'Shut Up!' and Other No-Nos
Master teachers tell you what they never, never (well, hardly ever) do.
By Alain Jehlen
Sometimes even a talented educator has to learn the hard way. So it was with Jennifer Locke. She's an accomplished, National Board Certified high school English teacher, but back in 1994, she was a green rookie. "I had no idea about classroom management," says Locke. "I had mostly freshmen, pretty good ones, but occasionally they really pushed my buttons. One day, a student was talking incessantly and trying to derail my lesson at every opportunity. Finally, I left the room crying.
"The next day, they spontaneously wrote me apologies—which I proceeded to shred in front of them (without reading). I was so mad! Later, I realized what a horrible choice I'd made. We all really liked each other. I should have accepted their apology instead of acting like a brat myself."
So number one on our list of no-nos is: Don't take normal adolescent behavior personally!
"Since that year, I have become as cool as a cucumber in the classroom," says Locke. "Nothing fazes me, so it is relatively easy to manage a class. With experience, you nip off-task behavior before it escalates."
Here's more from accomplished educators on what NOT TO DO:
FROM Glenda Blaisdell-Buck, middle school library media specialist, Charlotte, North Carolina:
Never back a student into a corner where he will lose face if he follows your directions.
You are dead in the water if you do, and you are the one who will lose face. I remember giving an ultimatum to a high school student and then realizing all his peers were looking at us, and he wasn't going to do what I asked. I can't remember exactly what backpeddling I did, but it was some pretty fast thinking of an alternative that we could both live with.
FROM Carl J. Clausen, elementary art specialist, Bellevue, Washington:
Never reprimand a student in front of peers.
So many students have stories of "bad" teachers who embarrass students in front of others. These can be traumatizing experiences they will remember.
Rather than admonishing a student when there's an audience, I will approach that student and, in close proximity, quietly ask, "What are you doing?" [Get a response.] "What are you supposed to be doing?" [Get a response.] "When will you start?"
This usually provides the attention the student is seeking, and it models appropriate interactions students can use with each other.
FROM Karen Fichter, ESL teacher, Raleigh, North Carolina:
Never set your expectations too low.
Children have a way of rising to the occasion. They want to be challenged. Expect the best from them and you'll get it!
As an ESL teacher, I often see teachers underestimate what the kids can do. I had several who, within three months of coming to this country, were reading stories in English and could summarize the main ideas to me in Spanish. Meanwhile, in science and social studies, they were coloring maps or copying lists of words to memorize. They could do so much more, but the other teachers didn't modify the language so they could understand it.
FROM Lynn E. Flood, 21st century literacy coach, Garner, North Carolina:
Never try to calculate your hourly rate of pay for teaching based on your actual effort in your job.
You'll end up depressed.
Never shop for "unmentionables" or "undiscussibles" in the same town where you teach.
Word (and sizes and brands) travels.
Never let them see you sweat.
Keep deodorant in your desk!
FROM Dan Hutton, first-grade teacher, Takoma Park, Maryland:
Don't leave an empty plan book on your desk during your first year of teaching.
I ended up being required to turn my plans in to the principal in advance.
Don't leave five minutes before the end of your contracted hours.
(Especially if you have an empty plan book on your desk.)
Don't forget to clamp the top of the python cage.
(Assuming you're lucky enough to be allowed to have a snake in your room.)
All it takes is one time and you have a missing snake. Monty was about three feet long and perfectly harmless (except to mice). Colleagues told me my principal went searching through the leaves outside calling, "Here, Monty... Here, Monty...."
Logic dictated that Monty would have slithered into the nearest dark space, and that's where I found him a week later, in my closet. I took him home after that.
Maybe you can say, 'Shut Up'
I never say, "Shut up," to my students. Never. Well, never until after I tell them I love them. When a student is being particularly goofy in class, when I've told him to refocus, be quiet, when I'm on my last nerve, I will lean down on his desk, look closely at him and say, "I love you. Now please, shut up." I use the same tone of voice for both contradictory messages. Soon it becomes a class joke: Any time I tell a student, "I love you," the class chimes in, "Shut up." Then, I only have to say, "I love you," to control that occasional hyperactive, loud student. The behavior stops. No one misinterprets my message: I love my students! Claudia Swisher, High school English teacher, Norman, Oklahoma
Illustration: David Clark, Photo: Nate Billings