I took tomorrow off for an interview (keep your fingers crossed), so it’s kind of nice to have a break. Currently I am grading things and trying to rethink my most depressingly chaotic classes.

If you don’t care about anything teaching-related, feel free to skip this one. 😉

I am new to teaching, so I am still figuring out what works and what doesn’t when it comes to lessons. I have to constantly adjust lessons after seeing what fits the needs of each class. That, honestly, is nowhere near the hardest part. It’s become intuitive to me. I come prepared with materials for each class, a structure that they are used to, and ideas for several different directions the day could go.

What is harder is the classroom management. I’ve tried a million different strategies, and I’ll try a million more.

It brings up the question of consequences, rewards, and flat-out bribery. There’s a difference. Kids aren’t always interested in the altruistic motivations for good behavior. In fact, from what I can see, an idea of altruism builds up through the early elementary years… only to apparently disintegrate somewhere around 6th grade, where there is a general lack of concern for the greater good.

I must admit that sometimes I straight-up bribe the little kids, if I feel it’s important enough. Specifically, during lunch the job of pushing the trash barrel around is greatly in demand… so I only let the kids who eat all their fruits and/or vegetables to have that job.

For the rest of the day, I use a variety of individual, small group, and whole-class rewards and consequences in each of my classes.

K-2nd: Each day I pick one “estrella” (star) who has been a good example that day. They get a sticker (and a little certificate, until I slacked off on printing those…) I always make sure I explain why I chose the star that day (“I had to remind a lot of people today about getting out of their seats without asking, but such-and-so did a really good job of raising her hand and asking permission first,” etc.) Honestly, little kids are entirely too bribe-able for their own good. They will do anything for a sticker. It’s too easy. I try hard to not exploit the Power Of The Sticker in the littleshortpeople classes.

3-5th: I try to steer the rapidly-building peer pressure  at this age group into good directions by focusing on group rewards. The whole class evaluates their behavior at the end of each day (by giving thumbs-up, thumbs-down, or “so-so”) and we decide if we have earned points for behavior, respect, and knowledge. Points are earned toward a reward we’ve decided on. (A day outside, games, a movie, etc.) Negative consequences are on an individual basis – losing participation points, calls home, etc.

JA: For middle school, I am more at a loss. I am becoming burned out by the constant individual discipline in these large 30-some classs, which usually takes up far too much class time. Table points or whole-class points haven’t done much for the handful of students who are being disruptive, and the kids who are on task are getting irritated and bored. I need to come up with some new ideas, since so far the only thing that has worked is completely flipping out and turning into a drill sargeant.

Things I’m trying to keep in mind:

  • Don’t teach that good behavior always gets concretely rewarded. Perhaps a “lottery,” where for good behavior students get tickets to put into a drawing for some kind of reward. Good behavior will not always mean a reward… but students who are consistently good are more likely to be rewarded.
  • Reward responsible behavior with responsibility. It’s surprising to me how much kids make a big deal out of helping. They get mad when they don’t get picked to do little class jobs. In the younger grades I have assigned jobs; perhaps the older kids will do better with class jobs assigned to those people who have shown responsibility. I need to think about this one.
  • Don’t put together a system that requires a lot of time and/or money on my part. Because it’s not gonna happen; I’ve learned this about me and my limits. I am broke and overwhelmed already.

Any input? How do I make these 6th graders into responsible, contributing students?

Oh man, some days I feel at my wits’ end just trying to keep them from punching each other and throwing things. Okay, most days. Also, I think I’m supposed to be teaching them Spanish somewhere in here… oops.


2 Responses to Consequential.

  1. Wendy Kennedy says:

    I loved this intimate glimpse into your teacher mind! You are truly doing a wonderful job! All your techniques you described sound great!

    On rewards: The trick is finding something immediate- a lot of kids just aren’t motivated by points toward a future prize. Plus, the older the kids are, the more personalized the reward has to be to have it matter to them- about impossible in a big classroom, since each kid is so dang unique! Makes you miss the tickers & stars stage! Have you tried the choices route- good behavior lets them choose a fun educational activity they like, bad behavior the boring type of drill that is necessary sometimes but everyone hates? then you slip in some Spanish while rewarding them. I also used a timeout in the classroom, using those moveable wall panels to box them visually off from their audience. (Also not possible when you don’t have your own room, I suppose).

    A stiff drink?

    Then, of course, there may be some on the autism spectrum who simply don’t connect their actions with the consequences, so it doesn’t matter what you do. It’ll be the same struggle, over & over & over.

  2. saracita says:

    Yes, I agree on the immediacy thing. I forgot to mention the one I use every day, that the other Spanish teacher suggested – I put 3 checks on the board and tell the class that if they give me their full attention all hour, I’ll give them a few minutes to talk at the end of the class. Every time the lesson is interrupted, I erase a check… if they lose all the checks, no free time.

    I’ve been using class responsibilities and choices of where to sit for the kids who really care about that.

    As for the autism kids, it’s just been a lot of reminders. Luckily in my kids’ case the special-needs kids have often been the ones most motivated to learn Spanish, just because it’s enjoyable – and a bit less “academic” than their other classes, perhaps.

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