Slice of Life Tuesday is hosted by Two Writing Teachers
We don’t have many rules in our classroom. In fact, there are just three that cover all our needs: be kind, be respectful, honor each other’s right to learn. From September through December, we journey as a class to understand the point of these rules – they create a learning community built on safety and trust. It is a long and sometimes difficult journey for my ebullient and impulsive sixth graders, and it’s a long and difficult journey for me, as well. For no matter what we’ re in the midst of, or how well the lesson is going, if someone calls out, interrupts, laughs at someone else, puts someone down, or (in short) crosses the line with any of our three ground rules, I have to:
- ask the class to pause
- wait until the student in question has acknowledged the breach
- name the issue, accept the apology on behalf of the class
- move on
If it happens again, I simply pause and wait, and on the rare occasion there is another repetition, I ask the student to leave our room until such time as he or she can collect themselves and return to our learning.
As I said, this is a long journey. September and October see many occasions when we find the need to go through the above rigamarole time and time again. And then, just as I begin thinking – Will they NEVER learn? -they do. And we are off and sailing through calm waters.
Because in January, some of my kiddos decide it’s time to test the old lady teacher, to see how much energy she still has to survive the CONSISTENCY TEST!
I felt the first rumblings last week, our first week back from break. It took a little longer to transition from one thing to the next, to settle into work without a hundred and one pokes, shoves, and smirky comments. This week, they’ve upped the ante: interruptions, calling out, laughing at classmates’ contributions. By “they”, I mean the ones chosen for this mission – the few who feel brave enough, ready enough, for the throw down, the crossing of the line.
When it happens, the class grows furtively watchful: did she hear it? see it? will she ignore it? will we have to go through “the drill”? A part of each student (I think) wants me not to respond, to pretend I somehow missed what was happening under my very nose, to allow our rules to slacken. But, a greater part of each student (I really believe) wants me to notice, to follow through. As much as my kids crave the chance to break rules and have a go at mayhem (they are sixth graders, after all) they also need the assurance of structure, the security of consistency.
So, we had our first throw down today. Out in the hallway, at the end of our little “talk”, I asked X. what had gotten into him? why??? I confessed to being exasperated, perhaps my voice was an octave higher than necessary. He smiled sheepishly, shrugged, and mumbled, “I don’t know…I just couldn’t help it, you know?”
I couldn’t say it, but I did think, yes, I do know – it’s testing season now…we’ll get to February before long, and it will be smooth sailing again. I just have to stick to following through, to being consistent.