I don’t have time to get children in trouble

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Rita Pierson said in her brilliant video Every child deserves a champion: “You say it long enough it starts to become a part of you.” She was referencing that she told her students “I am somebody.
I was somebody when I came.
I’ll be a better somebody when I leave.
I am powerful, and I am strong.
…I have things to do, people to impress, and places to go.”

This year I adopted a saying for myself because I needed to change how I ran my classroom. My new phrase was “I don’t have time to get children in trouble.” I want my classroom to be a safe and wonderful place, we don’t have time to get in trouble. I tell my students this all the time. I am amazed at what has happened because of this choice. It has become a part of me. I no longer have time to think of punitive consequences or to be bitter with students. I don’t take their actions personally, I remember they are children, and that they are still learning. This does not mean my classroom is a free-for-all. Quite the opposite.

Last week we were on the carpet and one of my students said something along the lines of “I can’t figure out what was ugly.” (I think she was referencing something from a book but I can’t remember) and one of the boys behind her said to his friends about the other child: “Did she look in a mirror?” [The other child didn’t hear this FYI]

Now, if you are reading this you may be shocked at that statement because on the surface it seems incredibly mean and hurtful. It may seem like his words intended to hurt.

When I had time to get kids in trouble, things may have transpired this way: he would have probably been called out in front of his peers to his embarrassment and shame. Most likely he would have denied it to save face. Naturally, he would need some missed recess too. And probably forced to apologize too. Make him feel the pain.

But, none of this would have solved the problem at hand. I hurt thinking I ever used to treat children this way.

But I don’t have time for that. Not anymore. I don’t have time for punitive consequences. I don’t have time for embarrassment or shame. I don’t have time to call kids out in front of their peers.

I do have time for solutions, for being kind and firm. I do have time for private, quiet conversations. I have time to build relationships with my students, and I know this student is a kind person. I have time to remember they are only 11 years old and are still learning to be human. They have only been on this God-given earth for 96,000 hours. Why do we expect perfection from them?

What did I do instead?

My first step was to stop the conversation right then. He needed to know that his behavior was not appropriate. I said nothing else except “John, stop.”

After we finished on the carpet, and the rest of the students were working, I called him over so we could have a conversation. Not a one-sided teacher lecture, but a real conversation.

“Can you tell me about telling [jane] to look in a mirror?”

“Oh yeah..”

“That kind of statement could be hurtful.”

[In a sincere tone] “Oh I didn’t mean it like that, I was trying to be funny.”

“I understand, next time, think about what others might feel before you say something like that.”

“Ok I will”

[Had the other child heard, we would have talked about solving that part of the problem which usually leads to a non-forced apology]

Other conversations in the classroom usually follow a similar format.

[Calling over a student who has been clearly off-task]

“Hey [joe], can you come talk to me? What are you doing over there?’

“Talking”

“Thank you for being honest, what needs to get done right now?”

“My work.”

“What can you do so that your work gets done.”

“Not talk.”

“Sounds good, need a different spot to do that?”

“No, I think I will be okay.”

These solutions work. Sometimes it takes one conversation, sometimes it takes multiple.

It takes time. It can be exhausting. But each day I enjoy it more and more. Helping students become better humans has taken on something new for me this year. I love helping them solve problems. I want them to have self-efficacy so they may solve problems without me. I don’t have time to get kids in trouble anymore, and I will never make time for it again.

Resources:

Responsive Classroom

Teaching Children to Care – Ruth Sidney Charney

Passionate Learners – Pernille Ripp

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A secret to great classroom management

“Love yourself first and everything else falls into line. You really have to love yourself to get anything done in this world.” – Lucille Ball

This past year was more painful as a teacher than I could imagine. But through the pain, I learned a valuable lesson, I discovered something that defined everything about my classroom, both good and bad.

Classroom management has a lot of facets. A well-run classroom can be defined by several things, just to name a few: procedures, high expectations, engaging curriculum, firm and clear boundaries, and relationships.

