When classes are too big

This is not a complaint post in the traditional sense.  In fact, some may be surprised by what I have to say.  My classes are all sitting at about 33 students.  My classroom has 36 drop down lab stations meaning my classes cannot go over 36.  I am fine with taking up to 36 students–I know, that may sound insane, but it is the truth.  3 of my 6 classes are level 3 on-level, and I am the only person on my campus who teaches that course so far this year.  We are 3 weeks in, and the 3 honors students are dropping like flies.  The solution from Admin is to combine 2 classes of 3H (and redistribute a few of those students), then open another section of level 3 on-level with a different teacher.  Then some of my students will be shifted to the new section with someone else.  It is the only solution to leveling out the on-level classes, but that does not make it any easier.

Now let me preface the next part with something that must be said: this teacher who will add a section of on-level is FABULOUS!  I adore her as a friend, colleague, mentor and teacher.  The students are LUCKY to get her and she will love them as much as I do too.  Still, I am sad to lose any of my students :(.  I am not sad because I think they won’t succeed with someone else.  I am sad because I have invested so much in them, and am already in love with my classes.  I know I am being selfish though.  Class size definitely can affect student success when students struggle.  I know in my heart that it is better for them to be in smaller classes to receive more individualized attention.  Nevertheless, I will miss anyone who is moved from my class.

This type of thing happens a lot in elementary school.  In fact, I recently heard from some friends about losing teammates 2 weeks in.  The enrollment was not high enough so they combined classes at that school and transferred the teammates to another campus that had higher enrollment.  That’s rough!  Not only did they lose their students, but their whole school and friends.  At least I am not in the market to lose all of my students.  How awful that would be!!!!

Right now, nothing is set in stone.  Our Admin is awesome and respectful of our wishes.  She agreed to give it a weekend to see what happens as performanc-based quiz grades go in.  We want to see if that inspires students to stay in 3H or drop down to on-level.  So I am still holding onto hope that only 1 or 2 more drop so I can keep them all.  If you are a praying person, pray that the students stop dropping! 🙂  Thank you!

And yes, I know I am crazy.  I have 192 students right now, and am willing to add more :).

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The Detention Queen Abdicates

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Every year, I average 10 detentions the first week of school.   Almost all are after a private warning of, “I need you to stop talking or you’ll get a detention” when students test just how true to my word I am.  See this post for a more detailed explanation and my true feelings about detentions.  As a level 2 and 3 teacher, I always have some students for 2 years.  On the second day, my second-year-students asked me, “How many detentions have you given out already Mrs. Barber?”

This year, I have not even discussed consequences with my classes.  Not once.  We spent the entire first week setting the tone and team building.  We jumped into curriculum week 2, and I have not given many independent activities.  During the couple we’ve had, I have not had to warn anyone to stop talking.  Everyone did what was expected of them.  Every. Single. Student.  However, I have had to give out 3 detentions due to inappropriate language that I just could not ignore (students, do not say bad words when a teacher is nearby!!!!)

I had to have a substitute on Friday so that I could proctor credit by exam for native and heritage Spanish speakers at my school.  Normally, before I have a sub, I go over my expectations and warn them that if the sub writes a name down, that student will get a detention.  This time, I changed my speech.  In every class, I told the truth.  I said my sub is my good friend and a mentor to me, she knows Spanish, and she’s super-excited to spend the day with my students because she knows many of them from other sub jobs, and she automatically loves my students because she loves me.  I did not mention anything negative whatsoever.  I kept it positive and got the best sub report of my entire career.   At lunch on Friday, she told me that she kept asking the classes if they were always this wonderful–my morning classes are on-level.  At the end of the day, she said there were not enough words to compliment how perfect the day was.  I cannot wait to tell my classes tomorrow!  I cannot wait to brag on them!

I tried something new this year, and it worked.  I know that some teachers thought I was crazy to “waste” an entire week when we have so little time to get in all of the curriculum.  I’m a realist who maintains her ideals.  I know the value of having my students on my side.  I did what was necessary to make that happen.  We will catch up curriculum-wise.  Setting the tone is crucial and not something that can easily be altered if not begun properly.  I want to look back on this year as my favorite.  I want that every year, and this year may give all my other favorite years a run for their money :).

So, I guess the Detention Queen has to pass the title on to someone else.  I’m prepared to give them out if I need to, but I know that people give you what you expect.  I took a week to show my students how important they are to me and that I genuinely care about them.  Additionally, I have held them to high standards as students and people, and so far, every day has been a wonderful blessing.

I hope and pray that all my teacher friends near and far are having as much fun as we are in my classes this year!

Hi, my name is Laura-Jane Barber, & I want my students to like me!

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It was my first year of teaching.  The “right” thing to say to stay off the radar was, “I don’t care if my students like me.”  I even said that phrase back then.  But… It was all a lie.  I have always wanted my students to like me because I like them.

Don’t get me wrong, I know respect is more important, but it’s much easier to gain respect from someone who likes you.  We are taught to be mean at first, “don’t smile until Christmas,” and maybe that works for some, but it’s not me.  I’m cheerful, enthusiastic and excited to hangout all day with my high schoolers.

My first year of teaching, I think I got lucky.  I had relatively easy students to manage–which was a blessing as I was a traveling teacher with 2 schools and 6 classrooms while pregnant.  God knew my limits.  My second year was the year that fell apart.  I had disrespectful students, and at first I gave too many warnings that made it impossible to follow-through later.  I got trapped by, “well you let so-and-so have 5 warnings, I only got 1.”  How do you argue with something that is irrefutably unfair?  I learned the value of doing what I say I’m going to do from day 1.

