I decided to make a few changes to help the kids avoid the debacle that was last week:
1. Split up the tables. I had had two large tables of 8 students (a square with 2 on a side) and a table of 4. No more. 4 to a table - 1 on each short end, 2 on one long end. (That way, no one is across a short side from each other.) It seemed to help somewhat.
2. Build in a better, more individualized management system. I put 3 popsicle sticks on each student's desk at the beginning of math. When he/she was either talking out of turn or off-task, I simply walked by and silently picked up a stick. Students who had no sticks left at the end of math "continued to practice being on a level zero voice" during lunch.
(For comparison purposes: On Friday, only 6 kids DIDN'T get silent lunch. Today, only 2 DID get it.)
Also, it took away the anxiety and stress of having to say to the whole class repeatedly, "Get back to zero," etc. My very special child seemed so much less stressed today!
After lunch, everyone started over with 3 sticks. Students who lost all their chances during reading block were not able to participate in the Magic School Bus science movie that we watched at the end of the day. (They did another, less fun plants activity elsewhere.)
Anyway... it's not perfect, but the kids got a lot more work done!
I still feel like I was run over by a bus today, but at least it wasn't a totally insanely angry bus.
Last thought: I would like to amend my former post Domestic Enemies of the Elementary Teacher to add two other things that are the bane.of.my.existence: inside recess and tornado drills/warnings. Blech.