Monday, October 25, 2010

Lesson #6 - I'm not a genius

I teach a class on both sides of a lunch break.  It's not uncommon for me to lose students over said lunch break: either they disappear to another class to catch up on missed work, get called down to speak to another teacher, do something at lunch that lands them in the principal's office, or nick off and force me to fill out a truancy slip.

I'd say that, with that particular class, on that particular day, I probably lose 3 on average over the double (more if they've been getting in trouble together).
So - opening the door on that particular day is a bit like a game, only it's not a lot of fun, and there are no winners.  On one particular day though, I'd had enough.  I was sick of people showing up late, or not showing up at all, and I took a stand.  I had a moment of inspiration and invention, and I created (tada!):

I'm a genius!  The "special late desk" seemed like a brilliant invention, and as my first latecomer (Doug) arrived, I put it to good use:
"Special late desk" win!  Doug suffered rather a lot of embarrassment as I plonked him in the front row, right in front of the board.  The little 'special late desk' note that I stuck on the top added just the right amount of "aw crap" that appeared on the young boy's face in the form of a cute little shade of pink.

Right then, I loved the special late desk.  I wanted to marry the special late desk.  I had grand dreams for the future, and all the magnificent times that the special late desk and I would have together.

Then there was another knock at the door:
The rest of the class were quite enjoying the humiliation of Doug, and as Nelly appeared in the door frame, a cheer broke out.  I must admit, I quite enjoyed it at first, until I realised that I only had one special late desk, and that Doug and Nelly were quite friendly.  I would have to invent another special late desk.

I'm a genius!  I manage to fit a second 'special late desk' into the front of the classroom with minimal disruption, and successfully embarrass a second student into showing up on time in future (at least for a week).  I even make a second little sign.  I begin to launch into my spectacular lesson when:

There is no escape. Another latecomer, and then another...
And it becomes evident.  I am not a genius.  I am an idiot.  I have, in total, six students come in more than 5 minutes after the bell, and I don't actually have enough 'special' desks to sit them at.  I flounder, and I give up, put them all down as partial truants, and with no forethought, move everyone out of the forth row.  I no longer have a special late desk, I have a special late row, and it's filled with troublemakers who I have now located in a central location.

Luckily, by the time I get to this point, the lesson is pretty much over, and I can start planning my next patent for the next lesson.

True Story.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Lesson #5 - No one puts Davey in the corner.

When I was still at university, I had to engage in practical 'prac' teaching.  I did so at 5 different schools over my degree, all of which were challenging in different ways.  At one particular school, I had the 'pleasure' of teaching an absolutely atrocious Year 10 class.  All but three of the students were male, and they pressed every single one of my buttons on a daily basis.  They were rude, aggressive, violent towards each other, and I was small, meek and mild, and I hadn't gotten into my teaching 'stride' just yet.

I'd learned fairly quickly that if I asked students to leave the room for a minute while they calmed down, they would do a bolt, so within a couple of days I came up with a new strategy - 'time out' in the corner of the room.  A time out would only last a minute, but the idea was that they were focused away from the rest of the class, and that, as they were so often acting like kindergarten kids, it was time that I treated them as such.

For several days, the 'time out' system was working for me.  A kid hit someone, or called someone a name, or called me a name - and I sent them to stand in the corner.  It actually ended up being a pretty ok spot for them, because the heater was right in the corner, so they could stand there and warm themselves up while contemplating why they shouldn't have dropped the F-bomb in class.

Of course, as a rule, behaviour management techniques often have short lived results.  It was winter during my prac, and fairly cold where we were (hitting a max of about 10 degrees Celsius on most days) and soon enough, being sent to the corner was a badge of pride.  It was warmer there than elsewhere in the classroom, and it meant that you had done something that upset the weak little pretend teacher.  In fact, the only kid who didn't like it was Davey, who didn't like anything but calling me names and giving me death stares.  Davey didn't like going to the corner, and I learned quickly, would do anything to NOT be there.

On one particularly chilly and hateful morning, I asked Davey to take his book out of his bag.  Davey felt it necessary to tell me where he'd like me to put his book.  Of course, he knew the rules, and at 10 minutes past nine, it was time for Davey to make his way to the time out corner.  Davey, as usual, was not impressed, and this time, he had a plan.

I can only image that it was a plan, because it was far too ingenius for him to have simply thought of on the spot.  Davey, simply looked at me, looked back at the heater, looked and me, and proceeded to unzip his fly and urinate into the gas heater.

It was about 45 seconds before I realised what had happened.  It apparently takes 45 seconds for urine to evaporate, and for the stench to fill a classroom. 

It takes another minute and a half following that for a teacher to evacuate 27 boys and 3 girls from a classroom, and 5 or 6 minutes for the defendant's best friends to agree to dob in their best friend to get out of a whole class lunch detention.

The classroom was put out of action for the day, and we didn't turn that heater on again for the next three weeks I was there.  He got a 48 hour suspension, and 30 kids froze to death for a month.

True Story.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Lesson #4 - Size Doesn't Matter (if you're a spider)

At one stage, I had a quite intelligent and capable class who were the top of the top in their particular subject in their particular year group.  They were lovely (though occasionally a little cocky), and often I miss having them around.  Often, not always.

On one particular occasion, when involved in a heated discussion a rather enlightening aspect of crime fiction, I was shocked and surprised by a blood curdling squeal from the back of my classroom.  Amanda seemed to have either just witnessed a violent murder, or was trying to compete with fingernails on a blackboard.  A shiver ran down my spine, and I spun around immediately to face her.

She was speechless, and her hand pointed to a spot directly above the doorframe.  She shook like someone overflowing with adrenalin, and for a milli-second I wondered how long it would take me to leap over and lock the door to stop what clearly must be some kind of insane chainsaw wielding criminal at the door.  I turned quickly and faced the foe that had caused the girl so much fear:
And it turns out that it's not a super-evil mega mass murderer, instead, it's Lola, the huntsman who's been living in my classroom for the past two weeks.  She's made her way out of the crack where the wall meets the ceiling and put herself on public display.  She's about the size of the lid of a jam jar, but apparently, terrifying.

I assure Amanda that Lola will in fact do nothing to hurt her.  That she's been sitting on the ceiling for over two weeks, and won't move for the duration of the lesson unless someone disturbs her.  A small paper ball suddenly impacts the wall about 10cm from Lola's front right leg.  Someone has disturbed her.

Lola began to descend the wall.  Amanda began to freak the hell out.  I had been made a liar, and as the tears rolled down her cheeks and I tried to regain control of my lesson, half the class was in stitched, and the other half was migrating to the opposite side of the classroom.  As Lola sat above the door, escape for the fearful was impossible.
Amanda is now unable to move while Lola climbs across the wall towards her.  I calmly explain to the class that Lola is an animal, and if I need to remove her from the classroom I will, but I don't want her harmed.  Most of the boys continue their great amusement, and one makes the Darth Vader death march while Lola continues her amazing ability to head towards Amanda.  I honestly think she was doing it on purpose, and finally, when she's almost directly above the hyperventilating red-head, she begins her descent.  Fight or flight takes over, and before I can react, Amanda has flown to the opposite side of the room.  She's halfway out the second floor window when I shout 'hey!', and approach the downward travelling spider.  I ease her onto my fingers, and am quickly surrounded by the male component of my classroom.

Amanda proceeds to vomit into her lunch box.

I decide to approach Amanda with the spider, to attempt to show her that it's harmless.
So I took Lola outside, and I let her go on the tree below the stairwell, and Amanda never trusted me again.

True Story.