There is one thing missing from that list, something we don’t talk about, and I learned it the hard way.

Last year around October I had an informal drop-in observation by my principal, it was one of those days where everything went bad. No student was listening, I was yelling, procedures were being broken, the energy in the room was awful, I was getting frustrated, and I wanted to quit. (I had many days like this in the fall). My notes from the observation were eye-opening, to say the least. The principal commented on my tone, posture, and interaction with the children which was described as “cold and scary.” I think those who know me well would say “how is that possible?!” I wondered that myself, but the truth is, it had been like this for a while, and things in the classroom weren’t getting better.

Among my attempts to get things right in the classroom, I had found a wonderful article on smartclassroommanagement.com about liking students that left me an imprint in me, and it gave me a lot of reflecting to do. While I tried hard to like those hard-to-like students just like the article said, it wasn’t panning out the way I had hoped.

Frankly, nothing was working. I tried it all; new routines, more consistency, better rules, etc. But with everything new I tried, it never worked, things were getting way worse. I was at the point where I almost put in my notice to quit.

What changed?

I often peruse the site ProTeacher.net because I enjoy the wide array of forums available. It is not as popular as it used to be, but it is still active, and I enjoy it. I posted my cry for help because nothing in my classroom was working and I was ready to throw in the towel.

The teachers who responded were all very kind and gracious in their responses, but one stuck out to me the most. It has truly changed me and challenged everything I thought I knew about the classroom:

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“You must like yourself first and foremost.”

Those words hit me HARD, and they still do.

It was at that moment I realized I didn’t like myself, in fact, I hated myself. I hated being gay, I hated my body, I hated that I never fit in, even as an adult. I hated my back problems, I hated feeling depressed ALL the time. And then, it all seemed to fall into place, my inner hatred turned into hating my class and teaching. It showed, every day in my tone, facial expression, and in my attitude. Everything about me and how I hated myself, I brought with me subconsciously to the classroom.

Low to no self-esteem can wreak havoc on everything in your life, including relationships, but I wasn’t aware of this at the time. I thought I was checking everything at the door, but that was far from the truth. My disdain for myself overflowed to everything in my life, including my students. I hate typing these words, but I must confront myself with the truth. Relationships are the cornerstone of any successful classroom, and as I look back and reflect, I can see now that my relationship with myself = awful. My relationships with my students = awful. I was depleted of love and compassion in my brain and my heart, I had none to give to myself or my students.

For the sake of this blog post, I will cut down a major story short. That observation and some other things that happened during the fall made me angry, and it turned into severe depression/anxiety/resentment/hatred. I am grateful I was able to get counseling to help resolve some major issues I had in my life. In February I was able to come out as a gay person, and since then, things in my classroom had started looking up. Not because I was now openly gay, but because I was resolving inner conflict, I was healing. And because of this, I started to like myself again. The secret I learned is that I must like myself as a person, to be the teacher I need and want to be. I learned that I must have the confidence, joy, and love that can only truly come from within, in order to be able to then give that confidence, joy, and love to my students.

The rest of this past school year was much better, and a lot of healing took place between me and the students. There were some relationships that were severely damaged, and they weren’t able to be fixed. I am truly sad about that, but I am grateful knowing that my next classroom, I will start fresh. I am learning to like myself for who I am as a person. I am taking time to care for myself and treat myself with compassion. I know that in the fall when I meet my students for the first time, I will have a genuine smile on my face that shows I will care for and love them. But most importantly, I will continue to care for, like, and love myself.

In the book “The compassionate classroom”, there is one page that discusses the teacher-self relationship, and it offers an insightful thought:
A tendency to criticize and judge yourself usually results in being critical of others. Compassion for oneself is more likely to result in compassion for others.” 

Let us all have more compassion for ourselves this fall.

