Heads On The Desk, Heads On The Desk, We're Looking Like Fools When Their Heads Are On The Desk

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12 thoughts on “Heads On The Desk, Heads On The Desk, We're Looking Like Fools When Their Heads Are On The Desk”

  1. Robert Harrell

    I agree. Most head bowing in class is either lack of comprehension or unwillingness to participate. Both need to be addressed head on (in different ways). Sometimes, though, there needs to be the freedom for a head to go down. Today in class one of my students arrived in great distress. He didn’t say anything, nor did I, but I knew he was having a hard time. Yesterday he was told he qualifies for special ed, which meant to him that he was being told he’s retarded. He was in a meeting with his teachers, a counsellor, an assistant principal and the school psychologist – from his point of view a bunch of adults against a kid. During the meeting he had a meltdown, particularly over math. He comes to me from the math class, so when he came into class and put his head down before anything even started, I didn’t say a word. By the halfway point in the class, his head was up; before the end of class he actually smiled.
    This was a special circumstance that shows why we need to remember we teach students, not curriculum.

  2. Whenever I would see a student with his or her head down, my typical response for most of this year and past years would be to stop instruction, slowly walk over to the student and quietly demand that they sit up. After all, Discipline always proceeds Instruction, right? On most occasions the slouched student would sit up at first request. On fewer occasions a battle of wills would ensue where the process of sitting up would occur one inch at a time with few eye rolls in between. I actually had 2 students in the latter portion of this year on separate occasions ask why they had to sit up if they were listening. I eloquently responded, “Because I want you to.” I later came up with a speech that went something like “It is important to sit up during class because Blah Blah Blah.”
    Then one day I began to take a different approach. Instead of immediately saying “Sit up” (imagine your typical teacher voice), I began to, instead, to casually and slowly walk towards the student without breaking the flow of instruction. If I got the predicatable non-response from the student looking like a fool with their head on the desk (sorry couldn’t resist), I would focus in on circling and teaching to the eyes. I quickly noticed that students who might otherwise be labelled as lazy were up and engaged within seconds.
    All this, of course, is nothing new. Susan Gross has been talking about teaching to the eyes and personalization for years. I guess I’m just a slow learner. Perhaps the idea that Discipline proceeds Instruction could be modified to Discipline occurs as a result of effective instruction. Of course, without discipline, effective instruction cannot occur. I guess it is true that both Discipline occurs as a result of effective instruction and Discipline must always proceed Instruction. One cannot exist without the other. Or maybe they are one in the same.

  3. Good point Robert. One of the lesson’s I’ve learned this year is that I can’t control every situation. The attitude that I have to be in control of every situation has at times led me to stuborness. This year, I have inadvertantly made two girls cry. In one instance, a girls phone lit up (without sound) as a student turned off the lights before we watched a music video. I collected the phone. This happened to be the last class of the day. According to the school handbook all collected electronic devices go to the office. Students must then pay a $10 fine and receive a detention. At the end of the class, the girl began to cry and told me that her mom was sick and needed to remain in communication. She then went on to say that she knew that I didn’t like her and probably could give a flip. At the worst possible moment I received a phone call from the principal who had a question for me. I told him I would call him back and hung up the phone. I had clearly lost control of the situation. After hanging up the phone, I rubbed my face (I do this to relieve stress) and handed her the phone. She then asked me if I was going to give her a detention. My response was “No”. I reacted the way I did without knowing whether I was doing the right thing. At the moment, it just didn’t feel right to be the strict disciplinarian. In hindsight, I know I made the right decision because I put the emotions of vulnerable students ahead of my control freak tendencies. Incidents like this help me grow as a teacher and, most important, as a human being. We all learn best from our challenges rather than successes. I feel sad for students of teachers who don’t learn to put the needs of their students ahead of the “Curriculum”.

  4. I just re-read something Susie wrote about walking up to a kid who is offending some rule in some way and asking a question. I have been trying to do that–is there a reason you have your phone out? Is there something I can help with? I notice that you’re blurting a lot today; is there something I need to know?

  5. I wish my students only had the problem of not understanding something when they put their heads down!!
    Bryce’s greet each one at the door is great. I can detect problems the minute they walk in and ask what’s wrong. Some tell me straight away I’ve got a horrible headache, toothache (we no longer have a dentist in our town and the closest one is 200 km from here!) etc. Our school nurse doesn’t work everyday at our school and if there aren’t any parents at home, the child is obliged to stay at school. Once I know what is going on, I leave the child alone if the head is down and the other students never torment them if it’s for real. If there is a sudden problem their classmates will quickly ask me to help. Many times I am in the role of nurse, psychologist and/or mother. Teaching comes after that then!

  6. Isn’t that true Carol? I also try and “work the room” before the bell rings, and usually I’ll get a “I got 2 hours of sleep last night” or “This is a nasty day.” Sometimes some of my best CI comes out of extending the discussion into the language, but often as not I’ll get the “Not today” look that really means business.
    One thing that has been working great for me this year is cutting these Kids deals: “OK, I’ll give you a pass this time (or day), but I need you all in next time.” I haven’t yet had the kid who has said no to it, because it gives them an out with their honor intact.
    Yes, I really believe that our kids have honor that matters to them. Our kids really are trying to do what’s right by their lights. And if those lights are currently set a little low, I try and remember Goethe’s quote : “Treat a man as he is and he will remain as he is. Treat a man as he can and should be, and he will become as he can and should be.”

  7. Great quote Nathan!
    I also really like the idea of a pass to let them of the hook for intensive listening on an off day. I could print some out for next year and give them one, maybe two per term to redeem when needed.

  8. Carol,
    If you give them a pass, give them a reason NOT to redeem it as well. Last year I handed out three bathroom passes per Semester, but told them that they could redeem each pass for a piece of German chocolate (bought at ALDI) at each quarter break if they wished. Didn’t have many people go to the bathroom that year on me. Kinda got out of the habit this year, but I might revisit that for a day-off idea next year too. Thanks for the idea!

  9. Orlando, I’m finding the same dynamic at work for me. If I start on the head trip “Because I’m the boss, that’s why” then it’s like being a fly stepping onto the edge of a pitcher plant. It’s an inevitable slide down into the maw of the beast, where the angry juices of the students’ collective bitterness slowly consume me.
    Yikes. Don’t know where to go from that analogy. But you’re right, there’s a place from which to approach the problem. It’s neither “I suck, nobody cares about me” nor “This kid is a jerk and I have to do something about it” but finding the balance point of empathy.

  10. Thanks Orlando,
    Sometimes I feel like I am the only one with these problems. You have just clarified for me 75% of what went wrong this year, and given me the clear cut solution. Of course I forgot that treating the students with respect, even while requiring adherence to the rules is of paramount importance. How on earth could I forget that?
    I had a very sad story with a kid who had his head on the desk last class. It breaks my heart what some kids bring with them to class. And it really isn’t humane to expect them to pretend the rest of life doesn’t happen in one and a half hour blocks of time.

  11. Nathan, good idea to have them redeem unused passes for something! I might try stickers instead of handing out goodies. Not enough time to make it myself and stickers are easier to transport!!

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