Classroom management

Out of order

Keeping order in the classroom is essential for new teachers, writes Esther J. Cepeda in the Washington Post. But few teachers are taught effective classroom management techniques in ed school.

In my first full-time teaching job, a supervisor disabused me of the classroom-management silliness my teacher-preparation program had drilled into me.

A battle-hardened veteran devoid of educational mumbo jumbo, she gave it to me straight: Be firm, show ‘em who’s in charge.

My teacher-education program had sporadically and ineffectively preached what I called the mommy/best friend philosophy of classroom management. The idea was to coddle and entertain students into engagement, creating a bordering-on-party atmosphere to get kids actively learning.

A classroom should be “a collective of learners wherein everyone had equal standing,” she was told.

Ed schools don’t spend much time or energy teaching classroom management, charges the National Council on Teacher Quality in Training Our Future Teachers.

Social, emotional, but where’s the learning?

First graders react to the question, “What face do you make when your mother compliments you?” during a class session called “Feeling Faces” at Public School 24 in New York City. — Emile Wamsteker for Education Week

Teachers are using Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) to manage classes, reports Education Week.

Already dubious about SEL’s claims to make children nicer and prepare them for the 21st century, Katharine Beals sees SEL for classroom management as intrusive and manipulative.

It starts with an obvious tactic: “Giving students input in classroom rules and making them make amends and apologize when they hurt someone’s feelings.” Students also learn simple vocabulary words related to feelings, practice identifying their emotions and act out their feelings.

It all takes more time than a traditional incentives-based classroom management system, a teacher tells Education Week.

The program also invades students’ privacy, writes Beals.

Students convene for class meetings, during which they express their feelings and solve problems.

. . . Ms. Diaz said she has conversations with the class about not repeating what they hear from members of their “class family.” In addition, she explains that as a mandated reporter of child abuse and neglect, she must pass on certain information to counselors and administrators.

Also, Ms. Diaz said, she warns parents at the start of the year that their children may open up to her about what’s going on at home.

One activity sounds like “emotional abuse” to Beals.

Maria Diaz’s 5th graders were revisiting a lesson in social-emotional learning they’d done recently in which they drew pictures of themselves and then listened to a story. Each time students heard a “put-down,” or a hurtful statement about someone in the story, Ms. Diaz had them tear off a piece of their self-portraits in a show of empathy.

. . . The “put-downs” activity . . . brought much of the class to tears.

The goal is to make kids “more responsible and empathetic,” writes Beals. These are “two traits which the teachers we’ve read about, as well the architects of these programs, appear to be lacking in spades.”

“SEL-based classrooms also do not work for every child,” Ed Week admits. “Students with behavioral issues may require an extrinsic-rewards system or a more structured approach.”

Beals asks: “Why are we forcing students who don’t have behavioral issues to waste so much time on these privacy-invading, time-wasting exercises?”

Is SEL useful, harmless or manipulative?

Unprepared to teach

Olivia Blanchard quit Teach for America because the five-week training program hadn’t prepared her to teach “difficult” fifth-graders.

I had few insights or resources to draw on when preteen boys decided recess would be the perfect opportunity to beat each other bloody, or when parents all but accused me of being racist during meetings. Or when a student told me that his habit of doing nothing during class stemmed from his (admittedly sound) logic that “I did the same thing last year and I passed.” The Institute’s training curriculum was far too broad to help me navigate these situations. Because many corps members do not receive their specific teaching assignments until after training has ended, the same training is given to future kindergarten teachers in Atlanta, charter-school teachers in New Orleans, and high-school physics teachers in Memphis.

Katrina Ballard explains why she didn’t quit, despite feeling unprepared and overwhelmed.

She’d spent her five-week summer training working with second graders, but was hired to teach middle-school students in Denver.

 I struggled with behavior management, making connections with kids who grew up in realities far from my own, and the bureaucracy of working in a public school . . . I was failing at too many things for my ego and my body to handle.

But it wasn’t because she lacked traditional training, Ballard writes.

. . . about half of the incoming staff that year were fresh out of teaching school. They struggled with the same things I did. They found small successes and built relationships with their students, like I did. But TFA or not TFA — it didn’t make a difference.We all felt as though we were drowning.

. . . Teaching in many of our public schools is unsustainable, and many of the teachers don’t last, except for a few golden gems. When I left after my second year in May to come back to New York, about half of the rest of my school staff was quitting, too. Teaching is HARD. REALLY HARD. CAREER TEACHERS ARE SAINTS!

Ballard now directs teacher training at Democracy Prep, a network of New York City charter schools.

More states and teacher prep programs are requiring prospective teachers to pass an assessment of their classroom skills, reports Stateline.

Esquith’s new book geared to rookie teachers

Rafe Esquith, who teaches Shakespeare to low-income Hispanic and Korean fifth graders in Los Angeles, has come out with a new book, Real Talk for Real Teachers: Advice for Teachers from Rookies to Veterans

It includes a dialog on responsibility on the first day of class, writes Jay Mathews in the Washington Post.

A student asks to go to the bathroom. Esquith asks him whether he’ll run or slide down the stair railing. The student says he’ll walk.

Rafe: Why? Is running a bad thing? I love to run!

Student: Huh?

Rafe: There are wonderful places to run and make noise. Can anyone name some of them?

The class: The playground .?.?. the beach .?.?. the park .?.?.

Rafe: Exactly. So why are we walking quietly to the bathroom?

Student: You don’t want me to get hurt or disturb other classes.