My next classroom will have the version of me who is learning to like everything about myself, who celebrates the imperfections and works to keep changing and become the best person I know I can be. Will my classroom be perfect? Of course not. But I know now that I am on the path to a great, loving, and compassionate classroom.

 

*I need to make a disclaimer here, I do not want my words to be taken as “Wow, all Jeremiah does is like himself and everything in his classroom just works!” That is absolutely not the case. While this is the foundation for a successful classroom, all the pieces mentioned above are absolutely needed to create a smooth classroom. Liking yourself is simply the foundation.*

They don’t need me anymore

This winter break I was fortunate to return home to New Mexico. I visited with family and friends and rekindled my spirit which was burning low for a few months. It is amazing how being around people who love and care about you can change your wellbeing.

I also visited my former elementary school that I taught at last year. I can’t begin to tell you how exciting it was to see my former students. For a whole day, I felt like a celebrity, walking into classrooms and seeing children light up, scream my name, and give me more hugs than you can imagine! Throughout the course of the day as the excitement died down, I was able to talk to all my students and have amazing conversations with them that picked up right where we left off, it felt like no time had passed.

As I was watching my students and talking with them I came across an important realization that I feel could only come from leaving the school and returning months later: they don’t need me anymore.

Everything I taught and gave them has come to fruition. I gave them everything they needed to succeed, both academically and emotionally. As I watched them interact with their peers and teachers, I was just in awe of the self-confidence and self-efficacy they exuded. I had done my job; I was able to see the fruits of my labor.

They are doing fine without me! For the time that I was their teacher, we had great times, hard times, and everything in between. And now as they grow up and go beyond third grade, I am able to get some closure in my life that as a teacher, I have fulfilled my duty to these students by giving them everything they needed from me. The ups and downs we experienced together produced students that are well on their way to becoming some remarkable human beings.

Back to Blogging

My last post was in August, and since then I started at my new school, and it hasn’t been the easiest year, which caused me to not post anything for a while. Thankfully, things have simmered down a bit and I have a lot I want to share that has been on my mind, and I am hoping over the next few weeks to get back into blogging!

Gentleness and kind persuasion win; where force and bluster fail.

Growing up I had a large anthology of Aesop’s Fables. I had read it so much I still have several memorized: The Goose and the Golden Egg, The Eagle and the Beetle, the wolf in sheep’s clothing, and The Fox and the Stork.

One of my favorites is The North Wind and The Sun. Let’s read it together!

The North Wind and the Sun had a quarrel about which of them was the stronger. While they were disputing with much heat and bluster, a Traveler passed along the road wrapped in a cloak.

“Let us agree,” said the Sun, “that he is the stronger who can strip that Traveler of his cloak.”

“Very well,” growled the North Wind, and at once sent a cold, howling blast against the Traveler.

WIND_AESOP

With the first gust of wind the ends of the cloak whipped about the Traveler’s body. But he immediately wrapped it closely around him, and the harder the Wind blew, the tighter he held it to him. The North Wind tore angrily at the cloak, but all his efforts were in vain.

Then the Sun began to shine. At first his beams were gentle, and in the pleasant warmth after the bitter cold of the North Wind, the Traveler unfastened his cloak and let it hang loosely from his shoulders. The Sun’s rays grew warmer and warmer. The man took off his cap and mopped his brow. At last he became so heated that he pulled off his cloak, and, to escape the blazing sunshine, threw himself down in the welcome shade of a tree by the roadside.

SUN_AESOP

Gentleness and kind persuasion win where force and bluster fail.

(Aesop for Children (translator not identified), 1919. Illustrations by Milo Winter (1886-1956). Available online at Project Gutenberg.)

I’ve belonged to many organizations in college and in my career and I have seen similarities with how people want to accomplish goals. I notice there are people who are The North Wind, and those who are The Sun. It’s so easy to have a goal and want to get it with no holds barred. A lot of people I have worked with were so hung up on their goal that they became angry and bitter when they didn’t accomplish it. They didn’t succeed. And I had to make the choice to stop listening to them. Because while they had good intentions, they let anger set in, and couldn’t face the facts and see that their focus was damaging the very thing they set out to do.
Like the North Wind, who wanted so badly for the traveler to remove his cloak, he was hyper-focused so much on himself he couldn’t see his actions were having the opposite effect.

