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