Sunday, August 11, 2013

How I spent my weekend...

This morning my pastor said, "Oh! Your kids are with their grandparents?  So you're on vacation too!"  Well, only sort of.  My husband and I spent the bulk of our weekend in my classroom getting ready for school to start.  I am thrilled, because the job he did was one I couldn't have done by myself, and wouldn't have done as well.

At our school, the students used to be required to leave their back-packs in the hall.  Now that each of them has been assigned a computer, they are forbidden to leave their bags on the floor, or unattended, which creates a whole lot of mess in the aisles.  Even when bags are tucked carefully under chairs and desks, the errant strap inevitably sneaks into the aisle - and trips me every time.     

The other problem with bags in the room is that they are accessible.  Always. So who needs to have their pencils ready on their desks when you can just hunt for one whenever it occurs to you?  Why not try to sneak chips during class if you're hungry?  And look, here's something interesting sticking out of your bag that I'd like to pull out and discuss with you!  {sigh...}

I've decided that this might be the single best space decision I've made.   Ben hung coat-hooks - 35 of them - evenly spaced along two walls.  He even painted them the color he painted the walls last year, and used his open paint-bucket to touch up places that tape and finger-prints had marred the walls.  The space already looks cleaner than it has all week.

I'm supposed to get furniture on Friday, which is good because school starts Monday!

Things I'm thinking:
1) number them, and assign them, so there's no jostling for position when they come in.
2) Leave a couple near outlets open for students who ask if they can charge their computers during class.  They'll be able to plug the computers in while still in their bags, still hanging nicely out of the way!

Any other thoughts or suggestions?


Edit:  Seven days in, and I conclude that this was in fact the best classroom management decision I made.  I numbered them, randomly assigned numbers, and insist they use them.  I asked the students to gather their math supplies - including an INB - in a ziploc, and the baggie is the only thing that's allowed to come to their desk.  It's working FABULOUSLY.  Far better than I imagined.  I can walk in the aisles, easily see if they leave something behind, and generally manage the "stuff" that they seem to require constantly.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

No Banana Hat...

As I trek into more and more group work, I have struggled with a signal to pull the class back together.  (This was the only direct criticism I received from my principal last year, and I want to get it right this year!)  At my school, they clap.  The teacher claps a rhythm, and the class repeats it. Sometimes this repeats with different rhythms until not only is everyone quiet and listening, but everyone is actively engaged.  This works remarkably well in an auditorium full of kids, and is seriously fun to listen to, but never seemed to fit in my classroom.

One of the elementary teachers shared this week that she says, "Class, class!" and they answer with "Class, class!"  and then they are quiet after.  I really like this, except that she is stunningly beautiful and sophisticated and the simple statement really suits her.  I don't think I can pull it off.

I thought maybe a meme.  I'd say, "Who's got time for that?" and they would say, "Ain't nobody got time for that!"  (   or maybe I'd say, "One man's trash..." and they'd say, "is another man's come up!" (from the Macklemore song "Thrift Shop")    When I shared my idea with our gifted specialist, she cautioned that choosing a particular meme risked isolating subcultures within the population, and would have to change regularly to keep up with how swiftly memes morph - my ideas are already dated, frankly.

She said, "just make sure everybody gets it."  To that end, I've decided to show them a cartoon that has made me laugh since I saw it on a greeting card in college, and I am quite sure none of them has ever seen.  It's by Rupert Fawcett, and I got this image from his Facebook page here. 

I will say, "No banana hat," and they will say, "no dinner."  I think it's just silly enough that it will get their attention, and it does not run the risk of becoming quickly dated, since the cartoon is 20 years old anyway!

Now, all that being said, feel free to chime in with other suggestions.  This is going to be a very important piece of my classroom management, and I want something good.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Book Review: Payne's Framework for Understanding Poverty

One of the things that was most striking to me about last year - compared to my previous experience many years ago - was how completely undisciplined the students seemed to be.  And I don't mean that no one else disciplined them, but that they had no self-control.  A student would walk in to the classroom and, with no recognition that everyone else in the room was actively engaged in something, announce that they were late because they'd been to the bathroom.  Students were constantly touching me, touching my things, picking up stuff off my desk and setting it down somewhere else.  In a perfectly quiet room, waiting for someone to answer, students had no problem announcing that they had a thread hanging from their sleeve, but could probably just break it off with their teeth.  It boggled the mind, what these students took for appropriate behavior.

I had decided about a quarter into the year that I was going to have to add study skills to my list of objectives; I took for granted that seventh graders would know how to do things like keep a notebook, write down an assignment, or look back at examples in order to complete new work.    Somewhere in the third quarter, I realized I was going to have to add a few more:

1) Don't be an asshole.
2) Don't touch my stuff.
3) Don't be an asshole about not touching my stuff.

Seriously, it will be just as important to these kids down the road if I can help them learn appropriate classroom behavior as to learn ratios and proportions.

And then, in May, my principal and I were talking about equity and un-tracking, and she gave me a
book that I wish I'd read a year ago.  A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Dr. Ruby Payne.  It was remarkable.  Truthfully, reading it a year ago might not have done me as much good.  Reading it 
now, I was able to mentally point to students in each chapter.  "Aha!" I said, "That's why she acts like that.." "That's why he says that stuff."

Please don't get me wrong.  While I did grow up very middle-class, I was not isolated from poverty.  My parents grew up in Appalachia, and I spent much of my childhood there.  My husband and I intentionally bought a house in a run-down neighborhood and for the last 14 years I've watched a parade of single parents, welfare recipients, addicts, dealers, and prostitutes move in and then out of the house next door to us.  From each of these individuals and their situations, I have grown in my understanding, and in my compassion for the challenges many people face.

But - for all of my understanding of poverty as it affected (those) individuals - it wasn't until I read this book that I began to identify aspects of the culture of poverty.  The language, emphasis, values, and rules of the culture.  And from there, to understand how the culture affected their behavior and attitudes - and my classroom.

I can't summarize the entire book, and I'm not sure I can even adequately articulate the ways that I have internalized the ways that it has changed my thinking, but it HAS.  The best I can do is to recommend that you read it, too.  If you have even a small part of your population that comes from poverty, it's worth checking out.