Education Opinion

Spiral Pass

By Hanne Denney — October 29, 2007 2 min read
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The day after my last posting, I was asked to cover another teacher’s class for 45 minutes. She was absent, and no substitute teacher was available. I agreed easily, because I am a team player. I actually like going into another teacher’s class. Since I only teach one class of one subject of one grade, it’s a way for me to meet more students in my new school.

I went into that classroom, relieving another teacher who had covered the first half. I introduced myself as a regular teacher in the school. The students had their work, and knew it was due at the end of the period. Within ten minutes, students were up and walking around the room, talking, throwing papers, handling things on the teacher’s desk. I asked several students to return to their seats, and they just looked way from me. Several asked to use the restroom, or the water fountain.

I don’t often raise my voice, but I did to tell students to return to their seats. Most did, although the talking continued and little work was being done. I was trying to help a student who didn’t understand the assignment, but every time I looked down a paper was being thrown or a student was changing seats.

A lot of teachers will recognize the frustration I felt as my classroom spiralled out of control.

A couple of students were clearly the leaders of the disruption. I asked one for his name, because I did not have a seating chart. He refused to give it to me. I asked again, and he laughed. At that point, I knew that if something did not change, it would be a very long 30 minutes until the bell rang.

I didn’t know these students, or how their daily teacher handled her classroom. I didn’t know if everyone else would follow this one kid, or decide to follow my instructions. So I played hardball. I called for an administrator.

She came up, and told me the name of the students who were the main problems. She lectured them for five minutes. It was obvious she’d been there before. She asked me how I wanted to handle the problem.

I announced to the class was I was inviting them to lunch with me in a few days’ time. Middle school students don’t like lunch detention. They have to go into the cafeteria, then show their detention slip to the administrator, then leave their friends to sit in a room with a silent teacher. It’s not a hard punishment, it’s just really boring.

I’m not a brand new teacher, and days later I am still fretting over the whole thing. I rarely call for administrative help. I prefer to keep problems within my classroom. I want to feel like I am part of a learning team. I want to lead a mutually-respectful group of inquisitive people. In this case, I was not successful.

I’ve been teaching long enough to know that doesn’t happen all the time. Sometimes a pass is intercepted. I offer learning, and it is batted away by a defensive move. Sometimes, I’m put on the defensive. So now I need some coaching, even after several years in the classroom.

I think my first step is to talk to the daily teacher, to see if she has suggestions on what I could have done differently. I’ll let her handle any disciplinary action. If she agrees lunch detention is in order, I’ll do that. Or if her policies are to call home, I’ll call home.

The interesting thing in education is that, just like in football, the quarterback can never be sure what the next play will bring. Teachers never know what the next class will bring. We have to keep talking about our experiences, coaching each other, to be ready for the next game day.

I guess I just need a little pep rally.

The opinions expressed in In the Middle 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.