The Sort-of-Scientific Method

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Jan 15 2013

Putting My Foot Down, and Doing My Best

Day 81: I was THIS CLOSE to two great classes. 6C can be more than a little challenging on Monday after lunch. But a ton of them got into “So You Think You Can Move?” – aka dance like a flagella. JT doing the worm was pretty stellar.

Then the bell rang. AM announces, “The bell rang.” I respond, “I’m aware.” A minute later, again, with irritation: “You know the bell just rang, right?” Someone says something, and I hear AM respond, “I know, right? Exactly.” At a 6 on the disrespect-o-meter.

I ask AM to sit and stay. EC asserts that this isn’t fair, since she said something first. So I ask her to stay, too. Finally, as the class is almost out the door, I hear LB saying something to EC. I swerve and ask her to repeat it to me. Meekly, she repeats, “I said that wasn’t fair.” I ask her to join as well.

EC and I have the first conversation, and it goes pretty well. We normally see eye-to-eye. She understands that that was a moment when I needed her to trust me and just go along, because others who are looking for something to complain about can latch on to negativity. She understands, and in fact, stays after to re-take quizzes. We’ll be fine.

I pull LB from music for the second conversation. It starts poorly. She says, “I had an opinion, and I said it.” I make limited headway with my “right place and time” argument. I am normally extremely patient in hearing LB out. She is on student council, and is incredibly reliable. I try to explain that that was feedback meant for me, privately – and not for another student, because that undermined me.

I finally make some serious headway at the end of the conversation by asking what would happen if I showed up at her house, and when her mom tried to send her to her room, I said to both parties, “That’s not fair.” She seemed to understand then the idea of minding one’s business. Toward the end, she might have been about to cry, but I couldn’t tell. Again, we’ll be fine.

AM was short and sweet. I told her ending class was my decision, and not the bell’s. I told her based on how the next day’s class went, she would either have zero consequences, or be writing out, “I will let Mr. A make decisions about how to run class, and keep my frustrations to myself” 100 times. She still hates me. Life moves on.

The final conversation was only tangentially related to this mess. AC has been too-cool-for-school in my class for weeks now, largely spurred, I’m convinced, by her friendship with AM. Today, while everyone else got into the pseudopod dances and flagella wiggles, she looked bored and disinterested. When I finally mentioned she was torpedoing her classwork grade, then some half-hearted effort came out. I’ve been trying to have nice conversations with her for weeks, and it doesn’t appear to be doing anything. She ignores me when I say good morning, and spurns my kindness.

So, at the end of the day, I informed her that her classwork grade was going down the tubes, and she was in danger of losing her honor roll status. She flipped out, and took on some attitude, which I ignored. Minutes later, she tried to refuse shaking my hand to leave the classroom. I had her wait there while five others walked by and shook my hand. Finally, she shook my hand and left. As she left – and I’m not super proud of this – I got in a potshot. I let her know that her grade would continue to drop if she chose to not participate, which would reduce her classwork grades and her citizenship grades.

What’s my take on all of this? In the short term, I was frustrated. 4 pm found me with my head buried in my arms on a desk in frustration and emotional exhaustion. Playing bad cop does not energize me. However, 10:30 pm finds me at greater peace. I am proud for not playing nice today, because being kind to people who never return kindness is no way to live … even with 11-year-olds. I am proud for finding each student for a conversation, and not just issuing consequences. I am proud for putting my foot down and standing up for myself and my values – namely, the value I ascribe to respect.

Ultimately, I have no idea if I did the right thing today. I’m going to go all faux-zen and just say, I did the best I could today. More than likely, I neither made friends nor lost them. I reacted as logically and as calmly as I could. I go to bed tired and yes, a little frustrated, but I’ve done nothing I need be ashamed of, or even kick myself over. I did the best I could, and I can only hope tomorrow is better than today.

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Experimental Procedures of a Second-Year Teacher

Greater Boston
Middle School

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