This one's for you...teachers!
The bell rings, high-schoolers pour into the choir room. By the piano in the middle of the space, I stand, taking attendance as they enter, trying to get a grasp of names in a moment, as I greet the individual. There is a ruckus behind me at the door, spilling into the hallway. Before I reach the doorway to see what’s the commotion, a few boys push their way past me into the room, followed by a girl who then smacks one of the boys in the face.
It is now.
At this moment.
When the role of the "teacher" is defined.
Merriam-Webster defines teacher as "a person or thing that teaches something." This is a drastic misnomer. Yet, I can tell you, unfortunately, from years of experience, there are many among us who live up, or should I say, live down to that definition.
Now, back to the moment above. This sort of behavior is not uncommon in the high school classroom; though how we react to that moment can change the course of the entire year. The way I see it, you have two options, and a fraction of a second to decide:
WRONG! Because then, what happens to the girl and the boy who were sent out of the room? They go to the office, the parents/guardians are called, a meeting may happen, suspension possibly... but really, what purpose does all of that serve? Nothing and no one. Because what you’ve now inadvertently done, is create two enemies. They did not get to participate in that lovely lesson you planned. They spent that time, instead, being reprimanded, or punished, and now these students have a tainted view of you and your class. It may not happen overnight, or after one instance, but I can pretty much guarantee, that these two students are going to get into it again, and a brutal cycle begins.
Or, you could go with option two. In the moment, it seems that this strategy would not benefit the group. You would speak with the individual, while the rest of the class works on something independently or in small groups, but that awesome lesson you created is pushed aside. Well, that’s the thing - I believe you must take time to make time. Instead of trying to preserve the lesson, make an effort to connect with these students and get at the root of the issue. Now, this might not be possible; these students could just be that stubborn. They may continue to have a bad attitude, being a nuisance in the class. If that’s the case, you can at least say you tried, and what’s more, the students see you as someone who makes an attempt to understand where they are coming from, and doesn’t just blindly punish the observable behavior.
The earlier vignette was a moment from a day I substitute taught for a high school choir teacher. Even though I was “just” a sub, I did take that moment to talk to the girl. I told her that she had a choice in the situation, in how to react. I explained that we always have a choice, and to give in to that knee-jerk reaction, is to give that other person power over you, allowing him to influence you negatively, therefore bringing you down. I gave her this empowering pep talk, even though it took away from class-time. A colleague witnessed this, and later noted that after this one-on-one chat, the student participated more in the class than she ever had before.
I don’t have all the answers, I don’t presume to be an expert, but in my years as a classroom teacher and now as a substitute teacher and resident/visiting Teaching Artist, I have learned a lot. Any insight I deem valuable and worth sharing, I will, and hope that someone out there benefits from my experiences.