Who knew that delegation to students in the classroom would actually improve management? Up until this week, every bone in my body shouted to me that allowing my students to carry out any of the responsibilities traditionally held by the teacher would create a more peaceful classroom. Yet, with the new semester, I figured it was about time to leap into unknown classroom management territory.
Part of the reason why I was so reluctant to “let go” was that I like to be in full control of whatever it is that I’m doing. In short, if something is not done “right” (as I define it), I feel uncomfortable. Because of this, I’m less likely to give up control in the first place. (I hope I’m not the only who has these feelings.)
But, I recently committed (partly through the inspiration of a fellow CM at my school) to giving students some control over two things over which I had previously torn my hair out:
First, I let my students grade themselves on their participation and behavior in class. At the beginning of each week, in addition to the regular Do Now! tracker, students receive a weekly self-evaluation form. This form contains 10 categories in which students evaluate themselves on a 1-10 scale. Did you arrive on time? Did you complete class handouts? Did you participate in a positive way? Did you remain seated? Did you refrain from using electronic devices? Did you support your classmates? I tell them to be honest with themselves–and they try.
But here’s an anecdote that shows the beauty of this system. AJ, a new student in my 11th grade class, came in the second day with a serious attitude problem. She strolled in 15 minutes late with her iPod on and her phone out, all while singing loudly. When I asked her to quietly get started on the Do Now, she said “shut up, I’m not talking to you.” I told her to speak respectfully and she told me to go away. I decided I’d let her little show of defiance slide–at least, that is, until the end of the period.
In the last 5 minutes, I asked everyone to take out their self-evaluation trackers and grade themselves. I told myself that I would make sure that AJ wrote a 0; telling a teacher to shut up and go away is crossing the line. AJ, already aware that she had not been “fully” respectful, gave herself a 7. When I came over to stamp her paper, in the “acts in respectful manner at all times (words and gestures)” category I crossed out her 7 and put a 0 while whispering, “AJ, I know you can do better than this.” At this point, she threw a fit: “Mr. K, you can’t give me a 0! I was only disrespectful for a few seconds at the beginning of class! This is ridiculous!” I told her, “fine, here,” and changed her 0 into a 2. This made her fume even more. She loudly argued with me, but I didn’t budge. She accepted her unexpected, humiliating defeat.
Yesterday, AJ came to class with a determined demeanor. She wasn’t necessarily “perfect,” but it seemed like something had changed in her attitude. In fact, it felt odd; I was waiting for the moment where she would pounce and “get me back” for the previous day’s embarrassment. Yet, she never did pounce. Instead, at the end of the period, I noticed that she gave herself an 8. As I walked up to her, AJ said, “I was good today.” I smiled at her, “yes, you were. Thank you.” Then, I crossed out her 8 and scribbled in a 10.
Today, AJ was an angel.
Second, I let my students monitor each other’s behavior using the respect bell. In each period, there are a couple bold individuals who help police the rest of the class. When profanity slips out of one mouth, WW informs, from across the classroom, that “that comment was disrespectful,” leans forward, and presses the bell. When students say or do inappropriate things, I casually approach the bell while I hear shouts of “NOOOO!!!” in the background. After the “ding,” students shriek “Mr. K, you can’t do that again!” My response: “be respectful and you won’t have to worry.”
The lesson here is that, sometimes, one needs to “just let go, just let go, just, let it go.” I need to stop trying to do everything myself. My students are more than willing to help me, as long as I frame the task at hand in a creative, attractive way. Furthermore, if students feel like they have a stake in what happens in the classroom, they are more likely to respond positively. They will like the teacher more, too (heck, I am letting them grade themselves for about 10% of their final grade!).
Now that I’m taking educational psychology in grad school, I’m realizing that all of these theories that I’ve had in my mind about how adolescents behave and learn have some basis in “research.” (However, I must note that I generally disdain this abstract idea of “research” “proving” things.) Moreover, I’ve realized that teaching is more than just “teaching.” A teacher needs to understand the classroom dynamic that is almost entirely contingent on the set of individuals that reside in the room.
In fact, I think that what I find so attractive about teaching–beyond, of course, the potential to help students succeed in life–is that a teacher must constantly solve ever-evolving, complex problems of human behavior. The profession of teaching, without a doubt, challenges you to be quick on your feet, responsive to actions as they occur, aware of one’s surroundings and clear about what you say. But, being the social science major that I am, I find that teaching is ultimately about understanding people and how they interact with each other.