Classroom Management


School resumes today for a half-day + teacher inservice. I’ll only see about half of my students today (our half-days alternate between the first and last four periods of the day), most of whom should be turning in book projects that I gave an extended deadline on (they were originally due back in December, and I had mercy). The rest will be turning their projects in when I see them tomorrow, which means a lot of grading this week to be ready to post grades by next week, since our semester ends this week.

I’m hopeful, though, that I can get somewhat of a fresh start. I intend on backing up and trying to do some things differently that I should have done at the beginning of the year. One such thing is to rethink my process for discipline, from giving students input into what should be expected of them to how I handle repeated behaviors (and now I’m thinking more in terms of disciplinary contracts). I am also going to try and be more organized, including with my class webpages that I set up at the beginning of the year (none of which are even close to being up-to-date).

I have goals, and that’s a good first step. Let’s hope the next several days show evidence of doing something to meet them.

Teachers, how do you approach a new semester or the second half of the year (after break)? Any ideas that have worked for you?

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One of my friends on Facebook is a college professor at my alma mater who is in her second year of post-graduate teaching at the university; although I never had her for a class, she and I discussed doing some work together for a digital rhetoric/new media article she wanted to submit to an online journal because I had experience with PHP/MySQL coding (the collaboration never happened, sadly).

Her status was about having just taken a look at online evaluations, which the university just switched to this year, and being depressed at the negative feedback. Being a fairly new teacher as well, I know how it is to get negative feedback and how frustrating it can be, but I shared some advice with her about how I’ve learned to handle feedback in general, and I’d like to share that with you as well.

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You might even say it was a case in which I did actually learn my lesson.

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Today, I did what I had to do: I fought what may be a sinus infection all day to make it to school to provide comfort for at least some of my students. Consequently, I quickly found out that the teacher who passed away, familiarly called “H” by students and colleagues alike, had had a profound impact on so many people.

That made it incredibly difficult. One colleague gave the announcement this morning, and having been at the school for years, he had a hard time making the announcement. The student who normally does the pledge bowed out (H had been a family friend, I understand), and the secretary, bless her heart, broke down crying in the middle of giving the pledge in the student’s place. It was so hard to listen to because the grief was palpable.

And then there was silence, something which has never (to my knowledge) happened at the beginning of my 1st hour class. So I told them, “I’m sorry, but I have to break the silence. We have to talk about this.”

And what ensued was a beautiful session of catharsis.

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I woke up this morning feeling pretty awful. My ribs and collarbone ached, and this turned into (over the course of the day) a full body ache that makes me think I’m getting sick.

At one point, I came by the house to get some medicine in the midst of running all over the place doing other things, thinking, I haven’t used any sick days yet…this would be a good time for it. And I have a message from a number with the same prefix as the district I teach in.

It’s the secretary, telling me that the teacher who I ultimately replaced (with one teacher between us) had passed away. I call her back for details, and she really has none. I tell her that I had been thinking about calling in sick, but that’s out the window now: I can’t abandon my students, especially the seniors who had this teacher as sophomores in her last year of teaching.

I honestly don’t know what I’m going to say tomorrow, although I know that I can’t really teach at least my senior English class. I’m going to have to let them know that I’m here for them and to lend a sympathetic ear. I don’t even think I know what I would do otherwise.

Tomorrow will be hard, especially if I feel the way I do. This is a moment, though, that I cannot afford to lose with my seniors, who are (now, finally) somewhat back on board with me after many of them starting to show signs that I’m losing them. If I didn’t show up when they will be grieving so for this beloved teacher – the teacher they were just talking up on Friday in a class discussion – then I would really be disrespecting them. I just have to bite the bullet and be there, in whatever shape I’m in. The students will likely do the same.

I don’t know if I’ll help at all. But the fact of the matter is that I have to try, and hopefully that will mean something.

Right now, about 3/8ths of a year into my teaching career, feels like a valley.

You see, I’m at a frustrating point where I have a decent idea of what I should do (at least in general terms) to improve my teaching immensely…but it’s just not happening, and the blame for that is entirely on me. It’s like seeing an object and reaching your arms and hands outward, outward, short of the goal, and falling flat on your face — because you haven’t taken the few steps forward to put it within reach.

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I am so far behind, both here and in real life, so here are some highlights of the past, uh, week or so:

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If one can be considered a fan of some grammatical artifact, I am a fan of the subjunctive mood, for some undefinable reason. Maybe it’s because the subjunctive is somewhat of an endangered species, having all but disappeared from modern English. I’m not a stickler about it – I don’t know that I can really be called a stickler about anything grammatical other than the bare essentials for communication – but I have been known to advise students in feedback about its formal use. Yes, it might be acceptable in general to say something like “If I was six feet tall, I would be much better at basketball” even though the subjunctive would call for the construction “If I were six feet tall…”

However, I suggest that there are instances where understanding of the remaining uses of the subjunctive mood or at least the underlying reasons for its existence are useful, since it does still exist but is rarely ever taught explicitly. Generally, this should consist at least of an understanding that the subjunctive can be used to express a state or proposition that is contrary to fact.

Some real-life situations:

  1. A student in one of my classes was talking about something gender-related (I don’t recall the specifics) and asked me, “Mr. B, if you were a guy–“; at this point, I interrupted and said, “Whoa, wait a minute: are you saying that I’m not a guy?” He didn’t intend (I think) to communicate this piece of information, but it was communicated nonetheless through the construction.
  2. Similarly, my wife recently started out a sentence, “If I were me,” at which point I remarked that she must have some severe identity (and logic) issues.

So even if the subjunctive is on its way to extinction, despite my affinity for it, understanding the remnants of this mood can in fact be useful. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

I finished the book I’ve been reading this week earlier today, Why Do We Gotta Do This, Mr. Nehring?: Notes from a Teacher’s Day in School by James Nehring, and I have to give it my highest recommendations for any junior high or high school teacher (although it will be more topical for the latter). It is a very compelling book, equal parts narrative and commentary but all contained within a narrative framework that is very approachable. Nehring does a great job of telling the story of education – not a history, but the way things are. I say “are” because I don’t think things have changed a whole lot in the 20 years since this book was written and published; in fact, if you replaced all instances of “Walkmen” with “iPods,” there would be virtually no dissonance with the reality of education in 2009.

There is much that can be said about Nehring’s commentary – perhaps the most important part of the book, although the narrative is entertaining and engaging – but I want to return to that dreaded question that I wrote about a few days ago*.

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It’s not really a victory in the classroom, but I count it a victory nonetheless.

One of my professional duties is lunch duty, which probably sounds ridiculously boring but which I find to be a very useful time. This is for several reasons: first, it’s non-instructional time, and the amount of actual supervisory work is incredibly low. I also have duty for the first period of lunch (out of two), and this period happens to be almost the exact disjunction of the set of students I currently have in class – that is, I teach 10th-12th graders (well, most of them), and this period covers 7th-9th grades – so I have been able to get acquainted with a number of students who I will (most likely) have in class in the next few years. Consequently, I think I have begun to build positive relationships with many of these students, and I think this will work out in my favor.

But these aren’t even the best things about having lunch duty. My favorite part is, to be blunt, basketball.

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