Over the last several weeks we have
talked about behavior influencers and social and emotional catalysts and
impediments. It is important to know these things because you need to
understand the baseline kids are coming from if you want to change their
behaviors. Over the next several weeks we are going to break behavior
change down into manageable and understandable posits. But before we do,
let’s talk honestly about behaviors.
consider ourselves to be a society of freedom. Our society is based
upon individual liberties that come together to foster the common good.
But this isn’t really true. Even though we are a liberal people in that
our society affords many more choices and options than others, we are
still a society of laws, rules, and mores. We say that people are free to do what they want but that is only the case until their behavior infringes upon others. We have very definitive boundaries for what we are willing to accept. Let me break it down like this:
My youngest daughter, Abbie, is a
beautiful girl. She is smart and sweet and kind-hearted. She sings when
she does her homework and she sleeps with her baby doll. She loves
watching cartoons and she still runs to the door screaming “Daddy’s
home” when I get home. She is my little girl. She gets to act silly and
giggle and live in a world of semi make believe. All the other little
girls in her class are doing the same. She can get away with a lot of things because she is little and young and she is supposed to be silly and happy.
My son is 13. He started middle school
last year and it was really sad for me because when middle school began
he put down the toy cars and stopped playing make believe games. He
began paying closer attention to his appearance and even though he still
hugs his Daddy he doesn’t run through the house when he hears the door
open. Now don’t get me wrong, he is still a goofy 13 year old boy. You
might find him listening to his headphones or you might find him at the
top of a tree in the backyard. Hunter can get away with some things
because he is still a boy. But he
can’t get away with being as goofy as he was just a few years ago
because peer pressure just won’t allow unbridled silliness in teenagers.
My oldest daughter Megan is about to be
17. She is a beautiful and kindhearted young lady. She has the sweetest
disposition of any kid I have ever known. She is a hard worker in school
and an even better person in life. Megan must, in many ways, act like
an adult. She doesn’t play with dolls or watch cartoons or sing while
she does her homework. She doesn’t skip through the house or run to the
door when Daddy gets home. Megan
lives within a social construct of teenage girls that highly scrutinizes
every move and a class environment that measures and monitors every
word, spoken and written.
I have watched my kids move through
different phases of life and have watched the parameters of acceptable
behavior become more narrow and definitive each year. I know that as
they grow the world will become less forgiving and have less patience
with silliness and goofiness and all the other quirky behaviors that
make kids so much fun. They will
have to grow up. They will have to conform to social laws and rules and
mores. They will have to conform to societal expectations for behaviors
or else they will not be accepted.
Schools are a microcosm for life because
schools have a hierarchical social system and each grade level has a
set of expectations in regards to behavior, effort, intent, and
personality. If the student does not conform to the expectations at that
level then he or she ends up in the principal’s office,
in-school-suspension, at an alternative campus, or possibly even
expelled. Our kids enter a social funnel in kindergarten that has a wide
portal of acceptability. As each year passes that funnel gets narrower
with stricter and more definitive expectations and more clearly defined
consequences for when those expectations are not met. By the time our kids exit schools the boundaries of acceptable behaviors are closely guarded by societal laws, rules, and mores.
We consider ourselves a liberal society
but the truth is we expect people to behave, speak, dress, and
communicate in a certain way. If they don’t then we ostracize and
marginalize them, incarcerate them, or institutionalize them. We just don’t tolerate social outliers without significant consequences.
Why is it important that kids learn social expectations and societal
construct in school? Because once they leave the school they don’t have
the safety net of detention or alternative campuses or time-outs. They
don’t have the buffer of the teacher or principal. We have to teach our
kids how to behave and communicate and contribute because if we don’t
then when they are no longer kids they will not be accepted into our
society. Then they will end up homeless, or in jail, or in a hospital,
or all alone. Why do we have to
teach today’s kids social and emotional development and behavioral
growth? Because we will demand it of them in just a few short years.
An interesting study from Alliance for Education Excellence found here
provides some interesting findings on why teachers are leaving the
teaching profession. Here are the top three reasons for the teacher
The study also states that the cost of replacing teachers who are dropping out of the teaching profession is conservatively estimated to be $2.2 billion. The costs per state range from $8.5 million for North Dakota to over $500 million for Texas. Do you think that raises a few eyebrows?
But Why Are Teachers Leaving?
