Finding Our Personal Power

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35 thoughts on “Finding Our Personal Power”

  1. Thanks for this. It will help me to bolster myself on Monday. I am failing miserably with a class full of these kids. It’s like playing whack a mole. There is a core group of 4. I send them out, I call parents, I talk to admin. Football coach. Even senior football captains are starting to get in on the action.
    It is just chaos pure and simple. And somehow there are the other 20 kids who have managed to hear and process some Spanish. I really don’t know how. Clearly it’s painful for them. There is nothing resembling a flow of Spanish. It’s draining me big time. To the point where I wonder why I am dong this? I don’t really have to do this. I mean I do need the paycheck but I can surely get some other job to pay my mortgage. It seems so impossible. I know it is a power issue, where somehow I have given mine away. That is the perception. I don’t yell. I am calm. I start fresh every day. I wait. I smile. I post ISA grades every day. I posted a summative ISA, a summative reading comprehension and listening comprehension this week. There are plenty of numbers. I approach them individually when possible. I make a point to highlight them in the circling / PQA / persona especial…with multiple talents and such. But not even that has an effect. I’ve tried every trick I know. And it’s still a $#@t show pretty much every day.
    Because I am so exhausted I decided to give myself a break and give them handouts. Put them in groups. What do I care? They talk either way so why waste my energy trying to talk over them? Had a long talk with Skip the other night. Super helpful just to be able to troubleshoot with someone who knows the gig. I guess it will just be this way. One step forward, two steps back. Try again on Monday.

    1. My view on this jen is that you have to get much more extreme. I have been in this situation and I thought, when I was younger, that I could “somehow” work it out. My vision now is far clearer. In fact, it’s so clear to me that I share it with you feeling pretty much like what I am saying is a true thing. They will not change. That’s it. They will not change. They have won the battle for dominance and it’s over. Only thing now is to remove the ringleader and bash the other three hard until, without their head, they stop the crap behavior. If you can’t find someone in the school to support you and get rid of THAT ONE KID, then your school sucks and I wouldn’t blame you for quitting. We are approaching the time of the October Collapse. (If there are two leaders, get rid of both of them. You have no more cards to play.) THEY WILL NOT CHANGE.

    2. It feels like classroom management is 98% of our job. It’s exhausting, constant, and too often demoralizing. Jen, what you write makes me cringe. I know my version. Are you getting any support from all those people you have mustered? I am trying to be better about not just “dealing with it.”
      I am so thankful for the community we have here. This past week I used James’s sentence with one student. I gave Ben’s Dynamic Duo, or whatever it’s called (translation/quiz) and the results made me email some parents. It’s not over of course. I’ll have to do more, but I’ve gotten into a different mode. I’m sick of it. I’m sick of feeling the dread, not butterflies in the stomach, they’re vampire bats.

  2. PS James…so you have a desk set up in the hallway? Hmmm maybe I will try that. I am supposed to send them to ISS but that is a 10 or 15 min stay, then they come back and start where they left off. It would be cool to have another place to put them. But I doubt if I can put 5 desks in the hallway!

    1. Yeah, give the troublemakers textbook work, like Blaine recommends. Separate them. Do not let those kids be part of your class. Send ’em into the hall or next door. And document it every time. Have the kids fill out a simple checklist or write a comment of what they did to be separated. Share that with admin and parents.
      I lost a class last year to rowdy & spacey 3rd graders. I was dreading 4th grade this year, but they did an awesome job splitting up the 3 sections. With only 2 impulsive/spacey kids per class, the vibe is totally different and I am in control.
      This is also the first year I feel like my classroom management is so much better. Before I was trying to keep all these TPRS balls (circle, gesture, park, etc.) going and my attentional resources were literally being expended, instead of prioritizing management. It also helps to get a class back that you have had for 1+ years of TCI/TPRS.

      1. Eric said:
        …do not let those kids be part of your class….
        Book work in hallway. Get them into the class next door as pre-arranged with your department as we have discussed here before. Whatever. Just do it. And don’t waffle. Would a judge allow someone in the gallery to mess up a court proceeding? Then why do we allow someone to mess up our class? Why do we do that? I know it’s crazy. Enforce your rules. The new thing I am doing with 30 min. on then a 10 min. FVR/L1 option brain break and then 25 and 10 and 10 is working really well. It’s a post here from last week.

