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.
We 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 dropout rate:
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 volumes.
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.
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.
Think 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.
We 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.
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 overstimulation.
Acquired 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 they do.
So the bottom line is…
There 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.
Over 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.
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.
She 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 a group.
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 70’s 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.
This 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 at 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.
I’m 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. 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 paying attention.
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 me.
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 our website – click here to view. There are also all kinds of videos and papers about how to make your class more manageable.