It Could Always Be Worse

I was doing some test prep with the kids and the sample passage was a Jewish folk tale (and people say these tests aren't ethnically diverse). I'll do my best to retell the story here:

The folk tale tells the story of a poor man who lives with huge family in a small hut. The noise and fighting is driving him crazy so he goes to the rabbi.

The rabbi asks if he has any animals and the man says, "Yes, some chickens, geese and ducks."

"Bring them into the hut with you." The man is shocked and confused, but trusts in the wise rabbi and does what he says. With the chickens, geese and ducks in the small hut the noise only gets worse until the man has to go back to the rabbi.

"Rabbi, I can't stand the noise! It's too much."

"Do you have any other animals?"

"I have a goat."

"Bring the goat into your home." Again the man is confused, but he does as the rabbi instructs. Again the noise gets worse and the man returns to the rabbi and complains.

"Rabbi, why did you tell me to bring the goat into my house? The noise is even worse than before!"

"Do you have a cow?" the rabbi asks. Exhausted and frustrated, the man replies yes. Again the rabbi tells him to bring the animal into his home and again the poor man complies.

Time passes and the small hut is even more crowded and noisy than ever and finally the man goes back to the rabbi.

"Rabbi, I'm going crazy. There's no room and the noise is out of control!"

"Put the animals back outside." The rabbi doesn't have to tell the man twice. He rushes home and puts the animals back into the yard. That night the man and his family have the most perfect night of rest. The next day he rushes to tell the rabbi.

"Rabbi," the man says, "I slept so well last night. I finally had some peace and quiet."

"Just remember," the rabbi replied, "When you think you have things bad, it could always be worse."

Why do I mention this story? Well, considering the complaining I've been doing about the noise and number of students in my classroom, it seems pretty apropos. I guess maybe I just need to bring some farm animals into my classroom to give myself some perspective.


asdfuiop said…
Heh heh - well, as a substitute teacher I think I'm in a pretty good position to tell you that yes, it can and does get worse than what you've been going through, though maybe not very much... Imagine coming into your class not as yourself, but as a substitute with no prior knowledge of the situation, and perhaps no lesson plans, bathroom keys, daily schedule, etc. If they won't listen to you, consider what they'd do with some stranger with even less authority!

Thank you for keeping this blog, I discovered it about a week ago and have been coming back regularly ever since. I'm in a district/area where the children are moving away (or into private schools) so very few public school teachers are being hired - they just aren't needed. I'm credentialed, but only have 1/2 year experience as a full classroom teacher (replacing a kindergarten teacher who quit mid-year), so far I've been beat out for every job by someone who had at least two years. But even I have limits, and honestly I'm not sure I'd be willing to step into your situation!

One reason I say that is that I notice you rarely mention the principal or any other school staff, which makes me think you aren't getting anywhere near enough support even though you're in the Teaching Fellows. A teacher once gave me some good advice about bad schools and their principals: the fish stinks from the head down.

Some things I thought of that might help... Try thinking of your classroom management and discipline practices as two separate things. Once I separated the two in my mind it got a lot easier to deal with the disruptions - when things go wrong it's either because someone isn't following the procedures, or there isn't a procedure in place. Often I see problems in classrooms where procedures aren't well-defined, or haven't been implemented consistently - they have to be taught, and re-taught: when (if) they can sharpen pencils, how papers are distributed, seating arrangements, line order & lining up procedures, where they put finished/unfinished work, what they do when they finish their work, how and when they may ask for help, bathroom/water, etc. Assigning class jobs can really help. I try to follow the acronym SMART - students manage all reasonable tasks. Discipline then is what you have to do when the procedures fail or aren't in place - and of course you need to have discipline procedures in place, too...

You mentioned some books, I'd like to recommend another - Tribes, by Jeanne Gibbs. I thought of this immediately when I read an earlier entry where you described attempting a group activity, only to find they had no idea how to work in groups. It's a common mistake, as adults we forget we had to learn how to do so much of what seems like second nature now. Tribes (at least my edition) was published before NCLB caused the adoption of all the pacing schedules, testing, and mandated curricula and materials; I've never seen it fully implemented and don't think there's time in the day for that and meeting NCLB. Still there is a lot of good advice and many lesson plans for activities that teach children to be and work together, and I've seen them help many classes.