Let’s speak honestly about why teachers
are leaving the profession. There is a distinct feel amongst teachers
and administrators that there are so many mandates and so many
expectations that the flexibility and the time necessary to build a real
learning environment just doesn’t exist. When the issues above are
coupled together it is easy to see how “lack of planning time” and “too
heavy a workload” go hand in hand. This is an age-old problem and it is a
problem that lots of people in lots of professions deal with. So why is
this so problematic? Are we to believe that teachers are just not
willing to work long hours and gut it out? Of course not.
The real issue is that when your
classroom is untenable due to behaviors (issue #3) and you don’t have
the time to deal with them (issues 1# & #2) then you end up in a
downward spiral and the learning environment – and therefore teaching
environment – suffers.
Teachers are very willing to work long
hours. They are willing to work at home and on weekends. They are also
willing to go the extra mile to prepare for the subjects that are based
within the competencies of their education and training. Believe me, I
know how hard teachers will and do work. I am married to a 1st grade teacher and she spends her day teaching twenty seven 1st graders. She spends her evenings grading and planning and preparing. Willingness to work is very seldom the issue for a teacher.
The Real Problem
The true problem lies in the fact student behaviors need to be dealt with
but the schedule and the workload and the legislative mandates make
behaviors a non-priority – except that it is the behaviors of the
students that is diminishing the learning and teaching environment and
making the classroom difficult. Aside from the fact that teachers are
given strict mandates for performance they are also dealing with 20 – 30
different personalities spanning multiple racial, socio-economic,
functional, and familial backgrounds in order to create an environment
where learning can occur.
When you work long hours and spend a
great deal of time in preparation and then you go into a classroom that
is not manageable and yet you have stringent benchmarks for academic
performance, teachers are being driven away.
We now have an educational system that
espouses accountability, yet the accountability is measured solely on
the academic proficiency of the students. Reading and science and math
are the benchmarks of a job well done. Yet when you look at the reason
teachers are leaving it is not because they cannot teach reading and
math and science. It is because their classrooms are untenable and they
are not given the resources and time to change them. They can do their
job; they just are not given the chance.
Teaching to the Test is Not an Education
Martin Luther King Jr. once stated that “Intelligence plus character is the goal of a true education”.
Mandates have replaced that with “a high standardized test score is the
goal of a true education”. Yet while testing is important and the
United States must be the standard bearer for academic performance and
ability, teaching to a test is not an education.
A fact in all classrooms is that we have
students functioning at different levels of academic ability and
different levels of social ability. The vey make up of our classes
coupled with the proficiency standards coupled with the time and
resource restraints means that there will be some kids slipping through
the cracks and this is hard for teachers to take.
The true problem lies in the inherent fact that the range of functioning within a classroom is not limited to academic abilities.
There is also a range of social functioning that has a direct impact on
a teacher’s ability to create and maintain a learning environment.
How do you teach to a test when you have students who won’t sit down and be quiet?
How do you teach the rigors of science when you have students who don’t understand the basics of social rules?
The classroom is after all a social
gathering and even though it is autocratic by design that autocracy only
works when the authority is understood and respected.
“Teaching Interrupted”, a study found at Public Agenda states that 85% of our current teachers feel that new teachers are not prepared for what they are going to experience in the classroom.
These new teachers know how to teach reading and science and math. They
aren’t equipped to deal with the students who are disrespectful,
students who have no support system at home, students who have no desire
to achieve, and then a system that accepts none of the above as an
excuse for not reaching pre-designated goals.
True Classroom Success
The issue is that we have defined a
successful education as one that creates a student population that
scores within an acceptable range in the certain education areas that
correlate to future potential employability. The problem with this is
that this form of fundamentalist education does not take into account
the students who are not prepared to participate at this level. When the push is all academics then when does the training for social competency occur?
Students are not given the self-confidence and taught the social
parameters for societal success and this diminishes their ability to be a
part of a socialized classroom and this makes teaching and learning more difficult.
Teachers are not leaving the profession because they cannot teach.
Teachers are leaving because they are not being allowed to teach what is important. Rene Descartes once said, “To know what people really think, pay regard to what they do, rather than what they say.”
People go into the teaching profession because they want to teach. They
want to mold the minds of children and create opportunities for them to
succeed in life. Teachers are leaving because the opportunity to truly
educate is no longer valued within our legislated system. Yes we
are teaching. But we are not fully educating and preparing our children
for life. And teachers are walking out. Their actions are speaking
I think teachers and administrators are trying to teach us something…
as they walk out the door.
