The Teachers' Scrounge

News and comments from the world of public education. A middle school math teacher shared what he learned today.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Nobody said anything!

Some of the common "new-teacher mistakes" are pretty well known. For example, trying to be friends with your students (a mistake that too many parents seem to make, as well). In my early days as a teacher, I felt terrible when a student was "hurt" by my correction. I learned my mistake the same way many new teachers have -- Harry and Margaret Wong's book, The First Days of School. This book helped me overcome my fear of correction. I used to rely too much on the "ignore it and it will stop" technique. There are some behaviors that can be discouraged by refusing to give them attention. But many behaviors do not fall in this category.

I am continually amazed by how many times a student is just waiting for someone to tell them to stop. All sorts of activities -- from throwing bouncy balls to wearing low-cut blouses -- kids will [often] pleasantly stop when asked. I knew this was generally true when boys are fighting. They often just need an excuse to stop, and a teacher yelling "stop" will suffice. But I never realized how many other behaviors were the same way. Kids who violate dress code, but bring an appropriate pair of pants and just wait for someone to tell them to change.

So now I usually verbally correct everything. And I embrace the "Love and Logic" technique of expecting compliance. I tell a student what they should be doing ("tuck that shirt in before you get back to class," "pick up the trash around your desk," "stop drawing mustaches on your face") and walk away. With no one to argue with, they often comply. And even if they don't, they can't tell the next teacher that no one has said anything before.

Of course, there is a downside to this. I recently got in trouble picking up the niece and nephew from daycare. I corrected some child who was claiming he had the right to put other kids in a headlock. I told him he was wrong and he knew better. I thought that was the end of it... then his mom told me I should have addressed her over the problem. Maybe I should have referred her to Harry Wong's book.

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