I am thankful to have worked with people who are like the Sun. They have a goal in mind, but instead of force, they use persuasion and persistence to get the job accomplished. Does it happen immediately? No. In the fable, The Sun shines for a while before the traveler takes off his cloak. At first the cloak was lowered, then he mopped his brow, and finally, he took off his cloak. The Sun was persistent. He knew that as long as he kept shining at a steady rate, the traveler would take off his cloak.

Another difference between The North Wind and The Sun is perspective. The North Wind was focused only on the traveler. The Sun, however, was focused on the larger picture. He didn’t focus on the traveler. He knew that by warming everything around the traveler (including the traveler), the effect would result in the traveler removing his cloak. He had his eyes set on something larger.

We all have been the North Wind at some point, and we all have been The Sun.

What I hope is that whenever we are fighting for a cause, raising awareness, or simply working on a project; that we will focus on having our goal in mind, but instead of becoming hyper-focused and possibly becoming angry, that we will have persistence, gentleness, and persuasion, and a broader view of what is happening to accomplish what we set out to do. This might be misinterpreted as saying you can’t be mad or even angry about something, particularly an injustice. That is not the intention here. Anger is a natural emotion, but acting on it can wreak havoc. Check out this article on what happens to your body when you become angry: http://tvblogs.nationalgeographic.com/2014/08/15/10-facts-about-how-our-brain-gets-angry/

Taking a moment to breathe and calm down is essential because it allows for logic and reasoning and clear thinking to set in.

My hope is that whenever we come across a problem or situation that we will be The Sun, and act in kind persuasion and gentleness, and logic and reasoning. If we do that, we can accomplish what we put on our minds and hearts.

I can’t give teaching my all

Yesterday my friend Ben got married, it was a wonderful ceremony and reception. As Ben and his wife were making their rounds of thank yous, I got to chat with Ben for a while. We talked about our experience working in hospitality together and I had asked if he ever thought about going back to which he responded “no way!”  We both agreed the industry is brutal and you can really work yourself to death. Which was meant as a joke but we remembered that actually happened to my boss, Jade. She worked herself to death.

Ben and I worked together at a hotel in Albuquerque many years ago. He worked the front desk and I worked in housekeeping, cleaning the public areas of the hotel; we both worked the evening shift. While I enjoyed working with Ben and others at my hotel, the hospitality industry is brutal. Late nights, extreme physical labor, violent guests, minimal pay. The list goes on and on. Jade, my boss, was a woman who was a perfectionist, which is a good trait to have when you are housekeeping supervisor. It may seem that housekeepers only clean rooms, but that work is exhausting. Every room must meet certain standards, and making 10 beds a day is no easy feat. Whenever you stay in a hotel, please leave a tip and a note that says how well the room was made up, because it means a lot to the housekeepers. At our hotel we would hang up all the notes on our bulletin board, it made our jobs a little easier.

Jade was proud of the work she did and how well the hotel was cleaned. She would often stay late doing more chores, or come in early, and overwork herself. During October she came in when she was sick and we all told her to go home and rest, she of course didn’t listen. One day in January Jade was sick again with bronchitis and kept coming in to work. I got a text on my day off saying that Jade didn’t report for work in the morning, and they went to her apartment and found her body. It was later revealed that she had died because of complications with her bronchitis. She had given work her all, and she had literally worked herself to death.

Going back to work was the hardest thing I had to do. Walking into our housekeeping office and truly feeling an absence is a feeling that can only be described as intense and powerful.