They want the time and resources to
prepare their students for life. Yes, competing and success within the
global economy is important but so is self-esteem and friendship. The
strictures of science must be learned but the value of respect and
tolerance is just as important. Reading is an absolute but so is good
citizenship. Teachers are trying to tell us something and until we
listen, children will be left behind.
In our last behavior conversation we
laid out the A-B-C process for changing behaviors. It is a complicated
but straight-forward process. However, it is a process that doesn’t really lend itself to a school or home environment.
So instead of trying to fit a round peg into a square hole – like
trying to turn all of our teachers into functional analysts &
behavior specialists – let’s
tackle the processes that make sense in the classroom and talk about
what they mean, how you should be tracking and understanding them, and
ultimately what you should be doing about it.
Here’s the A-B-C chart again and the short video:
Today let’s talk about the Antecedent.
An antecedent is simply something that occurs that provokes or elicits a behavior.
Antecedents can be tricky because when you describe something as a
“provocative event” you tend to think of things such as calling someone
an ugly name or shoving someone or breaking things that belong to other
people. In actuality a provocative event can be something as benign as a
misunderstood look or a perceived sleight.
When you begin looking at the origination of a behavior, the antecedent is the spark event.
But antecedents are neither constant nor consistent. If you are walking
down the hall and someone bumps into you, you are going to have a
different behavioral response depending on who it was and the intent of
the bump. If it was a stranger and they quickly apologized then
hopefully you accept it and move on. If it was a friend and they were
playing with you then you might laugh it off. If it is someone you don’t
like then you might take the action as an affront and respond
accordingly. When you are looking at the start point, or antecedents, of
behaviors you have to really look at two important factors.
First – you need to know who is involved in the antecedent.
Let me give you an example. I have 3
wonderful kids. My oldest daughter is about to be 17 and she is a sweet,
smart, wonderful young lady. She comports herself with grace and is
genuinely loved by all. My 13 year old son is a ton of fun but no one
will ever say he comports himself with grace! He is the bull in the
China shop and he relishes that role. My youngest is the perfectionist.
She is 9 years old and strives to be the best student, basketball
player, soccer player, Bible Bowler, and anything else she does in life.
She wants to be the best. Period. If she finishes in second place I
have to work with her to not see it as a failure. She is a great kid but
she is beyond competitive.
In my house if I am sitting in my chair and something hits me on the back of my head there are 3 basic possibilities.
My oldest daughter was walking by and dropped something and it was an
accident. Or, my son threw it at me intentionally and he is now hiding
and waiting retribution. Or, my youngest is practicing her throwing
skills and she either hit the perfect mark or was off target and is now
aggravated with herself. My response to being hit on the head will
change dramatically depending on who is involved. If it is my oldest I
will know it was an accident. If it was my son I will know it was on
purpose. If it is my youngest then it could go either way and depending
on which way it goes one of us probably won’t be happy.
Who’s involved becomes even more
important when you go outside the family and widen your social circle.
Kids will do things with their friends that they will not take offense
to but if the same thing were done by a stranger or even a casual
acquaintance then it could lead to a fight.
It is important to know who is involved because that will help you
determine the latitude of response that is most likely to occur.
Where this becomes problematic…
…is when kids develop a sense of
comfort with those who are close to them and they carry those boundaries
of acceptability to the wider rings of their social circles. I hear
kids call each other names and I see them laughing and smiling but I
know if they called someone else that name there would be a problem. Kids
have to learn how to discern the levels of familiarity of the people
they are with and how that affects and impacts how they respond to other
people and how other people respond to them.
The second important factor for the antecedent is the context in which the provocative event occurred.
of it like this, if a student came to you and said that another student
was being mean and wasn’t sharing recess toys your immediate reaction
might be to tell everyone to be nice and share. But, if the real context
was that the kid who is tattling is the one who just finished his turn
and now the next person is swinging then it changes things.
The context of an antecedent can change the way you act towards the
provocative event, interact with that event, or react towards it.
The exact same thing under different circumstances can lead to very different results.
A kid might bump into another kid in the
hallway and a fight ensues because they are with their friends and
someone immediately begins mouthing off to the other. The same two kids
might bump into each other when they are by themselves and they laugh it
off and move on. The context of an event is just as important
as the event itself when you are trying to determine if it is a start
point for a problem behavior.
