maybe I missed the next part..maybe it was pull out the tazers and have at em.

Well...I was prepared for alternative education now, let me tell you. Making faces?!! Teaching is easy.

24 comments:

Nikeroo said...

Oh, I hadn't realised that throwing things at students when they over-ride "the look" was a no-no... Ahhh well, obviously I'm in need of help here!

Shoulder touching...Yewch...don't students have koodies?

Stewart Sternberg said...

nikeroo, gently tapping a student's shoulder is sort of like the five second rule when you drop a piece of food on the floor and have to decide if you can pick it up and put it in your mouth. Only with koodies, or the American version: kooties, you don't get five seconds. Maybe two.

Lucas Pederson said...

But say there is a new strain of Kooties passed on by radioactive catapillers and then hence passed from student to student. Would the two second rule apply then? I wonder....

Charles Gramlich said...

I usually just let my cattle prod do my talking.

Nikeroo said...

Lucas and Charles, after careful deliberation I've decided I'm with you. Schools are simply going to have to issue latex gloves if they expect us to "shoulder tap". All those nasty student germs...Yewch!

Stewart, I'll rememeber the "five second rule" if I'm ever in an emergency...although I'm hoping it'll go into my repetoir of unused skills...like CPR and eye prodding.

Crunchy Carpets said...

I need that class!
My look does not work and I obviously need practice

SQT said...

If the look doesn't work you can always resort to threats.

Lucas Pederson said...

The Look never worked for me when my teachers used it. And the whole, touching me on the should sort of scared me. I'd keep thinking: what if this teacher is a wacko of some form or another and he/she really would like to smack me upside the head instead? In fact maybe that's just what they were thinking. Scary now days for both student and teacher, let me tell you..

Stewart Sternberg said...

I am reading a short story right now where the teacher, a rather crazy woman, is describing how she deals with discipline in the class room. The first thing she'll do is summon the trouble maker to her desk and quietly ask: "You know you're not supposed to be talking in class, don't you? Well, you better not again...or else."

And then, if there is additional problems and the whole class is acting out, she simply stands and turns out light. Then, in the quiet, nervous darkness she says ominously.."Think what this means."

Lucas Pederson said...

See what I mean...the horror...the horror...
I knew I was right!

gem said...

Stewart, I take it you teach students who are not mainstreamed in the education system because of psycho-social limitations--theirs not yours. I don't blame you for ditching class and going to dinner. Are there parts of your job you find fulfilling?

mist1 said...

My dad is a high school teacher. I'll be emailing this to him.

Stewart Sternberg said...

Yes, Gem. Because of the environment in an alternative educational setting we are allowed to try approaches that would not be possible in a traditional classroom. I am able to work individually with different students, focusing on psychoeducational models, working with their social skill development as well as their ability to increase their conflict management skills.

Is it rewarding? Yes. There is a sense of family in the school that would surprise people. And I work my kids hard. I don't believe in teaching down to people. The greatest compliment a student can pay me is when they say: "I came here because I thought it would be easier than the high school and it's harder in some ways."

We graduate a good share of students. But we have to measure success by a different standard. For some of these students, just making it through a school year is an improvement. For others, passing three classes can be an enormous success.

I am afraid though that with No Child Left Behind, programs such as mine across the country will eventually close. We cannot show yearly annual progress as is expected according to the standards set. Some of my kids come to me in the the eleventh grade, and take the tests. Which means in six months I will be expected to compensate for the many years they have been failing and failing.

I think what I was trying to illustrate in that story was how absurd one class in education could be. If I had my way, each teacher would take one or two classes in group behavior, understanding how group dynamics function in an educational setting.

I had a young teacher work with me. He came his first year, working alternative ed fresh out of college. He told me he thought all teachers should teach at least one year in alternative education. I responded that I agreed and that it was my opinion most teachers were probably pretty pathetic for their first couple years. Teaching is a craft and an art in some ways, and there is no substitute for experience and understanding how to manipulate practice with theory.

SQT said...