There's this weird myth that's easy to get caught up in that teachers need to "control" their classrooms - how could anyone really control 12-30+ children? Maybe through fear, as you've said some older teachers have suggested, but I'm glad to see you don't need to be told that isn't healthy for the kids, or for you! I try to think of it as my job is to teach them to control themselves, not for me to control them.

I don't know how close to grade level your students are, but kids who can't even read the instructions in the (mandated) workbooks are often another big source of disruptions in the classes I see (the constant whine of "I need help I need help" "I don't get it!" "This is boring!" drives me nuts). That's harder to deal with, but it's important to give those kids some work that they can do independently and time to do it - usually that means working in centers in small groups.

I can't stress enough how important it is that all the kids no matter how far behind they are be given work that they can do without the teacher guiding them through every step! (I'm not saying you have this problem, only that I see it a lot.) Many need to learn that they CAN figure things out for themselves, but they have to be given problems that are appropriate. Mandated curricula doesn't always offer a whole lot, but if they have supplements for English language learners, intervention strategies, etc. those can help. Otherwise, other teachers should have materials to copy or borrow, or you can buy your own or get stuff off the internet for centers, early finishers, etc. Having a project on hand for early finishers can cut down on interruptions significantly, even if it's just a packet of review work, word searches, math puzzles, etc.

About ALP, again it doesn't sound like you or he are getting the level of support you need. Have you spoken with his teacher from last year (or earlier years)? They might be able to give you some advice, or not. If you haven't been documenting his behavior, you definitely should. The more records you can keep on all your students' behavior, good and bad, the better. Has he ever been recommended for, or is he already receiving any special services?

One strategy I've seen used for disruptive students is for teachers to "buddy" with one another and agree to take a student whose being disruptive in another class into their room for 10 or 15 minutes (as a final step after other interventions in the class have been tried), hopefully enough for the kid to cool out. I've rarely seen a student sent into another classroom continue to act out in that room too, but it happens. Then it's usually time to write them up and get the office involved, according to whatever discipline plan the school has.

ALP may need more frequent rewards and reminders - I've seen some teachers give problem kids a little form each day with a couple of behaviors they agree to work on - staying in their seat, and raising their hand to speak, for example - and at pre-designated times the teacher gives stars if they met their goals for that time block. Once they collect enough stars, they get a reward. You might require him to take them home each day and bring them back signed, if the parents will work with you on that.

Then there are always the other parents in the class - if ALP is interfering in their children's education can you talk with them about making their own complaints about him to the administration? Of course, if you are working for bad administrators they may take it out on you, rather than offer any real help. If you go this route you definitely want to have good documentation of his behaviors and your attempted interventions on hand, as well as his academic progress. The goal is to get him the help he needs, but you need to cover your butt, too.

I really do empathize with your situation, teaching is more difficult than I ever imagined it would be. It can also be equally as rewarding - even at the same time. Four years ago, I was an intern in a 5th grade class similar to the one you are teaching. The teacher was like the ones who told you to verbally humiliate your students to control them - it was beyond awful to be in there every day. I complained to the credential program, and they responded by trying to make me move to another class. I wanted help for that class, I didn't want to abandon them! So I stayed. It was horrible, but I made it through and I still run into those kids occasionally and when I do, they always smile and greet me, sometimes they scream my name on crowded buses or across streets - even the worst of them, especially the worst of them. Several have since expressed appreciation I never expected - kids aren't stupid, they knew I might leave, and the next semester when the interns changed classes no one was assigned to them. Stay with them! (I know you will.) They need you, and they may not show it, but they appreciate you, too. Every class I've ever seen has a loyalty to it's teacher, even the most dysfunctional ones - you can always build on that.

I hope you are having a better day today - tomorrow is Friday! I've written too much already, but I have to put in a plug for the substitute teachers - please leave good lesson plans and some fun activities for them to do with the class, because it really does get worse! (Did I mention not having any benefits - no insurance, sick days, vacation, etc.?)
It could always be worse is my favorite story to "Act out" with the kids, although I think you already are on some level. You are doing the best you can every day, and so are the kids. That's really a good place to start. I love you,
Did you mean to write, "*Are* our children leanring?"?
Ruben Brosbe said…
Inhabitants, please refer to the top of the page. You'll see that "Is our children learning?" is a question infamously posed by former Pres. George W. Bush, the master of malapropisms.

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