The bottom line on any antecedent is
that you need as much information as possible regarding who is involved
and the context it occurred in before you can place a high value on it
being a problem point. Why is this important? Because the first step to changing behaviors is knowing what leads to behaviors.
How do you understand what leads to behaviors? By knowing the trigger
events and more importantly the reasons those trigger events lead to
behaviors. But that is for next week’s discussion.
have spent a good deal of our Thursday conversations talking about
where behaviors come from, the purpose they serve, how our experiences
play a role in our choices, and last week we talked about the relevancy
of antecedent events. This week we need to spend a little bit of time talking about the difference between organic and acquired behavioral problems. Here’s where we are on our A-B-C chart:
I am guessing that there are some folks
who are scratching their head right now wondering what in the world an
organic behavior is and how and why it matters whether it is different
than an acquired behavior. The most straight-forward way of looking at
it is that:
A behavior that is caused or exacerbated by a medical, physical, or physiological condition is an organic behavior.
A behavior that is the result of circumstance and experiences is an acquired behavior.
It is important to understand the difference but it is just as important to know that behaviors still need to be addressed.
Let’s start with organic behaviors.
There are a lot of diagnosis that a lot
of folks are both familiar with and understand. ADHD is a common
diagnosis with a treatment that seems counter-intuitive. To medically
treat a hyperactive child with true ADHD you give the child a stimulant.
Doesn’t seem to make sense does it? But
this is why it is important to know and understand the difference
between a behavior that is either caused or made worse by physical
issues and those that are the result of experience alone.
If a child truly has ADHD then they have
pathways in their brains called dendrites that have signal transfer
points called synapses and some of these synapses are not mature. These
synapses do not send and receive signals as efficiently and effectively
as they should. The treatment is to give a stimulant so that the
synapses have a better capability of firing with greater strength and
rapidity. The end result is that the stimulant creates greater
connectivity in the brain which in turn makes thinking and rationalizing
and discerning easier which in turn slows down the hyper child.
If you gave a stimulant to a child that did not have ADHD it would have
the opposite effect and would cause greater hyperactivity because of
behaviors are those that do not have an underlying physical cause but
instead are acquired through experience and circumstance.
For example, a child’s hyperactivity can be caused by being
overstimulated with caffeine or because he is really excited about
something. You can also have kids whose parents simply don’t
tell them “no” and therefore acting hyper and goofy is just part of what
So the bottom line is…
are behavioral issues that have a physical underlying
cause/exacerbation point and there are other behaviors that are the
byproduct of life. Does this mean that the kids who
have a physical reason for behavioral issues should get a free pass or
that their behaviors shouldn’t be scrutinized as closely? Absolutely not.
It simply means we need to make sure we are getting kids the help and
the evaluation’s they need and once we know the platform we are working
from we need to start changing behaviors.
It is important to know and understand
everything we can know and understand but at the end of the day if a
student is disruptive or hyper or surly or non-communicative then you
have a problem. The real issue comes when a physical underlying cause is
either treated or ruled out and the behavior persists. This
means that the behavior is part of the kid’s knowledge base and that it
has to be replaced with a better, more appropriate behavior.
Kids who have a diagnosed condition should be treated and should be
given every opportunity to overcome their diagnosis but their diagnosis
cannot be an excuse for inappropriate or aberrant behavior.
So, now that we agree that diagnoses don’t equal a free pass…
let’s start talking about how to change behaviors.
the past several weeks we have been discussing what a behavior is and
where behaviors come from. We have even talked a little about the
difficulties of recording and measuring and reporting behavioral
incidents. Now let’s start talking about the elements that will help us change behaviors. To begin this discussion we have to start with the focal point of behavior change – the function the behavior serves.
Here’s our A-B-C chart:
Cause and function of behaviors are two different aspects of behavior.
They are not interchangeable. The cause
represents the issues we have been discussing previously – experiences,
medical conditions, familial background etc. The function is the purpose of the behavior. Is it attention seeking, is it anger coping, is it deflection etc. Cause is where the behavior comes from and function is the purpose the behavior serves.
The function a behavior serves is one of the absolute key elements in creating
A CHANGE OPPORTUNITY.
