Saturday, January 26, 2013

Classroom Management in a Post-Civil Society Part 2

Several weeks ago I posted a blog about classroom management in a Post-Civil Society (my term). I felt like I needed to cover a few other things that are the tenets of my classroom management philosophy here, and reflect on what it feels like and looks like to put some of these ideas into practice.  I talked a lot in the previous post about building community. Some of the ways that we build community in my room are allowing the students to help me set the classroom rules (we call them norms), seating students at tables in groups of 5, small writing groups (the aforementioned groups of 5) to share writing, small group conferences with me about reading and writing, and lots of formal and informal student surveys allowing them a voice in what happens in the classroom. This creating a community of learners works better in some classes than in others. This year has been wonderful, but definitely had it's pitfalls as well. I am currently dealing with two different problems on separate ends of the spectrum.

One class is severely apathetic. They are passionless. They don't talk to each other. They don't try very hard on assignments, and about half of them check out completely during class time. 4 or 5 of the 20 are very smart, but they are not natural leaders or talkers. To an outside observer a walkthrough during this hour would look I run a tight ship as a classroom manager. The observer would see students with their heads down busily typing or reading, but they would hear not much at all. If I ask questions, I am met with blank stares, if I ask them to discuss in their groups, I hear nothing. They don't even talk about off topic things. I may be exaggerating a bit here, but not completely.  I keep telling myself that they are just a weird group and that chemistry of the class is bad (that's not my fault--the counselors or the computer put this group together). But, I feel like I am failing them. I can't stir them up. I can't get them to interact with each other during group assignments. I don't know what to do with them. They refuse to gel. Not only do they refuse to gel, but I don't see much improvement in the formative assessments I'm doing. I reteach to them, but then I get comments about how we already did this.

Then I have one class that erupted into a perfect example of the post-civil society. Again, it is educational apathy at the root of the problem, but the personal lives of  three students in this particular class fomented into an explosion of passionate emotion moving them beyond all manners or code of normal conduct. What do I do with students who completely forget their manners? I understand having life whirling out of control all around you, but the maturity is being able to act normally. Individual conferences about behavior and "killing them with kindness" are the two major tenets of my plan to deal with disruptions that cause fights.

Have you ever heard the saying, "you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make him drink." Well, someone also said that you can even jam his head underwater and he still won't drink. I feel like I am leading to water and stuffing heads under, but the engagement in my classroom isn't picking up (maybe that's a bit dramatic--I am having breakthroughs with some students, but you know, sometimes teachers operate on feelings too). I'm reading all the reform literature. I am trying new ways of doing things. I'm working hard to make everything I do in my classroom relevant and preparatory for the real world of new jobs that don't even exist yet. But....I have to fight against the "old" way of doing things in other classrooms in my school. Don't get me wrong my school is as cutting edge as it can be right now. Our superintendent and other administrators are extremely forward thinking and we are trying, but it's hard to change course now. And there are lots of "old" ways still happening....

The world of education is much like a steam engine. It's slow to get started, but once it builds a head of steam it's almost impossible to stop and changing course--just forget it! This reform thing is painful. Even for a teacher who is relatively new to the profession and who is as "Pollyanna" about change as one can be. I have to battle the power of the old in my struggle to bring in the new.

Several teachers in our English department, and in other departments too, are struggling against the odds to reform the way our classes work, but it's hard. Classroom management that uses dignity, forgiveness, and mutual respect is hard to implement, especially when many teachers still send students to the office in droves. It's hard to make that kind of classroom management look like a classroom with straight rows and tiny desks that imprison and separate students (the common idea of good classroom management). It's hard to make disengaged robot kids kick the habit of going through the motions of school for one period a day. In order to make reform work the whole school must participate.

Coming to get all stakeholders on board with change. . . . offer them a cookie?

Resources I am currently reading

6 Things to say to Difficult Students
Stop sending kids to the Office
8 Things teachers do to make students bored
Dealing with Difficult Students
12 Classroom Management Myths
The Holy Trinity of Classroom Management

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