Bummed Out in the Blue Room and Feeling Helpful

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The big issues are taking me down out here. I am avoiding the news. I feel like holding up a cross and throwing holy water at the T.V. every time my husband summons Wolf Blitzer into my home. Instead, I retreat to Words with Friends, good books and stashed paint brushes.

I will march on the 24th to add my voice to the cry for gun control, but I just shake my head at the relative who bought an automatic weapon for fear sales will be shut down next month. There’s been a big run on guns that spray bullets in a continuous stream. My relative, his friend, and some random guy got the last automatic weapons in a local gun shop. Never mind that my relative already owns a big, scary, automatic rifle. The waiting period before you can take your spiffy new automatic rifle home is a full 24 hours in Illinois, by the way. You have to wait 72 hours to take your handgun home.

I know who to hunker down with during the zombie apocalypse, anyway.

So for a while, I plan to drop the big issues. Last year I did a series of tips for new teachers. Let’s resume those tips. Admittedly, March seems an odd time to strike out in this direction since you new teachers made it this far. You are probably feeling much less shaky than you did in August. If not, maybe my tips will help.

The following tip is part of a larger concept: You need to hoard classroom minutes. Those minutes are the lifeblood of learning.

Tip #1: Your classroom, your rodeo. You are in charge. Don’t let education school idealism make you treat your room like a democracy. Yes, students should have input. They should help you make the rules so they can have ownership in those rules. Kids push back against excessive authoritarianism and feelings of powerlessness. But even social scientists freely concede that democracies tend to be inefficient users of time. We wait to vote after long discussions and thousands of advertisements, advertisements we evaluate and sort.

One of the first teaching big lessons I had to learn was not to listen too much or too often to attempts to change routines. As soon as rules become negotiable, you will find a pack of future attorneys willing to argue for hours. “But you let us listen to music during the Civil War activity,” one kid will say, and others will then chime in. “Yeah, and music helps me to concentrate.” “Ms. Smith let us listen to music.” “Music relaxes me so I can read better.” “I think we should decide when we need music to concentrate, not the teachers.”

Minutes will always slip away. A student will walk into the room carrying a stack of official letters from the office to pass out and there goes yet another closing activity. You don’t want to freely give your minutes away, however, and if kids think they can change classroom procedures by talking at you — Oh, will they talk!

You may be tempted to say, “O.K. Music is fine,” but that choice will come back to bite you the next day or the day after that.

“You let us do it last week!” “Yeah!” “Please?!?”

Eduhonesty: The rules should be clear. The rules should hold. If you relax the rules, you must be explicit about why that relaxation is occurring and firm about the fact that this one-time exception does not mean the rule has changed. Kids being kids, I recommend relaxing the rules only in exceptional situations, and briefly explaining why you are allowing a change.

P.S. It’s March. Have you relaxed those rules? Maybe too many of those rules? Trying to reclaim your rules at this stage may lead to open rebellion. It’s far, far easier to loosen up than to abruptly get stricter. I’ll address the tricky question of reinstating rules in my next post.

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