    2. I know a lot about this situation, jen. I’ve been in it where admin supported me and also where admin didn’t. When admin didn’t, I had to let go and just act like I was teaching when anyone observed me. When admin did support me, I’m afraid to say that I was confrontation with the disrupting kids. I would get in their face. I would dare them to stand up and take me on. I would tear them up and make fun of them in front of the class. It didn’t matter if I was more or less witty than them as we tore into each other. I would just make them feel so uneasy and uncomfortable every day until I’d break their will. But this was working with West Side Chicago kids, where admin and parents respect an adult who will break a kid down like that. Where so many adults have given up on these kids. So, if you think your community will respect you and think of you as not giving up on them by breaking down their will, I’m all for that approach.
      jen, please do keep us updated!

  3. Jen, I think you have to also remember that you are new to your school building. These, unfortunately, are the initiation rights many students put new teachers through (I’m going to guess that your trouble-makers are at least Sophomores, but probably juniors). Stick with it, Jen, and know that it will get better, even later this year.

  4. Yes, I am new. Sophomores and juniors and seniors are delightful! My challenging group is 9th graders. A cluster of them whom all the 8th grade teachers and also admin admit to me that it is a tough group of boys so it’s not me. The other 80% of the class, the other 9th graders who are not the cluster…they are trying to the best of their squirrelly selves. Do they know / understand how to play the game yet? No, but they are willing and pretty cheerfully able to be redirected. I know that the 5 individuals each have their own history so I don’t lump them together as if they were one person. They trigger each other though. So in that sense it is like whack a mole.
    The 8th grade teachers tell me that these kids were kept separated at the middle school. Letting them drop the class does not seem to be an option. They can be removed but they will be put in the second semester class. Personally I don’t see how it could get worse, so I’m willing to take that risk to give them a few months to get used to high school and maybe mature a bit more. Here is a direct quote from an administrator:
    “That’s a tough group of boys you listed so do not take their behavior personally or as a result of what you are doing in class.”
    My take on the whole thing is that in this particular community / school there are much more severe issues, so this is just a very small brush fire and it appears I have to suck it up. I was told by a colleague that it is common knowledge not to phone a certain parent (of twin boys who are part of this group) bc “she is a nut case.” As in “whatever you do, DONT call so and so.” OH dear. I did call her but she didn’t answer so I left a message. Oops.
    Today I got a note from the advisor of one of them about a meeting she had with the boy. He does not understand why he is failing when he “knows the material.” His struggle is that he wants handouts. He does not understand that the process IS the material. He doesn’t understand that understanding is the job he needs to do (and the specific skills involved in that, re: listening, etc). I need to do a lot of work on the rules (posted front and center and I always point to them).
    I also need to send out some links, etc. to my colleagues because they are also operating on a vision that I am teaching with handouts and books and lists and such. So they also have no idea what I do. Pretty much nobody knows. There is a powerpoint or Google slide show that I used to send ppl to, but I can’t find it. It might be Eric’s. I will email him. But what should I send out, just one single document, to the other teachers…what would be the best one? I know my syllabus is too wordy even though it is pared down. I will check the primers now and find something there.
    There is no awareness on the kids part that they are not following the rules. Either that or they think I am a complete buffoon. We did a self reflection where they had to copy the rules on one side of the paper and describe specifically how they are currently demonstrating the skills. All of them wrote “I am quiet.” Hmmm.
    This week in all the classes, not just this one, I will work rules every which way. I can tell nobody REALLY gets it, even the kids who are trying to play. They don’t get it because they have never had to be present and listen and respond and take turns. They don’t know how. Why would they? I am not saying this facetiously. Their nervous systems are firing 24-7 and it’s total survival mode. I will need to break it down so that the rules themselves and the demonstration of the skills are comprehensible, just as the Spanish is comprehensible.
    Apparently we have to send out progress reports at the end of this week, so that is a good thing. Opportunity to fire some shots over the bow.
    Thanks all for your input and solidarity! 😀

    1. Looks like you have admin support, jen. Great! Know that if you can get these kids turned on to participating and cooperating you’ll have worked miracles.
      Maybe also try spending 5 minutes or more checking in with kids in English at the beginning of class. Circulate the room after the bell rings saying hi and things, until they settle then gradually move to the front of the room and address the whole class, “Class, did you know that _______ was involved in _____ yesterday? How cool is that.”
      And also maybe let them respond to you in English throughout the class period, just as long as they don’t go off on tangents.
      Sounds like you got a grasp on what’s happening. I just hope you don’t lose your spirits about you!

