Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Don't make me get my beat stick.

I reeeeally hate the fact that teaching in a public school means that I have to impose disciplinary consequences for kids who are basically just acting their age. I'm pretty fluffy-bunny when it comes to discipline at all, regardless of whether it's for kids or adults. I firmly believe that preventing bad behavior is both more effective and just generally better than imposing punishment after something happens.

This, however, is kind of a best-case scenario. You don't always have the opportunity to teach someone the good behavior you want them to practice, like when some asshat cuts you in line at the grocery store. Had I known this person in her earlier, more formative years, or even twenty minutes ago when she wasn't in the process of nearly crushing my toes while frantically racing to pay for her three shallots, Moxie, hard taco shells, nail polish remover, and light bulbs, I might have been able to share with her the notion that "cutting people in line is rude, and one ought not do it if one wishes to be looked upon fondly by surrounding strangers in public environs." Alas, my only recourse in a situation like this is to either make angry faces at her and hope that someone sympathizes, or turn into a ranting bitch and make the situation worse by trying to verbally shame the offender, inevitably just making her annoyed and in no way shape or form resolving the situation.

Working with seventh graders is EXACTLY like that, except that you do have some chance of modeling or setting expectations for good behavior. Kid wallops another kid in the face with a notebook ("because he was annoOOoying me!")? Okay, clearly I was relying on kindergarten teachers to set some ground rules about that one, but I am stuck playing disciplinarian now. You with the notebook? Go to the office and get yourself punished by someone with greater authority than I have. You with the oozing scratch on your eyelid? Go to the nurse, but when you come back, we're having a serious conversation about how to treat classmates.

At the best of times, I can spend little tidbits of transitional times modeling and explaining the kind of behavior I want to see. When we get back from a vacation, long weekend, snow day, etc... I usually start class by telling the kids how well I KNOW they can behave and focus on being awesome students. I use the word awesome a lot, possibly too much, but it's a hell of a lot better than one of my coworkers telling them to "act their age." Uhm, I'm sorry, thirteen and fourteen year olds ARE acting their age when they spend an entire class flirting with the guy they like by kicking him under the table, stealing his pencil, and whispering jokes that cause him to laugh and get yelled at by the teacher.

Maybe my disciplinary strength really lies in having reasonable expectations. When I read a passage with a character named "Gaylord Smitts," there are going to be giggles. Rather than screaming for them to be respectful, mature, or whatever, I say "yes, yes, that's a name that someone with a not-yet fully developed sense of social conscience would find humorous, so get it out of your system and let's get back to our reading." A few snickers make it out, and then they get embarrassed and we can move on. Lesson learned, situation squashed, and no harm done. Heck, our one student with parents who are gay looked smug, so I figure I did okay.

I guess where I'm going with this, Batman, is that if you do something just plain stupid, like allow cutsies in line at an ice cream stand on a really hot day on a boardwalk with jillions of screaming kids already waiting behind you, you deserve some kind of consequence. If you KNOW you're doing something wrong, or doing wrong by someone, nut up and accept some discipline. On the other hand, knowing not to in the first place saves everyone a lot of angst, so I will do my best to help you know right from wrong, acceptable from unacceptable, and face-punch worthy from not-face-punch worthy. Note: I'm firmly against any sort of physical consequences for poor behavior, save those accidentally caused by the misbehaving individual (i.e. stack of jostled stuff falling on head), but I can't be accountable for that guy you cut in the ice cream line whose kids have been screaming in his face for the last six hours.

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