How to Care for Students Differently

What worked for me before is not going to work this year. Here are two ways I will show I care differently.

Photo by Lala Azizli on Unsplash

This post is a message to everyone who reads it, even the one who wrote it.

In the past, I thought of myself as “Professor Fluffy.” (I am not a professor, but have always wanted to be one.) It was a self-imposed nickname, ostensibly to remind myself to be compassionate. Kids knew I wasn’t exactly strict, and they used that to obtain certain privileges that, I think, may have hurt their learning progress.

In the posts about my dream school, I write about being “life ready.” Reflecting on that now, it is unclear how continuing to be Professor Fluffy is helping students become “life ready.” Could I have been telling them they can get away with misbehavior by targeting the right person?

Perhaps. Perhaps I’m not ready to admit that. Let’s move on.

Let’s Put a Pin in That

Ed (a former boss) used to say, “Let’s put a pin in that,” whenever staff meetings became heated or went off the rails. He stopped the unwanted behavior of fully-grown adults and took back the meeting. It worked every time.

On a walk yesterday, I visualized dealing with the student who calls out, or heaven forbid, speaks rudely to me. How did I respond?

“Hmmm… let’s put a pin in that. Please see me after class. For now, I need you to focus on what we are doing. Can you do that?”

  • “No”: The student goes to the office.
  • “Yes”: We try again.

After class, as promised, we have a discussion. I explain how the behavior was unacceptable. If I let the student get away with it, then everyone else will either be a) jealous, b) the next to give it a try, or c) both. I tell the student that I am writing up an “observation.” Then, I give the student a warning: if it happens again, I’m calling the parents and writing you up officially.

I know what you might be thinking: That’s standard practice. Why didn’t you do that before?

Exactly. I didn’t, and I must.

My friend and colleague, Maria, told me last year: “From the first day, you must enforce the rule of respect. As soon as someone attempts to disrespect you in any way, you must keep them after class and explain to them that their behavior is unacceptable and will have consequences.” In other words, “Woman, grow up.”

It’s a keen observation. If I ask myself why I let students be disrespectful, I have to admit I am afraid they won’t like me, and then act out even more. In a desperate attempt to build rapport with each child, I often refuse to admit that some kids need a teacher who can enforce the rules, to help them become “life ready.”

I must also admit that I hate paperwork.

Then Everyone Can Stand

Last year, I had a few students who could not sit still. As they were juniors and seniors, it was especially annoying. I would try to redirect them. I would ask them to have a seat. That would last about a minute.

This year, rather than letting them distract other students (as that is always what happens), I am thinking of trying a different approach by shifting instruction to standing mode.

One of the reasons software developers have the standing scrum at the beginning of the day is to make the meeting shorter. People focus more on the tasks at hand when they are standing. Additionally, after working with software developers for years, I have found they are easily distracted if they are sitting, especially if they have a phone or computer in front of them. That said, during a scrum, the focus becomes the whiteboard, where development is discussed in some form or fashion, depending on the mode of development they use at that company. For us, it was Agile, and the whiteboard was covered in sticky notes related to the latest iteration of the product.

I’m thinking of either buying small whiteboards and markers for everyone, or a set of clipboards and pens on which they can write down ideas for group work, like a mini-scrum. Everyone can stand up, form groups around the room, and work on story elements, for example. This will help students who cannot sit still socialize with their classmates in a productive way. Hopefully, they will become more engaged and not feel I am upset with them. Rather, I’m trying to help them progress with their learning.

By the way, I just bought the clipboards.

There could be many reasons why students cannot sit still. Perhaps they have problems paying attention, or they had an argument with a family member or friend, or they are agitated for another reason. While I have always cared and tried to find the root cause, I cannot let them continue to isolate themselves and perseverate on the problem any longer. I have to show them a way to become “life ready,” which involves putting aside an issue for a time. Perhaps they will feel some relief. We caring adults can help the student with whatever the issue is once class is over.

Two Ways to Help Students on Their Way to “Life-Readiness”

I’ll start with these two classroom management techniques and see what happens. If you have other suggestions, please leave a comment on this post.

Thank you for reading this post.

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