Carrots and Sticks, Revisited

After the past two days I'm realizing I got a little too comfortable in the glory days of October and November. A little too self-assured. We all know what comes after pride, right?

In any case, maybe you can't figure it all out in your first year. Or maybe some things you never quite figure out. For example, I find myself pondering the same question I revisited countless times last year. That is: When is it time to try positive reinforcements and incentives, and when is it time to be the "bad cop" and say enough is enough?

My philosophy has always leaned towards endless positive reinforcement. Not that I've been able to stick to this method at all times. But, even when I ended up being the hardcore disciplinarian, I found it unsatisfying, ineffective or both. Over the past 18 months, I've found that reinforcing good behavior, whether by praise, prize tickets or whatever, and ignoring negative behavior, was surprisingly effective. Most literature I've read (Alfie Kohn excluded) reinforces this philosophy. And yet, days like today seem to illustrate the limits of this method.

It's not like my classroom is falling apart. But, long story short, never underestimate the power of one (or two) students to completely disrupt a classroom environment. And that's what Lil' Miss Meltdown and Maverick did today. I have gone to excessive lengths to avoid confrontations with these students. A teacher never wins when you do approach a true problem child this way.

But it seems like in spite of all my alternative approaches - I described it as babying them to a coworker today - they continue to act out in completely inappropriate ways. And despite my best attempts to control my emotions, I eventually run out of patience, not on my own behalf, but on behalf of the 22 other students were are sitting helplessly, trying to learn while their selfish, ill-mannered classmates hijack the classroom. Some kids, I've realized, just want to test you. Some kids just don't respond to framing the situation a choice or endless positive reinforcement.

In spite of this somber conclusion, I have a hard time giving up. Around a quarter to 5, after I'd finished up a Data Inquiry Meeting I walked upstairs and found Lil Miss Meltdown in her after-school class and pulled her out. I sat down and first apologized for losing my cool. We had a nice long talk about what she had done, how it had affected me, her classmates and herself. I explained that there would be consequences, but as always, a chance to redeem herself. Tomorrow I'll find out if it was worth it.


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