The Sort-of-Scientific Method

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Sep 25 2012


Day 15: To enter or leave my classroom, my kids have to be facing forward with a thumb up to signal they are ready to move. A little childish? Maybe. But all I have to do is think about the insane way kids walked into my room last year, and the added structure seems like a completely acceptable evil.

For three weeks, no one complained. Then, today, the griping began. One of my students, L, from whom I’d seen a little attitude before, refused to hold up her thumb. I waited patiently in front of her, half-smiling.

“Why do we have to do this?” I keep smiling. “This is stupid. We’ve known how to line up since we were in pre-school. Why do we need to keep practicing?” I keep smiling; I say, “I can wait.” Eventually, she puts up her thumb.

A few minutes later, as the class is going out to recess, I stop L and ask to speak privately. I begin by asking her why she is frustrated. She repeats that the thumb routine is childish, and that she’s not the only one who thinks so. I ask her if she’s noticed that it helps the class look professional. She disagrees. I take a new tack, and ask her what I’m hearing in her tone that I don’t like. “That I’m annoyed?” she asks. I say that I agree, but that her feeling annoyed has led to her sounding disrespectful. I add: “Have I ever spoken disrespectfully to you?”

She is beginning to get flustered. “No … other teachers have!” I counter, logically: “I can’t speak for other teachers, but I can tell you I speak to you like an adult, and speak to you with respect. It’s important that I get the same in return.”

At no point have I raised my voice. At no point have I made a threat. So at this moment, it is mildly surprising that L begins to cry. I wonder if I have made her feel incredibly guilty. Perhaps she was only then figuring out that she was, in fact, speaking disrespectfully to a teacher who had never disrespected her. Perhaps she was realizing that maybe this was not the right way to deal with this situation. Perhaps she was realizing that she had made a mistake.

To skip a little more crying and a little more logic, the conversation ended a couple of minutes later. I’m not sure what to make of this one. I suppose my conclusions are, first, that I’m glad I respect students and make respect such a linchpin of my classroom, because I can always fall back on that when a student breaches that respect. And second, to quote a friend and former teacher at my school, “You will not out-rude me.” I might be smiling, but do not mess with me – you will not win.

In completely unrelated news … I managed to fall asleep for about 10 seconds of an IEP meeting today. The special educator in charge kicked my chair to rouse me. All in all, an interesting Monday.

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