Or so I try to be—fifth graders think I’m a riot.
When I was a kid, I hated some of my years in school. How I felt toward my education had a lot to do with my attitude, but it also had an awful lot to do with the kind of teacher I had when I was in that particular class. Some years were full of great activities and learning, while others were milestones of pain and suffering.
When I became a teacher I vowed never to be the kind who made his students suffer through a school day. I would add in fun character voices to the lessons, interactive activities, and would nearly always put in the extra effort to ensure that the days would fly and that the kids would not only learn, but would love to come to school.
I’ve taught for eight or so years now; and for the most part, the students can handle it. They love to come to school each day, and what started off as a stomach-wrenching first day becomes a classroom they love. Often I get visits from past students, and nearly all of them tell me that my class was their favorite. They tell me that they miss it, and wish they could come back.
Like I said, most years the kids can handle it.
Welcome to 2010.
I have a great class this year. Really. They are an amazing bunch of students and I enjoy being around them each and every day…only they’ve become accustomed to an entertaining school day, and have recently started slacking off in the self-control department.
For example: when asked to come in and get to work—and after being reminded of what they should be doing—many of them ‘forget.’ They come into the classroom, chat with their friends, and lollygag. Even with several reminders, they still ‘forget’ what they should be doing. The volume level rises, and several get far too little done in the time they are granted.
I tried several things to get them to be on their game, such as having each student set daily goals to do better as individuals. We met as a class and talked about their behavior, and what could be done in order to fix it. During class meetings they’ve been the one to bring up the concerns, talk about what should be done, but even after my countless pep talks—nada. Zero. Zilch. When it finally came down to the wire, the class as a whole just couldn’t seem to manage the follow through for more than fifteen minutes on any of the goals they’d set together.
It got old.
Today was the day that it became too much.
I decided that a more radical type of action was to be called for with this particular group; after all, the regular methods were not working, and I was not about to allow this class to spin wildly out of control.
It was time for a change. It was time for reform. It was time to do something drastic because I found myself becoming tired, like a man walking up a long, steep hill. I’d been noticing over the past weeks that at day’s end I would be completely exhausted. I was burning out.
I thought of my teachers who came in day to day; those who were just filling time, trying to make it to the end of the day, the week, the school year. Had they been on fire at one time, but then had slowly snuffed out? Like a fire without a fuel source?
I couldn’t let this happen to me, already I was feeling exhausted at the end of most school days. I would find myself coming home, collapsing on the couch, and vegging out until I went to bed, all in order to enter the fray again on the morrow.
It was becoming far too much.
As today’s afternoon wore on, I had yet another student choose not to follow directions, but who instead gave me a look like I was speaking an entirely different language.
Okay, I’d had enough.
After some thought on the matter, I made the announcement that the ‘fun’ would now cease. We’d spent well over a month setting goals and discussing the problem. I’d given warnings, cautionings, and far too many chances. It had come to the breaking point.
I cancelled music today.
“What? No music? You’re not going to play the guitar?” I was asked.
I also let the class know that fun lessons were going to have to become a thing of the past because they were privileges. I would no longer joke around in class, but would instead become just a bit more like my 4th grade teacher, Mrs. H, a woman who was the spawn of Cruella DeVille and Hitler—or so I thought when I was 10. She was a hard-nosed educator who sucked the fun out of education, and ruled the class with an iron fist.
I was true to my word. This afternoon there was no joking, no funny voices, and I didn’t even try to make the writing lesson fun. There was zero effort on my part to make the day pass quickly. I instead only concentrated on presenting a well-organized lesson, with no classroom disruptions.
The result? The afternoon went unbelievably slow. The kids were quieter than I’d ever heard them before. They were also bored out of their skulls.
It was brilliant.
As the school day ended I had one boy who approached me and asked when I was going to be a fun teacher again. I put my hand on this boy’s shoulder and let him know that this would be entirely up to him and his classmates. I also told him that I could go on this way for the rest of the year if necessary.
One thing I have to admit is that I felt so much more alive and energized at the end of today; it’s amazing what happened when I didn’t put the energy in that I usually do to lessons.
So, what’s the verdict? Well, it’s still out. Hopefully, they’ll learn to pull their acts together for longer than just one day, and earn back a few of the privileges they’ve taken for granted for so long. Tomorrow we’ll start our lesson on entitlements and privileges; after all, one of these things has to be earned.