Friday, September 21, 2012

Teaching and Enforcing Discipline: Lining Up Quietly

When you teach kindergarten, many of the kids have NO idea about what's expected of them at school, so the first 6 weeks are hard.  But when you teach fourth grade, the kids are old enough to know expectations for behavior in class.  And they're also mature enough to implement all those exemplary behaviors.  Because they're also mature enough to start worrying about what other people think of them, but young enough to be dependent on adults, so they seek out their teachers' approval.

For as long as the first 2 weeks.

Kids graphic from MyCuteGraphics.com
Once the honeymoon is over, it's time to test their teacher.  "She SAYS those are the rules, but does she really mean it?  What if we did THIS because she didn't say, in so many words, we couldn't do this.  And what about THAT rule?  Is THAT rule so important to her that she's REALLY going to take recess away if I break it?  Or will she just give me a bunch of reminders?  Because I can live with nagging, no problem."

And that's where my class is at right now.  They are in that "testing" stage.  This is when a teacher has to be more focused than ever about her expectations.  I'm still getting to know who they are, so it's a learning experience for ME too.  Taking a certain tone with one kid might not faze them, yet take the same tone with another and you'll get tears.  We all hate the unwarranted tears.  We have to constantly walk that balance between, "Maintain discipline and command respect," and "Gain their trust so they'll see you as someone they can open their mind to."  It's a good time to send a copy of your behavior policies home for parents to be involved. 

One of the toughest lessons that my class is trying learn (of the unacademic sort) is our 4th and final rule: "Know when, and how loud, to talk." Specifically, they were having trouble lining up quietly to line up for the hall, and walk through the hall.

This became a serious problem one day last week when one of the children was so silly in the hall that a woman carrying her toddler almost tripped over him.  I reenacted the scene with them.  "Judy, pretend you're the mom, and my lunch box is the baby.  Carry it like a baby...good.  Kevin, you pretend you're the uncle (if I said they were the mom and dad the rest of the ten year olds would have had the opportunity to tease them for being married).  Now, pretend you're not really watching where you're going because you're talking with a preschool teacher.  Suddenly Johnny dives across the floor because he dropped his pencil."

I dove a foot in front of Judy.

"The baby's uncle reaches out to steady her shoulder.  Otherwise, she would have fallen right over him, and landed on her baby."

The class went wide eyed and silent.

Since this was in clear violation of rule #1: Safety, we had no choice but to practice lining up safely.

The next day, at recess, I was on duty.  I had to watch 6 classes, not just my own.  So I told them in advance to line up where they usually do, before they come inside.  I directed them to go left toward the door as usual, then another left onto the sidewalk, past the kids doing hula hoop, around the tree, and back to where they started.  A creative route, if I do say so myself!  And as they walked, I walked away, off to my "post" halfway across the playground so I could see the rest of the kids too, but turned to watch them carefully.  They went around twice before I came back over to them.

"That was much better," I told them.  "Not only were you able to walk in a straight, quiet line, you did it with ALL kinds of distractions!  There were kids playing out there, kids using hula hoops right beside you, and I was halfway across the playground.  So if you can do it with all those distractions, I KNOW you can do it when you're just walking through a quiet hallway!  In fact, you proved you don't even NEED me there; I could stand on one end of the hall and you could get to the other end with no problem.  That's what you just showed me you can do."

Then I sent them off to play, on a high.  It didn't take a whole lot of time from recess (I had told them when they asked how much recess they'd miss, "Don't worry, we'll practice for as long as you need to").  And the class knew the reason why it had to be practiced.  I'm sure they'll still test me, but I'm one step closer to showing them that I'm the person in control, and I take my responsibility of keeping people in our school safe very seriously.



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