I was a substitute teacher for a couple of years before I got my credential and I learned more about classroom management from that than any class I took. I was a sub in everything from special ed to high school and kindergarten. But nothing was harder than subbing for junior high school aged kids. They will test you every time.

I was fairly lucky though, I never had any kids push me beyond what I was able to handle. But I heard a lot of horror stories from other people in my class. Once a kindergarten aged kid told a friend of mine "don't touch me or I'll sue" when she had the gall to touch the kid on the shoulder as she was lining them up to go out to recess. Kids learn early nowadays that teachers are afraid of lawsuits and threaten accordingly.

molly said...

Hahaahaha, my eight grade French teacher had the LOOK down to a science...I didn't know it was actually taught.


Thanks for the site, I'll check it out.

Me said...

oh my lord, surely you gest. This is absurd! Oh wait, having been to a few Pro D seminars I do believe it. Sigh. Tax dollars at work. It's things like this that make people think teachers have it easy and therefore get paid too much. Ridiculous. Now, if you'll excuse me I need to go practice my stern look. We're back to work in a week.

JR's Thumbprints said...

Well Stewart, "The Look" wouldn't mean a hill of beans in my classroom. My management style is a bit different. I hire "lifers" as classroom tutors. Some of my students refer to them as "the goon squad." Problems are few. All I do is turn the other way and let my tutors handle the nonsense. Works every time. As for job security, my facility went from five academic teacher down to two. Since I have the most seniority, I'll be last to go.

Susan Miller said...

I think the most important tool is "follow through" as in the Edgy story. And yes, it helps if there is a shocking aspect to it.

My experience came from adolescent and preadolescent patients in both state and private psychiatric facilities. It didn't take long for me to realize that I had to be willing to do what I threatened because they would test me.

"The Look", GEEZ...they ate the look for breakfast!!!!

Avery said...

I was raised by one who'd mastered "The Look" (ex-military, ex-cop). I knew exactly what that look heralded at home, so I had no desire to take my chances with its translation in the classroom. If I got that look, I wilted in my chair.

Stewart Sternberg said...

JR..I can't believe they are cutting education in the correctional system. That's absurd.

Avery, Sue...I actually do have a look. To be honest, it works. Why? Because my students know I follow through and the consequences can get ugly fast. I also have something else I do. If I am pissed and a group of students are all talking at one time, I hold up my hand and start counting down on my fingers from five. There is dead silence by the fifth finger.

I remember one time I came into the main area, early in the year, when the new students are still testing. There were about twelve kids hanging out. I stuck my fingers out the classroom door and started counting them down. I didn't look, but I could hear the sounds of feet moving quickly. I could also hear a couple of the new kids going: WHAT??? WHAT?>>> and someone explaining over their shoulder: "He's counting down. If he's counting down and he gets to zero, someone's going home"

And ya know, I almost hated to tell this story about the look, but it is an example of a ridculous college curriculum at work. Actually I did have some good classes in that department of education. This happened to be one horrible teacher.

Clifford said...

I taught a computer lab and then 6th grade in a very poor, violence-ridden district for four years. It was often hard, frustrating, and as a new teacher, I raised my voice way too often.

But I cared about the kids and took their successes seriously. And they understood that. And responded to it. The best comment I ever got came from a girl in one of my computer classes. I don't even remember what I said to her (not then or now), but she looked up at me, with disgust on her face, and said, "God, you're always trying to make people feel good about themseleves."

To make a long story short, keep pushing em hard, Stewart. They realize that you care enough to make them work. We need more teachers like you.

swampwitch said...

Isn't "Learning Classroom Management" a double oxymoron?
Can you learn it?
Can you manage it?

Stewart Sternberg said...

swampwitch..the names often confuse and refuse.

Clifford thanks. I always have positive stories to tell as well...last year one of my kids who is currently at Purdue University on a scholarship came back to say hello.

Clifford said...

Stewart,

It's event's like that that make all those long nights grading essays seem worthwhile! Congratulations!