Identity Crisis

I'm still dealing with this continuing conflict. What is more important to me? Having control of my classroom or, for lack of a better cliché, staying true to myself? My kids continue to waste time and talk (and talk and talk) while I try to teach a lesson or give directions. They talk in the halls and they talk in the classroom. They talk in the auditorium and they talk in the stairway. And to the casual observer, it is because I am too nice and they're simply taking advantage of me.

So, what's the alternative? I've seen other teachers with perfect control of their classes. I've also seen and heard how they talk to their classrooms. Some teachers use yelling and screaming, some teachers use humiliation and intimidation and others still use some combination of both. These tactics, quite simply, aren't for me. Everything I've learned has taught me that yelling will only beget more yelling (and headaches and exhaustion by the end of the day). Furthermore, I'm trying to maintain some basic level of respect between my students and I. I understand that they have crossed that line, but I'm still not prepared to deny them a basic level of respect. That's not who I want to be as a teacher.

People make the argument that the kids are used to hearing it at home. You have to talk to them that way. It's all they'll listen to. The argument goes. I find this kind of "cultural" argument insulting and I won't let it become a justification for some of the language and tone I hear from my peers. Meanwhile, I stick to my guns and nothing changes. I know that I can strike some sort of balance. I just haven't found it yet.


NYC Educator said…
I don't think you have to yell, and I don't think yelling will bring you control. Teachers who yell in anger are out of control themselves, and are unlikely to inspire anything but more of the same.

Have you tried making phone calls home? I find that helps a lot. In fact, if I were you, I'd make dozens of them the day before Christmas break. Perhaps you're not as sinister or evil as I am, but treachery goes a long way toward encouraging kids to misbehave elsewhere.

You always have to be respectful. Raise your voice for effect, not for anger. Quietly say things like, "I wouldn't do that if I were you," and make those calls the day before the break. Convince them it's inconvenient to mess with you.

If you don't know what to say, check here.
Geoffrey said…
you'll have more control your next year. my first year classroom was a war zone.

while i'm somewhat "mean" to my students, i dont belittle them (its a horrible strategy and kids will throw it right back at you) and i try not to yell (but i realize that i do talk louder now than i used to)

my approach, which is still in the works since i'm still too nice, is to have a list of demands that the kids must follow, else you give them detentions or phone calls home. at the same time, be supportive and let them know you care; positive praise works miracles. "oh look, these students are doing the right thing and sitting quietly taking notes, what good students" - things like that work so WEIRDLY with kids.

when times get desperate, use candy to bribe them. or the best "group" gets a pizza or ice cream party each month.

i have more first/second year strategies if you're interested. there will always be problem kids in problem schools, but you get used to it and things will get better.
Hugh O'Donnell said…
Ruben, your intuition is right on, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't be tough while being fair and calm.

Here's something I put up on Miss A's blog (Confessions From the Couch) dealing with similar concerns...

Without going into a lot of detail, you have leaders in every class, and you have followers. If the leaders aren’t leading the class to respect you, then you need to have a little chat with them outside the classroom, in the hall.

Let them know that they cannot disrupt the purpose of the school, and you’d much rather not get into a confrontation because it will turn out badly for both of you.

If they don’t buy into mutual respect, cut them out of the herd and ship them off to the office for the AP in charge of discipline to deal with. Each time they come back, if they’re not cooperative, off they go.

To keep respect, every once in a while you have to flex your muscles.

As long as you don’t present a visage of contempt or dislike — be neutral — the kids won’t hold it against you.

You run the show. Don’t let them forget it. If you don’t use the disciplinary tools available to you from the school, no amount of advice on this blog will mitigate the problem.

Sorry to sound harsh, but you have to kick butt sometimes.

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