I’m 5’4”, 112 lb., and I look like a 15-year old.
There is nothing about me that drives fear into the hearts of 13-year olds on the Navajo Nation.
Some days, I wish I were a 250 lb. linebacker foaming at the mouth. Like days when I have 10 middle schoolers mimicking the rapper Lil John over my attempts to teach the silent-e sound. Or days when a student is trying to catch my attention by swatting the arm of a sweatshirt into my face. And especially on days when I really do have a 14-year-old football linebacker trying to ram past me out of the classroom.
But luckily for my delicate frame, being scary isn’t my job. And luckily, I’m (a little) older than 15. I’m the adult in the room. And while adults aren’t always calm, rational characters who put logic ahead of emotion, I’m the teacher. I get paid to be calm, rational and to put logic ahead of emotion. Because as any teacher knows (especially us young, inexperienced things), poor behavior management will destroy the best lesson plan.
The teaching gurus of the world have actually put together rules to keep us teachers in line when it comes to behavior management. Now, it’s easy to tell someone to “Have only a few rules. Repeat them. Be firm.” It’s much harder to actually execute when you’re scrambling to figure out what to teach the next day.
I’ve learned countless bits from my surrogate mothers at work, like my assistant, the other Special Ed teachers, and the teachers with decades of experience under their belts. I watch them and learn. Speak in low tones; don’t yell. Stay calm and don’t take it personally. Be logical and rational and explain it so it makes sense why you’re not supposed to hit someone with a book. And sometimes, admonish them in Navajo.
But really, as a second-year teacher with a little more confidence in the classroom, I have to give credit to my students for really teaching me those lessons.
They taught me my first year that if you aren’t clear with your expectations, they’ll make up their own, and it’ll often involve profanity and very little completed work. They taught me that if you don’t stick to the promised consequences the first time they break rules they’ll interpret that as encouragement to spew more profanity and do even less work. It took a good number of days in the classroom when students were rolling around on the ground making barnyard noises while I stood by wringing my hands. But I finally learned.
I learned to take deep breaths and give sharp teacher’s looks across the classroom. I learned that it’s well worth it to lose out on my lunch break (which doubles as my only prep period) so that a student will feel the anguish of lunch detention when he/she earns three or more warnings in class. I learned that lecturing is a waste of time. I learned that you need to address problem behaviors fast, and make sure they know you love them faster. And I learned that like with everything else in life, people need to be taught appropriate behaviors. Just like how teachers need to be taught how to teach them.
The opinions expressed in On the Reservation are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.