It is also the element that can be the
trickiest to understand, determine, measure, and maintain. Let’s think
about the function for a minute. It sounds simple enough. Why is this person acting the way they are acting, what is the benefit, and thereforewhat purpose is the behavior serving? It would seem straightforward enough. Then why do we get it wrong so often?
Think about this example:
Mrs. Wright teaches 5th grade.
She has a class of 23 boys & girls from all walks of life.
HER CLASSROOM LOOKS LIKE MOST OTHERS.
has wealthy kids and poor kids, smart kids and kids who are struggling.
She has kids who are quiet and attentive and she has kids who don’t
comprehend the meaning of “raise your hand” and “stop talking”. Mrs. Wright has been tasked with providing small groups for kids in her class who are giving her problems behaviorally.
She has decided that she is going to use an anger management curriculum
and have a small group for kids who have been fighting and not getting
along on the playground. Mrs. Wright knows just who she wants in her
group. She wants Roderick – he can’t seem to make it through the day without getting into a shouting or shoving match with someone. She wants Felipe
because he is constantly getting upset and offended by the other kids
in class and he has even gotten physical a couple of times. She wants Brooke
because she is always angry. She comes to class mad and just gets
angrier as the day goes on. She is a short fuse just waiting to blow.
Finally, she wants Paul.
Paul isn’t an aggressive kid but he has been put into detention or ISS
at least 4 times for fighting. These are the kids Mrs. Wright has chosen
for her anger management small group. They have all been in
fights, they have all had behavioral referrals for fighting or taking
ugly to each other, and they all have problems getting along with other
kids. It makes perfect sense that this is the anger management group, right?
Let’s look a little closer at Mrs. Wright’s decisions on the kids she has chosen.
Anger is a pretty easy emotion
to identify and define and the kids she has chosen have all been subject
to discipline because of anger related issues – fighting and talking
ugly and being mean etc. But there is a problem with this approach.
You see, when you use the end result, in this case anger and
aggression, as the target for the behavior change then you are treating
the symptom but you are not addressing the cause.
Let’s not take it for granted that the
kids we know possess common sense. Let’s not assume they have put two
and two together. Using the same logic, wouldn’t it make sense that if a
student gets detention for fighting then he wouldn’t fight again? But
they do. This is because we continue to treat the symptom, not the cause.
Let’s take a closer look at Mrs. Wright’s group:
Roderick is a bully.
He is constantly pushing other kids and calling them names and trying
to assert himself as the one in charge. He has been in trouble many
times. He definitely needs anger control training. However, Roderick is
also really hurting right now because his father left home a couple of
months ago. Roderick is angry at the world and he is lashing out at
everyone but it is because he is hurting and missing his father. Even
though he acts tough his self-esteem is shattered and he uses the tough
façade to hide the fact that he feels absolutely rejected. He is
trying his best to be cold and non-caring but when he gets home and
looks back on his day he feels even worse about himself.
Felipe is a first generation citizen.
Felipe’s parents immigrated here right before he was born and they
still struggle with language barriers. Felipe’s folks speak Spanish at
home and even though he has been in school since kindergarten, English
is not Felipe’s first language. He gets frustrated in class and even
more frustrated on the playground because he cannot communicate
effectively and he doesn’t always understand what other people are
saying to him. Some days he gets so frustrated that he can’t help himself and he ends up pushing someone.
Brooke is a spoiled brat.
She is never told no by her parents and she gets anything and
everything she wants. She has no comprehension that other people might
not want exactly what she wants because her parents foster a world that
focuses exclusively on her. She can’t get along with the other
kids and ends up fighting with them because if they don’t do exactly
what she wants then she is sure they are trying to be mean to her.
Paul has been in a lot of fights but he has never started any of them.
Roderick is the class bully but Paul is the class target. He is unsure
of himself and the only thing he is sure of is that no one likes him. He
doesn’t have nice clothes and sometimes he comes to school without
breakfast. Paul doesn’t want to fight. In fact, Paul wishes that he
could somehow be invisible and people wouldn’t even know he was there. He fights because it is hard to always feel bad about yourself.
Here are four kids that get into fights and therefore 4 kids who need an anger management small group. Yes, they will learn some good coping skills in a small group and it will help. But it won’t address the cause of the behaviors and therefore the functions the behaviors serve.
Roderick is angry because his father left and his self-esteem is shattered.Teaching him to calm down will help but it won’t help him adjust to his new life circumstances and it won’t teach him self-worth.