After her death I left the hotel because I was beginning to student teach and finish my degree. Her death stayed with me a long time and I came up with three things I learned from her dying: (copied from a post on a different social media platform)

The first is that death does not wait for anything. It can come at any time, place, age, and certainly not when expected, despite our human efforts, we can not control this great force. The second is that because of this, we need to take time to enjoy everything we have in this life (which sounds cliché) but our lives are far too short not to express daily gratitude for everything we have. The third is that we need to take care of ourselves in all aspects, because we deserve the best that life has to offer.

I need to expand on that third point. We as teachers have got to take care of ourselves. I recently received a hilarious shirt from my friend and it says “Everything hurts, and I’m dying, but writing sub plans is worse!” That shirt is tongue-in-cheek humor that teachers would rather work when sick that create sub plans. It is a sad truth. I have worked many times when I should have stayed home. But it is more than working while sick. It is those extra nights where we stay “just a few more minutes.” Taking on extra school projects, more mandates from the state or district, working at home or on the weekends, or being bombarded with ridiculous deadlines. The list could go on.

Teachers are some of the hardest working people in our society, we work well beyond our contracts, it has almost become a societal norm to go beyond what is expected. But where do we draw the line between hard work and over working ourselves? For Jade, who gave her all to the hotel, crossed that line at a point of no return.

I am making a renewed commitment to myself this year that I can’t give teaching my all. I love this job, but it is not worth my life. I am renewing myself to be a passionate and healthy teacher, to create a better balance of life and work. I think we often forget, but teaching is a job. It may be our life calling, but at the end of the day it is work, and we have to create that balance. As a teacher, I often refer to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs so I can help my students achieve self-actualization through means of supporting their other needs (physiological, safety, love, etc)**. But the reality is I don’t check Maslow’s for myself, and I doubt other teachers do too. That is something that I need to change this year. If I want to be the best teacher for my students, I need to make sure my own basic needs are met too.

As we wind down summer and begin to get ready for the fall; make a renewed commitment to yourself to love teaching and your students, and to love and take care of yourself. Make a commitment to stay a little less late at school, block off times for yourself (or family/partner), when you are sick stay home. Take care of yourself, so you can take care of others. Do this for yourself, do this for Jade.

Here are some resources to help create a balance:

http://www.naeyc.org/tyc/article/taking-care-of-yourself

https://www.edutopia.org/discussion/7-self-care-strategies-teachers

http://www.mindfulteachers.org/p/self-care-resources.html

https://www.sagepub.com/sites/default/files/upm-binaries/7273_burke_ch_1.pdf

https://www.theguardian.com/teacher-network/teacher-blog/2014/nov/20/tips-teachers-happy-healthy-week

https://topnotchteaching.com/reflective-teaching/teacher-well-being/

** To see how you can use Maslow’s in your classroom, see these links:

http://www.changekidslives.org/actions-4/

https://www.edutopia.org/blog/addressing-our-needs-maslow-hierarchy-lori-desautels

 

Sometimes we don’t see the fruits of our labor

In our perfect utopia classrooms all students are learning, making great progress, and there are no behavior issues! Anything that comes up in the classroom we take care of it and it never re-occurs.

The reality of teaching, of course, is far from this idea, but we as teachers should still strive to give our students the best even if we don’t see the benefits and fruits of our labor at the moment.

Last year I had a student who I would say was a difficult student. Each week there was a different battle to fight, but I never stop giving up on this child. They needed love and care and support to become a better person, and even though each day I hoped they would come back and be a changed person that never happened in my year with them. But I didn’t give up.

Fast forward a year, I found a note written by them telling me how much I meant to them and how much they enjoyed their year in my classroom. I shared this with their parent and they wrote me back saying how much better their child is doing because of how much I helped them last year, and their child has really turned a new page in life. I see this child on campus, and they are a different person. The hardships of last year were worth it because I know that student is on the path to success.

I am learning that sometimes, we won’t see the fruits of our labor. And even so, I will continue to plant seeds that I know will grow in these students so they will become successful individuals, ready for anything.