I know there are a lot of new teachers out there and teachers who have had a year of bad classroom management.  I want to offer hope and advice to prevent anyone from having a year like I did my second year.

The reality is, you can be nice, but firm.  I am friendly and laid-back in my classroom, but that should never be mistaken for an attitude of not caring what students do.  Students realize this, when someone decides to test just how flexible my attitude is.  So for starters, be prepared for someone to test you this week.  When it happens, do not show any anger, be very matter of fact.  You did ___, per school policy, I must now give you ___ consequence.  If possible, handle the situation as privately as possible–I go to the student in question and quietly warn him/her, and if the behavior continues, I revisit and ask to speak with him/her after class.  After class, I give him/her a detention form to complete.  Often, students do not know what to write.  For example, “talking” is the number one reason a student writes.  I always act shocked, “Talking!  This is a Spanish class; you have to talk.  I would NEVER give a detention for talking in a Spanish class.”  Eventually, they figure out something along the lines of, “talking at an inappropriate time,” and I sign and date it.  Sometimes, there are tears.  Inside, I want to cry with them.  I want to say, “Oh, it’s okay, I forgive you!!!!  Forget about the detention!” but that will get me nowhere.  Stay firm.  Follow-through.  I promise that they will still like you.  This is not just about liking.  It’s about trust.  By following through, students know they can trust you to mean what you say.  Every single year I have at least one student who tells me at the end of the year, “I thought I was going to hate this class when you gave me that detention the first week, but your class was one of my favorites.”

I’m not gonna lie, my heart strings always make me want to give just one more warning. I feel sad for the students.  However, I cannot give in to those feelings.  It’s like the quote I’ve seen circulating around Pinterest about dieting, “Don’t give up what you want most for what you want now.”  I want a positive, inviting, warm classroom climate most.  I will not give that up for wanting to avoid a student getting mad at me today.

If you thought homework was bad… Try punishment homework!

As I type, I am sitting next to my 6-year-old who has to re-write his school’s promise because he’s been talking too much in class.  It’s quite long, he doesn’t write well, and he’s already been “working” on it for 12 minutes.  Every time he complains, I say, “Next time, when your teacher has asked you to stop talking, remember how you feel right now, and keep your mouth shut,” (you’re welcome, Ms. Nelson).

Watching this process has me thinking though.  Right now, Gavin is angry at ME for making him do this.  Despite the fact that this is the result of his own actions, he is blaming ME for being the bad guy making him do this.  He’s six, I don’t expect him to 100% get that this is his own doing, but I am frustrated because I am handling another’s issue.  I am the one sitting here having to deal with an issue that’s happening in another teacher’s classroom.  I am giving up family time, dealing with a very angry child, and it’s not even my choosing.  I realize things are probably different in the elementary classroom, but in secondary, we are encouraged to handle student issues ourselves.  Why?  Because when you have someone step in to “help” you often undermine your own authority.  To clarify, I am not talking extreme circumstances which REQUIRE the assistance of an administrator–I’ve already had one of those this year when a kid was playing with a lighter in class.  As a whole, an issue such as “too much talking” should be handled with the teacher, perhaps also by calling home and/or setting up a detention.  I would NEVER send a student home with a punishment assignment.  I don’t even think we are allowed to do that at my school.  We cannot assign extra work for an individual unless it’s going to be graded and cannot grade a behavior.  If it’s a classroom management issue (which this obviously is), it should be handled in the classroom, NOT AT HOME!

I feel so bad for his teacher.  I have 7.5 years of experience, have made many mistakes, learned a lot of valuable lessons and have attended a plethora of amazing professional development seminars that are research-supported.  Not to mention the fact that I have done my own research–here’s a great article on consequences at school, note it does not say anything about sending the consequence home.  Plus, I’m extremely passionate about student-centered learning and classroom management.  Because of all of this, it is taking all of my willpower to not become that parent.  That parent who puts in her 2 cents on every little thing that happens.  While I am not happy with her choices, I also 100% recognize that she is doing what she thinks is best, and quite possibly is learning along her own teacher journey–my experience makes me sympathize and makes me unable to become that parent.  She said this is her second year at Gavin’s school (perhaps it is her second year ever).  My second year of teaching was my worst.  I learned so much by doing all the wrong things that year.

After over an hour and only 4 lines written, I allowed Gavin to stop.  Here’s the note I wrote to his teacher, explaining why he did not finish:

Ms. Nelson,

 As you can see, Gavin did not finish copying the Promise.  After spending over an hour on the assignment, I allowed him to stop. We discussed the importance of being quiet when asked not to talk and the importance of listening at school.

Feel free to have him finish the assignment with you if you feel it is necessary.  I told Gavin he may need to finish it with you at school.  Perhaps it would be beneficial for him to associate the consequence with school.

 In the future, please let me know if you have any issues with Gavin’s behavior, and he will lose privileges at home.  As a fellow teacher, I can understand your frustrations.  Gavin needs to be quiet and listen in order to learn and so that he does not negatively impact other students’ learning.

Please contact me with any further concerns.

Thank you!

~Laura-Jane Barber

I wanted to call her out on the inappropriateness of this assignment and wanted to say, “do not send anything else like this home.”  Hopefully, she will get the memo from my more subtle delivery.  If not, and another assignment like this comes home, I will be more explicit.

I also want to note, that despite my obvious opposition to this task, I made it clear to Gavin that I support his teacher giving him a consequence for his actions.  There’s nothing like having a parent undermine a teacher’s authority.  While I may state my opinion here to colleagues and other adults, I would NEVER say this in front of Gavin.  That would be more inappropriate than the assignment itself.

Nevertheless, from one teacher to another: handle your classroom management issues in your classroom.

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