Esquith asks the student if he’ll fool around in the bathroom, perhaps throw a wet paper towel on the ceiling or on the floor. The student says he’ll go, wash his hands with soap, throw the towel in the garbage and return.

Esquith asks what would happen if the student broke his trust by “running, disturbing the school or fooling around in the bathroom?”

 Student: I won’t be able to use the bathroom anymore.

Rafe: Nope. Of course you can go to the bathroom. But you will have to be accompanied by people to watch you, as you would not be ready to do things yourself yet. I think you are. Do you think you are?

Student: Yes.

He lets the student go to the bathroom. (Let’s hope it’s not too late.)

Picking (and avoiding) your fights

Education Realist, a high school math teacher, took off a student’s hat as a joke. Before she could return it, he stood and shouted at her, “Give me my damn HAT back.” In Picking Your Fights—Or Not, she tells the story.

“Sit down, BTS. Right now.” I was standing very, very still. He edged even closer.

“Give me the damn hat. You don’t take my hat.”

. . . “BTS,” I said very carefully, very clearly. “I promise you I was just kidding around. You hadn’t done anything wrong. I was going to hand it back to you. And you will have the beanie back the minute you sit down. But you do not tell me what to do.”

He said, again, “Give me the damn HAT BACK. NOW.”

She didn’t want to give back the hat till he sat down. She didn’t want to call a supervisor, which would risk a charge of “physically threatening a teacher.” Furthermore it was partly her own fault for messing with his hat.

Then she heard her other students telling BTS to calm down. One girl said, “I got to tell you, BTS, that’s a damn ugly hat to be going face to face for.”

They weren’t mocking him, laughing at him, making fun of him for letting me take his beanie. They were, god love each and every one of them, fully cognizant of the thin line we were on, and determined to walk BTS back.

Sabi, a usually quiet Afghani, said “BTS, you should sit down and get your hat back.” Kyle said “It’s spring break, man. You want to lose a second of it to the (detention) hallway?”

BTS sat down. She gave him the hat back.

Learning irresponsibility

Managing classroom misbehavior takes up way too much time, writes Ilana Garon, who teaches English in a Bronx high school. Students know they can get away with talking in class, hitting each other, walking around the classroom and then talking back to the teacher.

. . . these kids are 16, not six. At some point, no matter how difficult their upbringing, how uninvolved their parents, or how dry the material . . . high school students have to be held accountable for their own behavior. . . .  many times the kids can’t be engaged by even the most fascinating lesson–and, with virtually no consequences for non-violent infractions, teachers’ hands are tied.

New York City’s new discipline code will make it harder to suspend students for “disorderly behavior,” such as swearing and lying to teachers. Instead, principals will use reprimands, parent conferences and lunchtime detentions.

Calling home sometimes helps, but not for long, Garon writes. The school can’t afford supervised detention. Suspension “is often treated as a vacation by the kids.”

Immigrants from Jamaica and Ghana are “often appalled at the behaviors of American-born kids,” who take  education for granted. High school is free in the U.S., so it’s not valued, a Jamaican told her.

Garon dreams of “hard detention” (cleaning the school), suspension and “the threat of expulsion for the toughest repeat offenders.” If there are no consequences, students are taught that “even in their teenage years, they are not responsible for their own behavior.” That’s a dangerous message that will undermine their academic future and their employment prospects, Garon writes.

Teaching students to control their impulses and take responsibility for their actions should start in elementary school.

Teaching math to 11th and 12th graders who’ve failed the seventh-grade-level graduation exam, Michele Kerr has to manage “vortex” and “driftwood” students.

The quintessential disruptive vortex, Deon could single-handledly destroy half the class’s productivity if left undisturbed; his absence or isolation always left most of my “driftwood” students open to the idea of getting some work done.

(Yet) Deon was a math-solving machine who worked fiendishly once I isolated him from all other entertainment.

“Good” kids and “bad” kids “aren’t useful distinctions,” she writes on Larry Cuban’s blog.

Accountability for education schools

How well are ed schools preparing tomorrow’s teachers? The National Center on Teacher Quality will evaluate the quality of the nation’s 1,400 education schools.

. . . very little is known about the quality of teacher preparation programs—their selectivity, the content and pedagogical knowledge that they demand that their teacher candidates master, or how well they prepare candidates for the rigors of the classroom.

The review will be based on 17 standards “based on the highest caliber research on education and best practices of states and countries with excellent education systems” and vetted by national experts in a variety of fields.

NCTQ field-tested the methodology in analyzing education schools in Texas and Illinois.

U.S. News & World Report will publish the review annually, starting in the fall of 2012.

Alternative routes to teaching will be included only if they’re housed at education schools, writes Teacher Beat. That will exclude Teach for America and district-created teacher-prep programs.

Selling the idea to education deans may be difficult, Teacher Beat notes.

NCTQ’s Texas review was criticized by deans there even before the results came out.

In Texas, deans objected to the fact that the ratings were based on reviews of syllabuses and materials culled from websites rather than in-depth visits to schools. They argued that important topics might not be listed on such outlines. The forthcoming reviews are going to be based on a similar methodology, so anticipate more back-and-forth in this vein. (In fairness to NCTQ, ed. schools grumbled in the past about accreditation visits, too.)

NCTQ’s review will look at how well would-be teachers learn classroom-management skills, understand assessment and demonstrate expertise in their content area, among other things. In addition, programs will be judged on how well student teaching experiences are organized and whether the program collects data on graduates’ performance in the classroom.

Barnett Berry writes about building the 21st-century teaching profession in Ed Week.