Teaching Tactics

Now that we are back to school I thought it was about time I wrote something again. I meant to write over the summer. But, you know how it goes. I could have told you how I binge-watched Grey’s Anatomy or killed my hanging baskets, but that would have been embarrassing. I like talking about work, that way you’ll all think I accomplish things.

Throughout the course of my job I sometimes wake up and find myself saying the strangest things. Yesterday I was working with a group of first grade students, and I suddenly heard myself saying [in my teacheriest of voices], “We can only drive our dirt bikes if they are silent dirt bikes.” No one listened to me. Additionally, only a few minutes later, I heard myself [as out of a dream] advising my group of 6-year-olds to park their buses outside my door as they would be too big to park inside.

Later that same morning a couple of second graders decided to imitate my sit-down-and-shut-up face for the entirety of their half-hour with me. It’s really hard to get 7-year-olds to sit down and shut up when your usual tactic has become a source of hilarity. [I should note that these students don’t know the name of my sit-down-and-shut-up face, for they all believe that Shut Up is the S-Word, which makes curse-word tattling very difficult to decipher]

In order to encourage students to be on their best behavior [and avoid S-Words of all kinds] in several of my groups I use a system of check marks and stars. Three stars equals a special ticket and three check marks means they lose 10 minutes of recess. Lately I was working with 3 first grade students and one of them was doing a great job, quietly working, not bothering anyone. So, I gave him a star to encourage him. As I continued my work with another student I felt this boy’s eyes on me, then on the board, then on me. After several minutes of this I noticed that his eyes were swimming in tears, and I realized that I had given him a check mark instead of a star. I tried to fix my tragic error by giving him two stars instead – but the damage was done. His little first-grade heart was broken.

You would think that walking down the hall is the easiest thing in the world – but if you are in 1st grade it is completely necessary to dance, swing, run, throw out your arms to block someone from cutting, and drag your body along the walls. If you stop in the hallway for any reason it is totally reasonable to attempt to climb up the walls. Children who climb walls get check marks, not stars.

One student has discovered that there is food in the teacher’s room on Fridays. Every time we walk past the door he gazes in longingly and then looks at me as though he has never seen food in his life – even though I know that his lunch bag is stuffed full of every delicious morsel imaginable. Yesterday I was smart and took a different route to my room [through the gym] in the hopes that he would forget. He didn’t. He asked three times if we could walk back the regular way. I did not give him stars.

Sometimes I wish that people would give me stars and check marks so I know how I am doing with my teaching – you know, so if my groups of students manage to walk down the hallway without trying to cut in line, then I will get a star. If one of mine gets lost while in the bathroom, then I should get a check mark. If, at the end of the day, I have more stars than check marks I should get a reward. Maybe I’ll be allowed to eat something delicious from the teacher’s room. Maybe a nice, ultra-caffeinated, cup of tea.

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