Where I need improvement

Sometimes on a job interview they ask you the worst question of all:

“What are your weaknesses?”

I know what the honest answer to that is in this point of my career. I still need to work on my patience with students.

Yesterday I lost my temper. It was with a child who probably revels in getting someone to lose their temper. So I feel pretty dumb about it. He’d been pushing all my buttons: tattling on other students, answering “no” loudly when I ask if anyone is still on step 3 (a girl behind him answered yes), and arguing, interrupting and smiling when being corrected. I tried to correct him first across the classroom, then at his desk, then at my desk.

At one point, I lost it: I slapped the palm of my hand against the table in front of him and yelled, “STOP INTERRUPTING ME!” The entire class went quiet. He was surprised but only for a second. A few minutes later, I heard him relating the experience to the students across from him and telling them how it was funny. He was miming my hand slap movement.

I called him to my desk and said, “Tomorrow will be a new day. It will be better, right? You’ve been great the last couple of weeks, so I know you can behave well in my class.” He started arguing about how unfair I was to him. We discussed it, but he was not ever going to see logic. He’s a kid who will always believe he’s in the right no matter how crappy he behaves.

I finally just reiterated, “Tomorrow will be better, okay?” He shrugged and went to sit down.

I also find myself irritated when students ask questions that show they were not paying any attention to me when I was giving the whole class directions. This is my hugest pet peeve of teaching. In some cases, I know the kid was chatting with a friend and has a record of inattentiveness.

In other cases, I don’t know. Maybe I give directions too fast, or not clearly enough? All I know is that if I could get past the irritation and just resign myself to repeating the same thing many times, I would probably be less tired at the end of the day. Getting irritated at students causes physical and mental strain.
I also worry that when I ask students, “were you listening when I just gave instructions?” I may be giving all my students the message that questions are not encouraged. I love questions, but not when it’s something I just explained.

Today I think I’ve noticed some improvement in my approach. A few students really fouled up one step of an art project. Instead of being reproachful, I asked each student in turn what had happened in a friendly way. Then I’d offer a suggestion or another piece of paper to try again. Sometimes I don’t have the materials to let them redo a step, but this time I did.

It felt much better to accept that kids make mistakes, and to deal with it in a warm way.

Now I worry that kids will try to walk all over me and slack. They tried to do that in my first week because I was new and playful and friendly. I had to toughen up and lay down the law.

It’s a judgment call every time you talk to a student.

UPDATE 5:00 P.M.

My problem student was hardly better today. He kept interrupting when I was trying to help a nearby student, and he threw a piece of copper foil at a girl walking by. I responded better. I didn’t lose my temper like yesterday. I didn’t witness the copper foil assault, so I don’t feel confident in punishing him (although I’m 99% sure he did it like the girl and her friend said.)

I wish I had a camera on him at all times. At the same time, he distracts me from other mayhem. I received an email from the mother of another child in my class. She said that a girl stole five dollars from her son off the table. When I focus all my time on a single outstanding troublemaker, I miss other sneaky crap going on behind my back.

I don’t know. Should I continue to try to correct this problem boy’s behavior, and prodding him along with the project? Or should I essentially ignore him for a while?

At least when the high schoolers are a pain in the ass, they are usually amusing about it.

UPDATE 1/25/07

Today was a good day with this boy. What a relief.Â

By Dawn Pedersen

Science advocate, web designer, educator, artist, and mommy.

5 replies on “Where I need improvement”

One of the main reasons my oldest son wanted to move to the upper middle class high school he’s now at in Arizona (with dad) away from the Natomas school here was that teacher’s couldn’t maintain control of the classroom. Students like my son, who wanted to learn, were literally shut out of opportunities by the troublemakers such as the boy you mention.

I believe that poor parenting is a large part, but I also believe that the class shouldn’t have to suffer because of a chronic disruption–it’s really what’s killing California schools.

I’d keep after him. Recommend counseling, call in the parents, figure out what the problem is. If he’s acting out, he may have trouble at home no one’s aware of.

This boy has already had a good deal of counseling, Student Support Team (SST) meetings, independent study work, and the like. In most of his classes he has improved lately, both in work and in behavior. However, in my class his academic improvement is sometimes overshadowed by his awful behavior.

I’m already fairly certain that his home life is bad, as you suspected. I believe that the school is very aware of his challenges since they have tried a number of approaches with him.

At this point, I need to just figure out how to deal with the moments of his sheer audacity that are so distracting to myself and unpleasant to the other students.

Wow, it’s so true that often times one student can be the disruption that prevents all of the rest of the students who want to learn from getting the instruction they are there for. If parents of children who want to learn knew how much time kids spend waiting for their teachers to get others on task they would be livid.

Dawn, I love your blog and I applaud your work.

Thanks, Lisa!

I have now laid down zero tolerance on this kid. First difficulty, go stand outside for five minutes. Second one, office referral. He has simply refused to do any work these last two days. Today, he earned his office referral within the first fifteen minutes of class. It was a relief then that I could concentrate on the rest of the kids.

I honestly have no other idea how to deal with him any more. He absolutely refuses to listen to reason, and is constantly distruptive and defiant. Yesterday, I reminded all the students (mainly directed at him but at a couple of others as well) that full points for the day requires working the entire period. This boy blurted out, twice loudly, “What have points ever done for me?”

So how do you motivate a child like this?

I talked to the Principal and to one of the veteran teachers today. They said I’m doing the right thing – if he’s acting abnormally, get him out of the classroom. It’s nice to know that I’m not shirking my duty or something by sending him to the office.

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