Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Little Amnesiacs

One of the hilarious things about being around kids all day is their extremely short memories. Obviously, this has its negative side (What do you mean you don't remember how to add? We learned that last quarter!) - but really overall, its incredibly beneficial to teachers.

Case in point:

I've expressed in previous posts how - ahem - challenging my kids this year can be behaviorally. Specifically, they don't listen or stop talking. Like, ever. By the end of the school day (3:45 p.m. is waaaay too late, btw) I am hanging on to the last minute shred of patience left in my body. Inevitably, every once in a while, one child gets to be the lucky straw that breaks this here camel's back. It might be, "Wait, what do we have to do?" or "I left my folder at home." Or any of the other 192945394093 things I swear my people do just to irk me.

I confess. There are days I lose it. I get loud and lecture the class at the top of my lungs - making sure to work some praise for the friends doing the right thing in there somewhere - and basically do everything I swore in ed school I would never do. There may be screaming involved.

I always get this knot in my stomach afterwards. I feel incredibly regretful and am sure that I've ruined my relationship with my class. I just know that from now on, I'm going to be the teacher that the students and parents dread getting. I'm the mean teacher and I've crushed all their little spirits and am going straight down to hell.

And you know what happens, fifteen minutes later? The former hellion who caused my meltdown hugs me as I walk out the door, parting with, "I love being in your class. You're the best teacher!"

And I'm like... come again?

So it's great from that standpoint. But sadly, the students not only have a short memory for my behavior; they also have a very limited ability to recall their own. Often the kids who get on your nerves all the dang time haul off and give you things. (You get a lot of adorable handmade presents from elementary school kids. And you have to keep them all and display them somewhere near your desk.)

Here's the thing, though - and I'm going to sound like such a b!tch - I don't want your artwork, small child who demands my attention 75 times per hour. Please skip the lopsided flower or the three-legged horse picture.  Next time you want to show how much you appreciate me, listen to what I say. The first time I say it.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Honesty is the Best Policy

Cliche but true.

Anyone who is an elementary school teacher will tell you that you spend at least as much time teaching social/behavior/life skills as you do academic ones.  About a hundred times a day, I am forced to utter something to the effect of, "Poking someone when they asked you not to is not kind" or "It's not ok to tell someone that their mama is ugly."

This class at my new school far surpasses my previous classes in their need for lessons on appropriate social interactions. They are just in each other's business. all. the time. We can't have a single 5-minute mini-lesson on the carpet without at least 3 people going, "Stopp touchinggg meeee!!" in that obnoxious whiny child voice. I end up spending tons of extra time each day discussing how to deal with other people that you may or may not like. It's exhausting.

This behavioral teaching extends beyond just interpersonal skills, too.  Take the title of this post. I make it very clear to my class that I value truth-telling. If you take responsibility for your mistakes, then we make up for it and move on. If you lie and deny, we have a much bigger problem.

The lie-and-deny business is the worst -- especially when it involves the blame game, its even more annoying cousin.  I'll say to one student, "Johnny, were you talking?" and instead of just replying yes, the first thing out of his mouth is, "Well Sally was talking too!"  And I'm like, I didn't ask you what Sally was doing, I asked you to own up to YOUR behavior.

Anyway. Cut to today. We were doing a whole group writing mini-lesson on the carpet after recess. I noticed a girl in my class (whom I have nicknamed Miss Thang in my head because she has some serious attitude and disrespect issues) chewing gum. Now, come on. I'm a professional educator. I can spot gum a mile away. So I asked her, "Miss Thang, are you chewing gum?" To which she merely shook her head in an incredibly guilty manner. So I said, "Open your  mouth." I got a sheepish look and then she headed for the trash can to spit it out. I sent her into the hallway and spoke to her for a minute calmly about the fact that gum wasn't that big a deal, but lying was.

You'd think it would be over at this point. You'd think her friend who was ALSO chewing gum would take the opportunity while I'm not in the room to spit hers out.

Not so.

Five minutes later, I'm talking to Miss Thang #2 about her writing piece. I notice her chewing motion, so I ask her if she has gum. She shakes her head no.  I send her into the hallway so we can talk about the lying. While in the hallway, she denies to me six times that she has gum in her mouth, despite the fact that I can see it and smell the minty freshness coming from her mouth. Only when I begin walking her to the office does she relent. (Thank goodness the special ed teacher arrived so I could follow through right away!)

And by relent, I mean descend into a full-out temper tantrum. She is crying hysterically, begging, pleading with me not to bring her to the office. But as far as I'm concerned, if you're going to lie to me six times about something as stupid as gum in your mouth, it's too late.

Anyway, I had to literally drag her down the hallway, fighting with me and continuing her histrionics. I'm sure any other teachers or adults in the hallway were ready to call social services on me. But honestly, I was determined to get her to the office to talk to our fantastic principal intern for a few reasons:
1. When I say I'm going to do something, I do it.
2. Lying is unacceptable. She should have made the choice to tell the truth BEFORE there were consequences attached to lying.
3. I wanted her to see that a talk in the office is not as bad as she made it out to be.

So anyway. I finally got her close to the principal intern's office before she collapsed in a hyperventilating heap on the floor. In the end, the principal intern and I talked to her about her choices and she calmed down. The day went on as usual.

The point is, as teachers we often try to model the appropriate behavior or thinking strategy we want our students to exhibit. Today's exhibition by Miss Thang #2 got me thinking about honesty when it comes to adults vs. kids.

Frankly, the only difference is that adults learn when it's appropriate to lie ("Your new haircut looks great!"), whereas kids are too honest when they should lie ("You have a squishy belly, teacher!"). Adults lie all the time - "I totally sent you that email! Didn't you get it?" "Oh, I wish I could help you with that, but I'm busy that night" - but maybe we shouldn't do that so much.

Next time you get caught for something you did or didn't do, just do what I ask my students to do.