When I started teaching, I knew that I had very high expectations for all of my students. I believed they should all put forth as much effort as possible, participate regularly, come to class prepared on a daily basis, and challenge themselves for the duration of the school year. If I wanted them to do that, then I needed to let them know from Day 1 that those were my expectations. And, I did. My expectations were spelled out in my parent and student letters, addressed by my classroom rules, and modeled and enforced in my classroom.
For the most part, I didn’t have any major issues with student discipline. I attributed that to the fact that I worked so hard to develop a rapport with my students and to balance the work with fun and engaging activities. I also espoused my belief that respect is a two-way street and if they wanted me to respect them, they would have to respect me. Administrators and colleagues were very positive about my classroom management techniques and praised me for handling students as well as I did in my very first year of teaching. I’ll never forget a substitute teacher asking me in shock if it really were just my first year because she thought I had years of experience since I handled my classroom so well.
The problem, though, was that I was utterly exhausted. I was, very foolishly, grading each student’s participation on a daily basis. And, I was keeping track of every time a kid forgot a writing utensil or a folder. And, I was logging visits to the nurse and the restroom and absent work that never was completed. In class, I told kids who were falling asleep to stand up and do their work standing until they felt more awake. Then, I filled in a discipline form for my file. If a kid put her head down on her desk during class, I would tell her to sit up and then I filled in my discipline log. The paperwork was getting out of control, as I was doing all of the “discipline” work plus all of the other duties of a teacher: writing lesson plans, designing activities, grading essays and tests, making bulletin boards, making copies, logging student remediation and reteaching and data, analyzing tests to discover student strengths and weaknesses, and on and on. By Christmas of my first year, I thought I was going to go crazy with all of the paperwork and calls home and entries in my discipline log.
That’s right: I had no major discipline issues, but my discipline log was being filled with students who forgot a pencil, who forgot a folder, who forgot to return a signed assessment, etc. It dawned on me that I didn’t necessarily have a discipline problem but a kid problem. These were 7th graders. I should have been happy they found my room some days, let alone actually remembered to bring all of their materials with them. But, what of those high expectations that I had made so clear to the students, their parents, and my administrators?
Well, I realized that I still could have those high expectations, but that I could go about enforcing them in a different way. I had to learn how to pick my battles, if you will. I wanted to hold kids accountable but stop bringing the learning process to a halt just because a kid was being a kid and forgot to bring something to class. I solved those everyday problems with simple solutions and gave myself a break so I could focus on the more important things in my classroom.
Problem #1: Pencils – Students often forgot a writing utensil, and I would get so angry because I had no idea how they expected to “do” English class without one.
- Former Fix: Log the infraction in the discipline log, ask student what happened to his pencil, and allow student to borrow one for that class period only. Reduce number of participation points for that day. Get frustrated two hours later when I realized the student had left class with MY pencil.
- Current Fix: Allow student to borrow one from the black turnstile on my desk and leave something for collateral on my desk. Get the student into the beginning of class activity more quickly. Spend time reading his “Do Now” instead of writing in the discipline log. Smile when student returns pencil to turnstile and remembers to take his belonging from my desk at the end of class. Warn student at the door not to make a habit of forgetting his pencil.
Problem #2: Kids who, for the life of them, cannot remember their folders/binders – This infraction bothered me even more than the pencil problem. On the one hand, I at least had some hope that the kid didn’t have his class materials because he had taken them home to review and practice. On the other hand, I knew that he had tossed it somewhere with the rest of his school work and never opened it.
- Former Fix: Log the infraction in the discipline log, ask student where he left his class materials, and gather extra copies and paper for him. Reduce number of participation points for that day. Get frustrated when I see the extras shoved under his desk in a crumpled mess at the end of class.
- Current Fix: Option 1: If it’s a chronic problem, and I know the kid truly is not doing anything with his class materials outside of class, make a classroom folder for him and tell him that it will remain in the classroom so that he can learn every day. Remove his excuse for attempting to not do anything in class since he doesn’t have his materials. Option 2: If it’s a first-time occurrence, remind the kid that coming to class prepared is crucial to his success and show him where to find extra copies. Tell him to return the extra copies tomorrow, after he updates his own folder at home that evening.
Problem #3: Missed classwork/notes due to an absence – It’s inevitable: kids miss school for a million different reasons. Even though I stressed that it was their responsibility to inform me ahead of time about a planned absence, especially for athletics, kids forgot. And, the kids who missed school due to illness were supposed to come to me the next morning and get their materials so they could be ready for class; more often than not, they forgot, too.
- Former Fix: Take attendance and make a sticky note of absent kids. At the end of the day, gather all missed work and write names of absent students at top. Sort work by class period and put into an absentee folder on the front table. Remind kids the next day to get their absent work. Reduce number of participation points for kids who don’t pick up the work or show me complete work by the deadline. Log the problems in the discipline log.
- Current Fix: Assign students class partners. If they are absent, they borrow the notes from the partner and see which papers they missed. Students get copies of missed work from front table and see me with questions or problems. Remind them they may attend a reteaching session. If chronic absences become an issue, assign them a reteaching session.
Problem #4: Late work because of computer and printer “issues” at home – As an English teacher, I assigned various projects and essays to be completed by a certain due date. I advertised the due date the day that I assigned the work, gave students options for turning it in, including emailing it to me, printing it out and handing it to me, or sending it in Google Drive or putting it in Dropbox. And yet, kids still showed up on due dates with nothing to give to me because their printers had run out of ink. Every. Single. Time.
- Former Fix: Mark the assignment as late, reduce points in the grade book, and call home. Log the problem in the discipline log. Ask the kid for the assignment the next day and repeat the process every day for a week. Threaten the kid with detention if the assignment isn’t turned in TOMORROW. Get a very poorly completed assignment at the very last second.
- Current Fix: Reduce the assignment grade by 2%, as per the district’s grading guidelines. Remind the student he has five days to turn it in and that he will lose no more than a total of 10% of his points, as per the grading guidelines. Hand the kid a flash drive and tell him to save the assignment to it and return the flash drive tomorrow. Remove the possibility for excuses and show the kid I mean business about receiving a quality product, even if it is a little late.
These solutions worked for me in my freshmen and sophomore classes. I enjoyed the break I gave myself by refusing to let paperwork and frustration take over my school days. It also seemed to help with some of the kids who realized that I still was holding them accountable but doling out more reasonable consequences when they didn’t live up to my expectations. At the end of the day, I had to keep in mind that they were just kids. It was hard to let go of some of my original “fixes,” but eventually I realized I was doing myself a favor by letting go of some of the issues that weren’t so important in the big picture.
Which everyday problems are most irksome for you? Which solutions have you implemented? Leave a reply to get the discussion going.