Felipe gets into scrapes with other kids out of frustration. Teaching him to control those frustrations will help but true behavior change will only come when he begins to understand how to better communicate with other people.
Brooke stays in trouble because she is self absorbed.Teaching her coping techniques for calming down will help but she isn’t going to change until she learns the reality of social structure.
Paul doesn’t get along because he doesn’t feel he belongs. Teaching him to recognize anger is great but it won’t change the function his fighting serves.
He fights out of frustration and out of lack of self concept. That
won’t change until Paul learns how to value himself and how to belong to
You see, it is easy to look at behaviors and think about treating the behavior…
But what is the cause of the behavior
and just as importantly, what function does that behavior serve?
Roderick, Felipe, Brooke, and Paul will all benefit from an anger
management small group but it isn’t going to change the reason they are
having anger problems. This is why
it is so critical to understand the functions of behaviors and the only
way to do that is to understand the personal, social, emotional, and
behavioral strengths and deficits for your students and the way those
deficits come together to create behaviors. How do you do that? We will get to that soon.
Just remember that applying the skin cream to a sunburn is important
but until you teach them to apply sunscreen the burns will continue.
I just closed my eyes and now it is time
to start all over again. The morning shower is about the only time I am
going to have today with a little silence. I have found myself standing
under the water a little longer each day as the school year is passing.
That moment of peace is my chance to brace for the day. The problem is
that in my moment of peace I can’t take my mind off of my kids who are
struggling. I can’t stop thinking about the things I should have done to
make learning a little easier. Wait, I have to clear my mind. I just need 5 minutes for me. The rest of the day can be for the kids.
I get to my classroom early in hopes
that being extra organized may make the day a little easier and make my
teaching time more effective. Wouldn’t you know it, there is a Mom
waiting by my door wanting me to explain why her little angel was in
trouble yesterday when all he was doing was “trying to express himself”.
I spend 5 minutes acknowledging
that self expression is important and I tried my best to get her to
understand that there is a time for self-expression and there is a time
to sit and listen. I’m not sure if I got through to her
or not. I did let her know that the rules are the rules and learning to
keep the rules is part of learning. It never ceases to amaze me that
parents somehow see the rules as oppressive rather than educational. Oh
well I…..oh no, the bell just rang. So much for being extra organized today.
There was a movie in the 70s called “The Swarm”. That is what the hallway and my room turns into. There are bodies everywhere and they are all talking and buzzing around at a speed I can’t quite keep up with.
The day has begun. “Everyone sit down and get your books out”, the tug
of war between my will and 20 kids desire to talk and have fun and
seemingly do anything but learn has begun.
As the morning progresses I work my way
through a group reading, taking special care to listen closely to little
Mykele because he has really struggled with reading chapter books. He
makes it most of the way through his paragraph but tears start to form
as he struggles with the last sentence. I find myself in full protective
mode and jumping to his aid and nursing him through the last sentence. I am not sure whose relief was greater when his turn was over, his or mine.
From there we were onto math and my
stomach was tied in knots as I called on little Karen to go to the board
and complete the problem. I wanted to cheer for her and I so wanted to
give her hints to complete it. Come on Karen, you can do it! Please let her do it!! She did it!
I want to high five her so bad but class control dictates a smile and a
pat on the head instead. I feel like I just conquered Mt. Kilimanjaro.
is the moment I live for – the moment when the light comes on for a
child and suddenly they understand and suddenly they have learned.
I just changed this child’s life and if I
were any more proud of her I would break down in tears. What a moment.
Now it is back to the board and Billy is struggling.
It is so hard getting the kids to calm down after lunch.
It takes me a solid 10 minutes getting
them to sit down and get back into the class mindset. Charlie and Zach
just won’t hush. They couldn’t keep their hands to themselves and lunch
and I ended up eating half my lunch and throwing the rest in the trash
thanks to the boys deciding that French-fries can double as missiles in
their game of table commando. Why am I not skinnier??
Afternoons are so much harder than mornings.
I am tired. I feel like I have been wrestling a 34 armed wriggling, giggling, smelly animal.
The kids are getting tired and they are ready to run. Sitting down at a
desk and reading goes against every instinct and urge they have. The
afternoons are just harder. It feels like I am pushing a wet noodle up a hill trying to get the kids to focus.
