Although it’s my 6th year of teaching, it’s my first year in a new district. A MUCH larger district. I am learning the new curriculum for 3 different preps, I teach an AP course, and am working on my National Board Certification.
Suddenly, things I thought I had down, I am now finding don’t work in my new classroom. Going from 115 students to over 150, and from being across the hall from the library or bathroom to being in a portable, where anyone leaving class is a jaunt across the street or even across campus, makes it harder to allow students to simply come and go relatively easily.
That, coupled with the fact that I am a “new” teacher in my students’ perception, means I have more of them pushing limits and testing me this year. Texting or snapchatting in class has become an almost constant distraction in spite of friendly reminders.
I decided semester 2 was going to be a fresh start. NO MORE MRS. NICE WILEY. I asked other teachers in my building about policies and consequences, and got to work on my 2nd semester classroom norms handout. I hadn’t thought to ask before school, because I had always had a pretty good system in my old school and didn’t think I needed it at the beginning of the year. When I was crafting this document I was frustrated and overwhelmed. You can probably see where this is going, yeah?
Suffice it to say my students were really unhappy with me when we reviewed this document last week. (This, admittedly, is an understatement. When they got to the part that they had to leave their cell phones in the room while they were using the restroom, I think one of them said something about me being insane.)
Understandably, they didn’t get why they were being punished for what a few students had done when most of them were responsible and didn’t abuse privileges. And you know what? They were right. I had allowed my frustration to negatively impact all 155 of them.
Needless to say, we all left class that day feeling frustrated. What did I solve? By cracking down and becoming this power-wielding despot, I had created resentments and a hostile environment. Is that the kind of classroom community I want to create or cultivate? Absolutely not.
In a timely message from the universe, I attended an asset-based community building training with my fellowship program the next day. We spent time going over our ground rules at the beginning of the training, and one of them was the ability to use the Oops! tool during conversations.
The Oops! tool is something we use when we realize we have said or done something that might have come across the wrong way. It’s a way to acknowledge and move past these moments and reframe them as learning opportunities.
As we were reviewing this process, I had a light bulb moment. I needed to use the Oops! with my students.
The next day as students were coming in to class I knew what I had to do. The bell rang. Deep breath.
“Guys, I need to let you know that I made a mistake. It was not right for me to create these unrealistic demands in my frustration. I am very sorry that I wasn’t showing you the respect you deserve. Instead of me handing you a bunch of new rules, let me ask for your help. Knowing that trips to the bathroom and unnecessary cell phone use in class are getting hard for me to handle, can you guys work together to come up with potential solutions?”
They worked in small groups to brainstorm potential solutions to the problem and shared them with other groups. Then, we will decide together as a group what might work best. You can see that the ideas range from silly to serious, and there are many ideas about what would be best, from a 5 minute limit to a 20 minute (Yeah, right. Nice try though).
Instead of my students feeling resentful, they are now invested in the process. Instead of our classroom norms being something done to them, they are the ones deciding. That is the kind of community I want to build. One where I look at the assets and not deficits. One in which I ask the members what they want or need.
There is nothing more humbling than admitting you were wrong to a room full of fifteen-year-olds. But, I find that sometimes the most important lessons I teach in my classroom have absolutely nothing to do with English Language Arts content at all.
I hope they remember that it’s ok to make mistakes as long as you are willing to admit them, apologize for them, and do something about them. I hope I have modeled what true learning and growth look like.
And to be totally honest, I also really hope the bathroom/cell phone problems get solved too. Hey, a teacher can hope, right?