More Carrot, Less Stick

I can't believe how quickly this week went and how easy in comparison to the past few weeks it felt. Before I went to work this morning I had to remind myself: "Don't get soft. The week's not over yet and you still have work to do with your management." Still, it felt pretty good to see Friday on the horizon and not have (seriously) considered quitting yet this week.

Today still had plenty of rough patches. My mentor from this special literacy program called Aussie came into observe and it was basically the worst excuse for a lesson ever. It was unimaginative and not well-thought out and not surprisingly the kids were all over the place. She pulled me aside and said, "You're doing a lot of things right, but you have to be firmer." Although that may be true, I also have to blame most of the misbehavior on the nature of the lesson itself. It was boring and confusing, and I now know that's a recipe for disaster.

In the afternoon there was more of the same. Kids were constantly wandering around the class and out of their seats. I had a parent and the principal come in at two separate times and the scene was not pretty. Again I can trace the chaos largely to the nature of the lesson.

Reflecting on the marginal success of today and this past week I feel like I can trace it to the system of incentives I've built. I totally scrapped the system of "3 strikes" I was using and now have a classroom management built entirely on positive reinforcement. Students are rewarded individually with "Hits" and as a row with "Hits". This week I made a chart for the whole class so that each time a row reaches 10 hits a slice of a pumpkin is filled in. If the whole pumpkin is filled in the class will get a Halloween party.

Then there's the awards I give daily and weekly to individuals (MVP of the Day and MVP of the Week) and to rows (Row of the Week). Then today I added a new system to try to improve my kids behavior in the hall. I am awarding points to either the boys line or girls line for being quiet and walking in an orderly fashion.

It's amazing how effective these systems are. Even better they're easy and they feel a lot better than negative consequences. I know I still have work to do on my tone and authority. I'm reminded of this every time I have to repeat myself (two, three, four times), wait for quiet or sometimes tap a student on the shoulder to get their attention. Still, with ALP gone, I feel like I have time to concentrate on being a better teacher instead of how to control one child.


Zoemonster said…
I had 4 years like that.. several w/ classes comprised of kids made up entirely of the 3 or 4 kids that the other teachers did not want.. Those were days of multiple plans in classes made up of almost 100% of "ALP"

Anyway.. I found "GUS" an invaluable classroom management tool.. and will be happy tp share it w/ you if you would like to e-mail me.. or search my blog for it. I am not a writer; my better half is.. and here is what he wrote when I retired..

(sorry it's so long)
My e-mail addy is LauderdaleGT (yahoo)

What +he+ wrote:

My wife retired Thursday after 31 years as a classroom teacher.

Most of that (22.5 years) was in Beaufort County middle schools, teaching language arts or gifted-and-talented classes.

Her first assignment here was at H.E. McCracken Middle School in Bluffton. She took over for an alleged drunk in the middle of the school year, inheriting his disheveled trailer and a corps of hard students.

A few weeks into it, a child raised her hand and said, "Mrs. Lauderdale, there's something written on my desk."

"Just erase it," Sybil said.

"But it's about you."

"Just erase it."

"It says, 'Mrs. Lauderdale is a B.'

"Oh, just erase it."

The student raised her hand one more time.

"Mrs. Lauderdale, do you want us to erase it off ALL the desks?"

Everybody talks about education, but too few people know what it's like on the front lines. State and national representatives who set much of the policy don't know it. Even most superintendents and bureaucrats haven't taught a class in decades.

All the blame is cast on what's going out of the classrooms, not what's coming into them.

How many "No Child Left Behind" congressmen do you think realize that a classroom teacher could face, as my wife did, a student who drags his bookbag to class as if it were a dog on a leash?

As we close this chapter in our lives, I'd like to share a bit of the reality I've seen.

Sybil is not the only veteran teacher retiring from our schools this year, and she might not even be the best one to talk about. She's aggravated more people than she's pleased, I'm sure.

As one of her former principals carefully put it: "You are clearly unique, strange and difficult, but your opinion means more to me than that of most of the others with whom I have worked, and your genius has produced much learning in many children throughout your career."
Society needs to place more value in the opinions of classroom teachers. Certainly they have earned that respect.

Their feet hit the floor at 5 a.m. every day. Each school day is grueling, both physically and emotionally. Then they bring piles of work home. And they rarely experience the tiniest "perks" we all take for granted: discussion of ideas with other adults, lunch with friends at a restaurant, or instant results on what you're pouring your heart and soul into.

Teachers must deal with every ill mankind discovers. And it's getting worse. Violence, and even the hint of violence, is a huge worry in schools today. It's wrong to stereotype young people, but in general, less respect is shown for authority in any form, from the school dress code to homework assignments.

Too many parents assume their child is right and teachers are wrong. They'll claim their child has a "personality conflict" with the teacher, when in reality the child has a conflict with the work ethic. And the race card is quickly used on teachers: They're unfair to a student because of the student's race.

All these subplots are exploding when the real questions are whether the student respectfully did what was asked, came to school prepared, and was where he or she was supposed to be at all times.

I tried teaching for two years and bailed out. But I was able to watch a master at work. She spent many evenings calling parents, and she had many, many, many supportive parents over the years. She sent very few kids to the office. She never had trouble with discipline because she's as streetwise as they are.

She told me she stops arguments with students by saying, "I saw you." Or "I heard you." Or "I don't argue with kids." This year, a seventh-grader claimed he wasn't a kid, he was somewhere between a kid and an adult.

She said her main classroom secrets were:

• Never let them see you cry.

• Always follow through; always do what you say you're going to do.

• Always put it on them. She asks a hard student, "On a scale of one to 10, where do we stand on what it's going to take for us to survive together in this classroom?" She said the child invariably answers, "Six or seven." And then she asks, "What can I do to make that a 10?"

Sybil joked that you know it's time to retire when even your bell curve is drooping. Or when you have the sub-finder on speed-dial.

But what the classroom teachers are giving to our community is no joke. They give out of their own pockets and their own time. I always was amazed at how carefully the teachers study each student, hoping to find the right button to push.

I was talking to a well-respected Hilton Head Islander one day when she asked if Sybil was my wife. She said Sybil was one of only two or three teachers over all the years who had reached her difficult son. She said Sybil met him head-on in a positive way, and he responded to it. The mother managed to laugh that her son was the only child to ever get sent to the preacher's office during Sunday school.

But we knew by then that the trouble ran much deeper. Her son had taken his life at the age of 21.

She said, "If only he could have had more Sybils ...".

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