I love science but this afternoon even I can’t find my enthusiasm for
rock formations. I am trying because I know if I show the kids that I am
not enthused about learning this then there is no way they will be. It
is so hard maintain abject enthusiasm all day. The afternoons are so much harder.
I give up. They won’t sit down and they won’t be quiet. There are going to be some unhappy moms and kids tonight because behavior slips are going out. Charlie
and Zach and Lakarsha are shoe-ins for getting a slip. The whole class
is watching them instead of me and I feel like standing on the desk and
screaming “Just pay attention and we can be done and go home!!” But I
don’t. Nobody wants to pay attention and I am tired. I can’t find my
enthusiasm for rocks either. The afternoons are just harder.
One and a half hours to go.
My lesson planner shows that I am behind schedule.
I am behind because I keep getting interrupted by kids not listening
and not paying attention and wanting to go to the bathroom. It feels like I am investing my time in quick sand.
I take a rare break and sit at my desk and try to collect my thoughts. I have now been on my feet for nearly 6 hours.
I have answered questions and reminded kids to keep their hands to
themselves and told kids to be quiet so often that I feel I need a
flashing “Be Quiet” neon sign in the back of the room.
I then remember something I heard in
staff development session. A speaker once charged us with thinking about
the amount of time we spend telling kids to sit down and be quiet and
pay attention. His question was:“What
if we reinvested that redirection time and turned it into proactive
lessons on how to sit down and be quiet and paying attention?”
When I first heard him say this my only thought was “Yeah, good luck
with that when you have 20 kids constantly needing something and wanting
to be doing anything but the lesson you are teaching”. But maybe that
was the point.
School is about academics but the payoff
for academics is down the road. There really isn’t an immediate
gratification for learning about math and science and reading and
writing. Sure you get those moments of pure gold when little ones like
Karen suddenly get it. But those are the moments of the day. The hours of the day are spent redirecting the kids’ thoughts back to learning.
OK… I’m going to spend 15 minutes working with my kids
on calming down and being quiet.
not going to wait until I hit my boiling point, I am just going to take
the time and work on it. I have a friend that teaches in a school that
is working on social and emotional development and she
shared a lesson with me one time that focused on getting kids to calm
down after transitions by using signals. I soon find myself teaching the
kids our own special class signals for quieting down and sitting down. The
kids really get into it because I tell them that these are going to be
our special and secret signals. We have a song for clean up time. We
have a bell on my desk that is rung when it is time to sit down. We have
double clap when it is time to be quiet. The kids voted on
these signals and we practiced them several times. We even practiced
being out of our seats and getting back into our seats when they heard
the bell. They really got into it because it was like having their own secret handshake.
And when one of the kids didn’t snap into place the other kids reminded
them to do so before I could. They had taken ownership in these ideas
and they wanted to see them work.
Little Karen had her “ah-ha” moment this morning and I had mine this afternoon.
The 15 minutes I invested felt like I had just hit the jackpot on the slot machine.
The kids learned a lesson but the pay-off was as good for me as it was
for them. I even appointed room captains to be in charge of the bell and
the clap and the song. They each appointed a co-captain for each table.
They thought it was so cool. Now sitting down and being quiet
and paying attention are not on any of our tests but I can’t get them
ready for the test if they aren’t sitting down and being quiet and
The final bell rings and the swarms descends back into the hallway.
I take a deep breath and look at the
mountain of papers on my desk. I only have 20 kid’s papers in math and
science to grade, get 20 packets ready for tomorrow, write my Friday
letter for the parents, make sure everyone’s permission slip for next
week’s field trip is in place, attend my afternoon staff meeting, and then go home and be a parent and a spouse.
The whirlwind begins to slow down when my head hits the pillow.
I can’t hardly keep my eyes open and I
think that there must surely be an easier way to make a living. Then my
thoughts drift back to little Karen and I remember the exact moment when
the light went on for her and she figured out how to do the problem. I
remember the joy that came across her face and the pride that swelled in
That is my moment. That is the reason I will do it all over again tomorrow.
My eyes are heavy but I know why I am a teacher.
The social and emotional development program referenced above is Leaps.
Leaps has over 240 social, emotional and behavioral lesson plans along
with classroom, small group, and individual assessments. It’s
not reading writing and arithmetic but it is amazing how much easier
those are to teach when the class is learning to behave! You can get some free Leaps lesson plans on www.goleaps.com. There are also all kinds of videos and papers about how to make your class more manageable.