I can’t say I’m always great under pressure, but every so often, I do something in the moment when I am feeling the stress and weight of a difficult class, and it works beautifully. When it does, I just want to share.

As usual, my two junior classes were exasperating. The first class got way out of control, with one girl who (for some inexplicable reason) couldn’t stop laughing, and I sent her out of the classroom so that I could redirect. I had an activity for independent practice of a skill (identifying rhetorical devices in presidential inaugural addresses), but I gave up trying to explain it after a while. Of course, the students who actually cared were upset because they didn’t quite understand the activity, which was due to the rest of the class screwing around. I tried to help individuals, but that was about all I could do.

So when the second class came in – and they’re the ones that push me the most! – I was not prepared to put up with much more. They didn’t know this, and so at a certain point, I turned around and wrote on the markerboard:

99.8° C

I asked, “Do you know what this means?” Somewhat to my surprise, my most challenging student, a special ed student who has ADHD and a penchant for mouthing off and saying things that tend to get under my skin, said, “He’s gonna blow!” I nodded and said, “Yes, I’m about at my boiling point,” further explaining that they were going to have work to do anyway and that letting me get through the lesson so that they could have time to ask questions and work would be beneficial to them in the long run.

And they listened!

This should not be a huge achievement for me, but I felt like it was. I made it clear how serious I was, and that was the problem in the first class: they didn’t know that I was so serious, and there was virtually no way to fairly single out one student to make an example. This method, on the other hand, successfully combatted the group mentality and allowed me to continue more productively, even if it did stifle them a bit. (At that point, they need to be stifled somewhat. It’s a matter of discipline, not in the corrective sense but in the sense of the proper conduct of a student.)

I’m exhausted as a result (and I have to face parents at Open House forty minutes from now), but I have to celebrate any little victory now. A sprinkle of laughter here, a disaster averted there – that’s a good day, and I’ll take it.

….

Okay, I have to say one more thing about my Challenger above. Despite the fact that he’s a special ed student, he is quite bright and has excellent verbal skills, with behavior and attention being his most profound issues that require services (although he doesn’t have an IEP, if memory serves). He noticed when I later went to the board and erased the first 9, replacing it with a 2: 29.8° C. After I remarked that I was “back to room temperature” (meaning that their behavior had allowed me to calm down to a reasonable point, a metaphor that they very clearly understood), he made some comment about 84 degrees. A few other students asked him about that, and I got it quickly: he had converted the Celsius measure (29.8°) to Fahrenheit. The students were working, so I popped over to my desk, pulled out a calculator, and did the conversion:

(29.8 * 9/5) + 32

which works out to 85 degrees Fahrenheit. I was impressed, and I made that minor correction, adding that he was pretty darn close. I don’t know how, but I want to get through to this Challenger, even though he is so difficult to deal with. Another goal for the next two years that I’ll have him.

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