Friday, September 23, 2011

Year 2: Week 3 - “We Need To Have A Talk”

Along with the excitement of a new school year comes the “talks.” I’m talking about those moments when you need to take a student aside and let them know why they need to adjust their behavior and the consequences of their actions. There’s a lot of different ways people refer to this but for this entry I’m just going to refer to them as “talks.”

It seems this year I’m having a lot of talks, sometimes multiple ones daily with different students. Sometimes these talks have to be given to an entire class. The tone of these talks are usually serious and while I haven’t made any kids cry this year from giving one of these talks in one instance I came close.

What does this look like? Well, earlier this week I caught a boy throwing a football in the hallway. I confiscated the football and when he asked me when he’d get it back I told him I’d think about it and let him know later.

About five minutes later, this fifth grader came up to me whining about me taking the football away and tried to convince me to give it back to him. Not once in our exchange did this student apologize or show any understanding of the legitimate reasons I had for taking the ball away. So I let him have it. I Playing ball in the halls is not allowed and he knows the consequences. I wasn’t joking around and I tried to impress on him that he needed to take responsibility for his actions.

Understanding the seriousness of my actions he left me alone. A couple minutes later one of his friends jokingly tried to convince me to give him the ball back. Talk #2: explaining how this was an issue that had to do his friend and not him and that his joking approach to me was inappropriate at this time.

Then there was the class that in the first part of music showed great responsibility and ability to follow directions setting up and participating in a drum circle. Every student carried the drums appropriately and I was really pleased with how closely they listened and attended.

After we cleaned up I asked them to sit-up on the carpet towards the front of the room to watch a film clip. Approximately 5 out of 18 students followed that set of directions.

I had kids lying across chairs, lying on the floor and sitting in the back of the room. So I gave them a group talk. They demonstrated they could follow directions clearly, and when I gave them a simple one, they just didn’t follow through.

I told them it was like turning on your television. When you press the on button four times and the television turns on and off you begin to expect that it can do that every time. So when you press the button the fifth time and it doesn’t work, you get annoyed. And I expressed to my class how annoying I was and a waste of time it was that they did follow through on a simple task.

What I was careful to express in both cases was that I was annoyed that this situation happened because I knew they could do better through actions they had demonstrated earlier. I wasn’t talking about them as people; I was talking about choices they were making. The more clear I am with directions and expectations the harder I feel I can come down on students.

I don’t get some evil glee out of having these talks but I feel satisfied knowing that I was able to have a talk with students appropriately.

I tell my students that I can’t help but be honest and if I see something that bugs me I have to point it out. Here’s the thing. It’s not about training students to be perfectly quiet all of the time. It’s about helping them understand the reasons things are done and are expected so that they can take ownership of their actions.

This is why I take the time to have talks and not just throw consequences at kids. Yes, getting a harsh talk from a teacher is a consequence in itself, but taking the time to really explain to student and get their impression of the event is what’s important.

The reason I refer to these encounters as “talks” is because I want them to talk to me about what happened and how they feel. I want to understand how I can best help them to make better choices in the future. This takes so much more time, but it’s worth it.

There’s nothing more valuable then taking the time to creating and developing relationships with students. That’s really at the core of what teaching is all about.

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