Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Breaking Point

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I’m a fun teacher.

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.

Really 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.

They freaked.

“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.


Richard & Natalie said...

A-ha... Now I understand why a certain someone was the way he was after school.
I am sorry, TF. Truly. But I think you are on the right path with the entitlements and privilege aspect. I have seen you in action and the "fun Mr. Z" privilege is definitely something I think they will be working hard to earn back. Good luck.

Gerb said...

I'm sorry that the class brought things to that. But I'm glad that you knew when and how to put a stop to it, too. If a certain kid that I have influence over is being a punk-face, you better let me know...

mywest said...

Sometimes you have to step back to be able to move forward. I believe you are on the right track with this group of students. They have to understand and earn the privileges you offer daily. The daily class events have become expected as the norm. Your a great teacher and your students will come around. Don't let your fire burn out...just turn down the flame for awhile.

imbeingheldhostage said...

Brilliant. My first thought as I was reading this was a teacher's class here that kids can't wait to move into. When my class clown was moving up, I warned him that the first impression was important and not to expect the teacher to just be silly. Well, he managed to make the teacher UGLY. It worked. When the kids saw that this guy meant business, the class shaped up. My son now visits this teacher any time he gets out of high school early--loves and respects him.
Your plan will work. Thank you for being a teacher!

Danielle said...

I bet it will work! you're so good!

Mamma has spoken said...

Hum and I thought I had one of the worst teachers in history. Maybe that's what happen to her, she moved and you had the not so great pleasure of having her.
Love your lesson plan for the week/month or however long it will take to get the point across.
Unfortunely here, when we get back from spring break it's all about the state mandated testing. One week to review the 'ins and outs' of state assessments then three weeks of testing. Sigh, this is the part of teaching I really don't like.....

Linn said...

This makes my teacher's heart happy because those kids have a great teacher! I'm sorry you are going through it and your class has to struggle with it, but in the end, it is definitely the better option. Way to make the hard choice--because I definitely believe it is the best choice.

PMC said...

hard to do, but a lesson every single child in that classroom will never forget. very cool. the thing is...they know you are cool, and that there are really cool things to earn back...not just some empty promises...they have experienced what fun is with you and they will want that back....but this time they will be grateful for it!!! way to go!

Cheeseboy said...

Wow. Your description sounds exactly like my class last year. I think, as you know, sometimes you just get a year with a bad mix of kids. Not that the kids individually are bad, just the mix of them together.

Teaching with energy and passion is exhausting. It is also so much fun. I had to cut out so much last year and the year dragged like I couldn't believe. But this year my kids are incredible.

So, only 2 more months! (Unless you are at a year round school)

Rachel said...

You. My friend. Are going to make a great parent.

What you are doing right now is exactly what you should do. It's life! Life is a priviledge. Earn it and appreciate it.

They'll come around and they'll love you even more because of the lessons you are teaching them because they won't take you and your gifts for granted!

Rock on friend! Rock on!

Just SO said...

Hopefully they will learn from this and learn about rights and privileges not only in the classroom bout outside of the classroom as well.

Teach on TeachinFourth. Teach on.

A Lark said...

I so totally get the "giving-all-your-energy-at-work-exhausted-at-the-end-of-the-day" feeling!! Now I know why - I am just TOO FUN of a teacher! (; I was just talking to a teacher at my school about my idea for next year. We will read "Miss Nelson is Missing" at the beginning of the year, then I will keep a little "Miss Swamp" prop around for the rest of the year to don when my kids are out of control and I need to revert to a meanie teacher.
BTW - Spring is in the air. We all go a little crazy in the Spring.

Janett said...

I just got on to say thank you for showing me to sing testing verbiage (it's a real attention getter) and then I see that there is drama with the amazing Mr. Z. Sorry to hear that the little darlings are acting up. I feel your pain. Try working with 4 to 6 different classes each day. Sometimes by 2:00 it takes all I have just to finish out the day and be nice while doing it. You're wonderful and I know a certain someone who thinks you are the best teacher in the entire world! But you already knew that.

Shannon said...

It is truly amazing how the plights of teachers and mothers are so painfully similar. You - Mr. Z, are a brilliant teacher, and I am sure your kids will be walking the line before long.

Sarah Lindahl said...

Hi! I just found your blog because I saw you commented on another blog, something about four word responses to four words the blogger loves to hear. Can't remember where it was because I've been reading blogs all afternoon. I loved this post! Such a dilemma for teachers, be human and get taken advantage of, or be a taskmaster and make it through the day with your sanity. I've been subbing for a few years while my kids are growing up, but I hope to get back into full-time teaching someday. I look forward to following your blog!

Teachinfourth said...

N - Yeah, I could tell that he was a bit bummed at day's end. He will appreciate everything even more once it's all back.

G - Got him in control already, Gerb; but thanks for the iron-handed offer.

D - I can't believe how much energy I've had the past two days…then I realized that all day I was basically 'onstage' and putting on a show. Something like that can certainly take a lot out of a person.

IBHH - They already love me, and at the start of the year were really respectful…there are just little things which have slowly slid over the months. We just need a little course correction.

Thanks for the compliment about teaching, sometimes you don't hear it enough. Hope you come back again.

D - It has already started to work. Of course, there isn't much room for variation right now…

B - Hope all goes well with you in returning to the fray this week! I am with you on the testing junk…ugh.

L - It will really make the next week painful, but after it's over, life will be good again.


M - They'll earn stuff back one or two at a time. This way, it will still be on their minds. I'm hoping they'll realize just all the stuff that we have/do.

A - You know the funny thing? Though I love summer, I love to teach more than I love the time off…guess I'm a glutton for punishment.

R - What are you talking about? I already have 22 kids! Just wish I had one named M…maybe he'll flunk out and I'll get him next year.

S - I hope that it carries through to 'real life' as well.

J - That's the price you pay for popularity. I think your idea for being Miss Swamp is brilliant. If I were a woman, I'd totally do it.

J -They do take a lot out of you, don't they? As for 'the boy,' I'd take him back in a heartbeat. Teachers don't have favorites…but he's on the list.

S - Hoping that they do. In fact, I know that they will. They are such a good bunch which - unfortunately - have taken a few things for granted.

S - Ah, you speak of the infamous Tib. Thank for stopping by, hope to hear from you again, too.

Rachel said... could move up a year next year. :D

critical crass said...

i think you handled this perfectly. that should definitely get their attention.

tiburon said...

That sign at Alcatraz was the basis for the foundation of our family rules.

Me likey.

And sometimes you gotta be a hard ass to make things happen.

Annette said...

Yes- brillant! How amazing are you to be able to step back and look at the situation and come up with a plan for change? Most just suffer and give up without even trying something new. It is a gift you have to be able to see not only that a situation needs changing, but what to do about it. I remember when my then 4 yr. old was driving you crazy and you started to treat him like a "dog" and got him to obey your every command. And he loved it besides. It's a gift, I tell you!

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