Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!

Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!
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Teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions. ~ Author Unknown

My goal is to reveal one teacher's humble journey of self-reflection, critical analysis, and endless questioning about my craft of teaching and learning alongside my middle school students.

"The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called 'truth'." ~ Dan Rather

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Emotional detachment is hard to do!

Yes, I get way too personally invested and emotionally attached to my students. I am guilty as charged! I know I care too much about them, think too much about them, invest too much time in them, and expect myself to do the best I can to make a true connection with all 120 students too much of the time. Is this realistic? No. Will I give up on this unachievable goal? Absolutely not. I am extremely stubborn (in case you haven't realized that by now!).

You know the situation is bad when I dreamt the world was ending last night due to 42 impending terrorist attacks and the people (aside from my husband!) whose safety and well-being come to mind first were my students' faces. Whenever a teacher begins to have their students invade or haunt their dreams, you know the situation is bad!

In the past two weeks, I have had several difficult interactions and teachable moments with students who I feel very closely connected to. I have mentioned one such student before. Last week, he decided to try to cheat on a test, which I immediately caught before it happened and read him the riot act about. In our conversation, I said to him, "Don't ever disappoint me again ... Actions speak louder than words." What mattered to me more than his verbal apology was the quality of his work that followed. He really got serious, buckled down, and now has the highest grade in a class of many gifted students. Yes, I am proud of him, and yes, I am still trying to detach and establish firm boundaries with him. But I think it is working slowly but surely ...

Then came another student yesterday who decided to ask for a bathroom pass but was instead found in another teacher's room and then the library. This is a student whom I have grown quite fond of and have always seen quality work from and been able to fully trust. Boy, did I express to him my utter disappointment with our conversation, parent phone call, and follow-up with the office about cutting my class. While he is currently giving me the silent treatment, I know he has learned his lesson and will never try such a lie again.

My husband has been telling me for years that I am too nice and available to my students. He believes that I can be too much like their friend and not enough like the adult I need to be. I admit, this is an area I have always struggled with but believe I have really progressed and improved on. For whatever reason, I teach a very difficult group of boys this year who are much more sexually explicit and inappropriate than in years past -- and need to have firm, clear, and non-negotiable boundaries. My girls, in comparison, are much easier. "But that's the teenage boy," my husband says, "they want to jump on anything that moves!" True, and I guess this reality is what makes teaching middle school all the more of an adventure and challenge. Ha!

Inevitably, the questions begin. What am I already doing to establish firm boundaries with my students to help them see me as an authoritative adult and not someone who could pass for their age? How do you continue to establish an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect in the classroom while having to routinely admonish a handful of seemingly impossible students? What is the perfect balance of fair and firm? Does this change every day depending on the class and lesson?

To try to better answer these questions, my co-teacher and I sat down yesterday and decided to reinvent the wheel and completely redesign our discipline policy, especially for one of our classes. We call this our class's "Plan for Success." In this system, if a student violates any rule, his/her name is written on a small white board (without even having to verbally draw attention to the student). If the behavior continues, the student receives a check next to his/her name, which means he has to complete a written reflection sheet and receive a phone call home. The third step is a second check with a detention, and the fourth (and final) step is an office referral. Our goal is student buy-in with this process, consistency with consequences, and prompt follow-through to prevent the kids from trying to play us off each other.

We have also used a positive reinforcement system where we award tickets to students displaying good behavior, study strategies, participation, hard work, and effective effort. A weekly drawing is held each week for a prize pull in each period. I would love to hear other positive reward systems that have worked for you teachers out there!

In the meantime, I need to take a deep breath, know that I am doing all that I can, and remember that I am the adult in every situation in my classroom. The best thing I can do for my students is to be the adult who models respect, hard work, and appropriate, mature behaviors that I want my students to practice daily. In doing so, I will recognize my own limitations and seek to start every day fresh and new, with the high hopes and confidence in my students' ability to achieve -- and become whomever they want to be. And hopefully, I can learn to emotionally distance myself from them and know that they are not my own children.

1 comment:

  1. I have to say, after I read the part about the writing names on the whiteboard, I immediately thought "Oh god please tell me she isn't just focusing on the negative!" and sure enough, the very next sentence talked about positive reinforcement! Awesome.