This week I’ve had a spate of misbehavior, oddly in just one particular class. Yesterday alone, one kid refused to face forward and stop talking after I called his name four different times, finally whipping around and yelling “WHAT?!?!?” at my repeated attempts to get him to stop his conversation and take notes. Another kid refused to remove his do-rag after I also asked him to do so several times. Then, a third kid jumped into that conversation with an impassioned tirade against the school’s prohibition of hats and do-rags in class (presumably in the defense of his do-ragged friend--with this kid, it’s all part of an on-going campaign to seem cool in the eyes of his peers by challenging every single thing any teacher says.) In response, I asked in bemused frustration, “What, has he retained you as legal counsel?” The kids then informed me that I was “cornball” and “doing it wrong,” which is their favorite way of expressing disapproval of anything I do or say, and one of them accused me of being a “Debby head,” which--as far as I can surmise--is a cross between a “Debby-downer” and a “goody-two-shoes.”
Today, when I moved several kids’ seats around to prevent chatting with their neighbors, they informed me (perplexingly) that I was just showing off my disciplinary skills--in their words, “trying to act tough"--for my Collaborative Team Teacher, the special education teacher with whom I jointly teach their class. (She had been absent yesterday.) That one puzzled us both. I think what they’re really saying is that, because I am both young-looking and, truth be told, not authoritative enough, my efforts to be...disciplinary, if you will...seem (to them) disingenuous.
Probably the biggest issue with which I struggle as a teacher is classroom management. With age and experience, I have gotten better at it, but I do not have as firm a hand as I would like. This becomes especially apparent in times of year when the kids are already off the walls; right now, for instance, they missed a week for Hurricane Sandy, then they were off Election Day, then Veteran’s Day, and then next week they have Thanksgiving. It’s an entire month without a single unbroken 5-day school week, and the constant interruptions in routine get the kids riled up--they lose track of assignment deadlines, forget what topics we’re covering, and lose their focus. They talk more, for the simple reason that they’ve had more time apart which they want to then discuss. And resultantly, classroom management is more difficult. I say this not to excuse my own disciplinary issues, so much as to point out why there’s this current uptick in zany in-class behavior.
I believe every teacher has something like this, some aspect of the way they practice the craft of teaching that is just never quite right. What I find so frustrating about my particular weakness is how evident it is to the kids when I’m failing at it. On particularly bad days (days like the past two are thankfully few and far in between) when the class just goes off the rails, the quiet kids are all looking at me like, “Really, Miss? You’re gonna let them hijack your class like this? Can’t you get them under control?” There is a terrible feeling of failure when this happens--when everyone’s education is disrupted because I can’t get the behavior under control--and it lasts long after I address the problems by writing disciplinary reports, changing seats, conferencing with students, and calling the parents and deans (with whom I met after class yesterday, to get assistance addressing these issues.) There’s no doubt I will have to improve, but moreover, I sense that being authoritative is probably going to be something I have to work on for the rest of my career.
The opinions expressed in View From the Bronx: An Urban Teacher’s Perspective 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.