Memorable Moments in Teaching

It’s difficult to hone in on one memorable moment from my short teaching career when every day is packed with experiences ranging from absolute frustration and despair to ecstatic joy. Just today I can think of three memorable moments that sum up the broad spectrum of emotion encapsulated in a single day of teaching.

This morning I was completely dumbfounded as a student of mine acted out so horribly that I was at a complete loss for words. She was flailing around on the ground, shouting out nonsense that was supposed to be Spanish and yelling insults towards me, almost trying to boss me around. I told her to move to the back of the room to cool off. She ignored me. So, I did my best to ignore her. I really didn’t know what else to do. Of course I could try to ignore her, but her classmates couldn’t. “Mr. B, I can’t concentrate on my work,” one young girl complained over the loud gibberish of her classmate. It’s moments like these that are more than memorable. They are completely disheartening and crystallize my failure to control my classroom and provide the most basic environment of learning to my students.

Later as I tried to teach a math lesson an enthusiastic student seemed almost desperate to share her ideas over the din over her classmates. I had asked for a volunteer to share a pattern they noticed in the 9 multiplication table. This girl (the same one who couldn’t work earlier) had innocently raised her hand to share. Meanwhile, absolutely nobody was paying attention. Small conversations were going on around the room and Chandrella was shouting out because she didn’t understand what we were doing (although I’d explained more than twice) and was acting out of frustration. What’s most memorable about this moment was the sheer anxiety and desperation in the voice of the girl as she tried to share her thoughts amidst the chaos in the room.

Finally, at lunch another moment caught me off guard when Lil' Miss Stay Puff who frustrates me to no end with her inability to stay seated. She asked me if she was going upstairs to clean the classroom. “No,” I explained, “That was a punishment, and you’re not being punished right now.”

“That was a punishment? Then why didn’t you tell me I was being punished?” It was a reminder first of all that it’s surprising what a student will consider a reward or a punishment. This girl likes to clean the room, and my idea of a negative reinforcement was probably backfiring all along. Secondly, it reminded me that you can never be too clear or consistent in rewards and punishments. And that more often than not students can’t pick up on anything other than the most explicit explanation of expectations.

My days are filled with memorable moments like these. Funny, frustrating, maddening, encouraging. I can only imagine what kind of memorable moments will stand out at the end of my teaching career, however long or brief it will be. Hopefully the positive ones will outweigh the negative.

Comments

NYC Educator said…
Were there consequences for the girl who freaked out? Have you contacted her parents? I would absolutely have them satisfy me that they will take care of it or drag them to school.

You must, must create consequences for such acts. If you don't, the kids will get the message there aren't any.
ruben said…
At the end of the period when the rest of the class went to the computer lab I pulled her aside and called her mom right then and there. Her behavior was much improved afterwards.
Frumteacher said…
Your experiences could be mine. I am convinced that classroom management is something that will come with the years. Only very few people have a natural grip on the classroom. I like how you describe all the little learning moments throughout the day.

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