I must have taken some of what I said before to heart: today was a great improvement.
I don’t know that I can rope anything down for sure, but I think that what I did with my students was more interesting in general. I know that my sophomores seemed to work much better with the work we did, and we easily filled the time. My juniors are still so rambunctious, and I need to come down harder on them, I think. There’s still so many disruptions that make it difficult to keep everything together, and I haven’t been as strict as I know I need to be about that. I’ve already predicted that my first detentions will come in a junior class, and I think I might just have to make it happen so that the precedent is set and the kid gloves thrown off.
[I have to make a side note here: the juniors have been incredibly open about some of the things they did to the last teacher who didn’t provide enough structure, including but not limited to stealing signs from the classroom and – almost unbelievably, to me – hiding a student inside the podium/lectern that’s still in the classroom. Even as disruptive and even undisciplined they can be for me now, I don’t have anything like that yet. I guess when I start to see pranks being played, that’s a sign that things need to change. Although, I did lose my doorstop today…]
In addition to coming down harder on classroom management, I’ve been thinking about ideas to provide some sort of incentive. Because the entire junior classes seem to be pretty unfocused when I have them, I’ve considered making a bargain for better focus and fewer diversions by using one of the tools in my teacher’s tool chest of experience: music. As I discovered last semester at the end of student teaching (and a little earlier for my juniors there), my students responded very well to bringing in a guitar and showing off my abilities as a musician, something that I think teenagers respect.
So here’s my idea – and feel free to give me feedback on this if you think I’m crazy and/or a genius: rather than making a deal outright exchanging the behaviors that I profess to be expecting for a reward (something that hasn’t worked well for me in the past), I would propose that in addition to avoiding the less pleasant aspects of disciplinary measures (i.e. consequences), students could earn the opportunity to nominate and vote on a song that I would then learn (with all of the selection happening well in advance) and play for the students. (Guidelines would be given on the nature of the song, of course.) My prediction is that this could get really silly, like voting for a rap or hip-hop song or some other song that would be somewhat embarrassing to hear me sing (my initial thought was Oops, I Did It Again by Britney Spears for such a song). I would also probably make this the result of a long streak, like setting a non-trivial number of days without any major diversions that are far too tangential.
Now, I might just be setting myself up for an inevitable denial of that incentive; I know that these students in particular tend toward being unfocused and even a little boisterous. (I think that certain classes are just this way, for some inexplicable reason. I’ve noticed it at other schools – my seniors during student teaching were that way in quite a few respects.) But I think that it might be something to help motivate students toward establishing habits that hopefully will make the class easier to deal with. It adds a social element as well, where students who actually think that this incentive is a worthwhile goal will put pressure on the other students who might not be as interested.
Nevertheless, I think it’s something I might consider. I even worked out an arrangement with the music teacher to see about borrowing the electric piano he uses for chorus in case it works out better. (The arrangement entails me doing accompaniment for the chorus for concerts, which I probably would do without getting anything. Conversely, I bet the music teacher would let me use the electric piano even if I weren’t accompanying the chorus because I’d only need it during hours that no one uses it. Still, it works as a nice little reciprocal agreement.)
Now, I just need to make sure that these improvements turn into a pattern, not allowing one good day to make me complacent about the amount of work I need to do. That won’t stop me from being pleased with the progress, of course, but hopefully it will keep my feet firmly grounded so that I can do the real work that I need to do, for my sake and my students’.