Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Sowing the Seeds of Our Own Destruction

What a title!  What's this about?  Actually, it's kind of a rant.  Over the past few weeks I've been in several classrooms and one teacher behavior I see that really gets me is allowing students to waste time with no consequence.  This comes primarily at transitions.

Transitions are tough.  Children seem to treat every break in the schedule as if it were recess.  They turn to a neighbor and start talking.  The volume rises.  School is forgotten for the moment.  It is precisely at this moment that a teacher's grasp of classroom management is tested.  What do most teachers do?  They begin to give instructions, instructions which are not heard by most.  They get angry.  They ring bells.  Mostly, by their behavior, they demonstrate that it's ok to talk.  Eventually the class quiets, but the time has been spent.  The teachers in the following grades shed a silent tear, because they are being committed to noisy, out-of-control transitions by this teachers willingness to sacrifice classroom efficiency to a set of rationalizations which, in the end, are a bunch of stories featuring "can't's."

Children can behave well, but they have to be taught.  They can be self-disciplining for the most part when they learn that their behavior has consequence to themselves and their peers.  For me, it was a stopwatch.  At the beginning of the year - the very first day, in fact - I explained to students that I didn't mind if they were noisy during transitions because when I was ready to get going, I simply started my stopwatch.  However long it took the class to get ready to work, that much time was subtracted from their recess.  It was fine with me, I told them, if they wanted to spend their down time during transitions instead of at recess.  Students learned.  I never tried to talk while students were off task.

Recently, I was in two classrooms for  presentations.  Many of the students in these classes had been in my class last year.  It was gratifying to see that, although they had trouble settling themselves for their teachers, they quieted for me, well if not perfectly.  Some of my previous students even saw to it that students who didn't know me were told to be quiet.  I did need to bring out "the watch" a couple of times.

My point?  Kids can be quiet and respectful - if that behavior is expected and misbehavior comes with consequences.  A corollary of this rule is that kids don't get warnings.  If a behavior is unacceptable, then it has consequences.  This is reality.  Having great respect for the idea taught by Love and Logic, the consequences for a behavior should fit the crime.  Certainly a child who really had no idea that a behavior was unacceptable will experience a consequence less severe that a child who used a behavior as a weapon.  Fair, most often, is not equal.  But, we learn when we see what happens.  If we don't see anything happen, we don't learn.

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