    2. Jen, I hope you’ll keep telling us how things are going with your classes.
      Processing a similar situation by writing about it here:
      This morning I finished a frustrating time with the Advanced class (which is not really Advanced, but it’s our term). This is their third year of Chinese, second year with me. I am frustrated by their unwillingness to turn off the English blurting. There seem to me to be zero reasons why they cannot handle that expectation. They are not so young or immature (all but one is a junior); they are not on IEPs; they are not diagnosed with learning difficulties. I do not think I have it nearly as difficult as you describe that class, Jen, but it’s starting to feel like I have an older version of my unpleasant class at my previous school years ago. There are 2 who I believe speak in English simply to try to aggravate me, but there are more general problems from others depending on the day.
      I think one thing that makes it hard for me to be hard and unrelenting (although I’m probably coming off as impossibly inflexible about the classroom expectations list to that group of students) is knowing that I’m not perfect and have not always made the wisest decisions, or the best choices. ex: What activity to plan? When and what break to take — a time I do not insist on use of Chinese. etc. and all those decisions have to be made in a split second. But I do know way better than those kids about language acquisition and Chinese and I will keep trying. Today I snapped at them in English after the second or third beginning of English commentary – “STOP! with the English.” They did actually respond immediately. I don’t think I should have to talk like that. It’s sometimes like if I’m speaking Chinese, they turn off their listening skills and want to make comments as if I were a TV sitcom they’re watching with friends in the class. A sitcom that one or two of them would probably turn off if they could. I had a class like that about 5 years ago.
      I’ve been:
      – grading interpersonal communication once a week on a random day I select before the week begins (several have a letter grade lower than they would)
      – contacting a few parents
      – continuing to insist on the no English rule and pointing and waiting when there’s an interruption
      – using a sign that I hold up (it says “Please speak Chinese”) and make eye contact with each of them before I magnet it to the whiteboard during instructional time.
      I have a list of ideas I wrote down over the summer — some which are hold a student after class a minute for each blurt (and they speak with me in Chinese then), have a light that signals use of only Chinese, work towards a goal by accumulating minutes without English interruptions. I may introduce the last one with them tomorrow. If they go X minutes without English, that’s a point. When (IF) they reach some number of points, they get a day of class to do… they vote for it. Chinese light. I used to despise that idea because it takes time from CI. But the time from CI is being taken anyway! Why make myself frustrated more than I need to be? I want whatever I do to reduce my stress, my need for keeping track of data, and hopefully lead them to willing self-control.
      I have no worries with other groups at all by comparison, so I can be glad for that.

      1. Arggh Diane, sounds frustrating. Been there.
        Sounds like you’re doing important things to make it better. Is it possible to reword the “no English” rule as instead an indicator of competence in interpersonal communication and ability to sustain focus in Chinese, and affect their grade even more? Have you tried English police? I had one of my bigger offenders one year do this job and it helped things a lot. But the job ended up being temporary bc it seemed to have run its course of necessity, and the kids’ relationships with others in class was being negatively affected a bit.

      2. Don’t keep track of data re how long they are in the language Diane. In my opinion, the Catch-22 for you and all of us who have students with blurting problems (who doesn’t?) is what you wrote here:
        …I don’t think I should have to talk like that….
        No and they know that and that’s the Catch-22. I don’t know maybe it’s a Catch-23. The point is that they know that you won’t get angry and they are playing that like a violin. They won’t change, count on it, and the anger part will never work as you know, but what WILL work with kids is you take things away from them. What can you take away?
        I give them two nice fat FVR/Brain Breaks (where they can just walk around and speak English with their friend) for every successful CI session – see current post on this). That’s the carrot. As soon as the first blurt happens, the timer stops the iPad timer and oops back to the beginning we go. No English, we just go back to zero. This gets kids mad at the blurter. It’s been working for me! And I’ve tried at least 100 things over the 15 years I’ve been doing this.
        The light thing seems like it wouldn’t work. I was all hot to trot to try it out but just discarded the idea before I started it. One thing is truly certain, the idea of appealing to the “willing self-control” of a teenager with their unformed minds is never going to work. That’s why they call schools institutions.

        1. Thanks Jim & Ben, this is one of two (maybe 3) kids I’ve had any real problem with in 9 years of teaching. The rest were just kids, immature, etc. This is oppositional behavior. He is acting default like he’s in charge when he does this nonsense. That will end.
          So, I just got it cleared with a Dean that I can give him alternative work in another location. The student’s former soccer coach (the Spanish teacher across the hall) is happy to have him sit in the back of his great Spanish 4 honors class. That class works like a real class, so student gets to see that people don’t blurt out unwelcome opinions and commentary during class, and that they speak Spanish. It ain’t me making this Chinese language environment thing up.
          I’m not sure – I may just hand him the alternative work at the beginning of class today. His mom tells me he really doesn’t want to do independent work, so that may be a nice reward for disrupting the class. I may wait for his first blurt. Either way, I do intend to tell the rest of the class the bowling/basketball analogy once he’s gone. (Am I that sure he’ll be a problem again today? Yeah.) Hoping the 2 or 3 others who can be an issue will cease when he’s out. This boy’s attitude is poisonous.
          This is a class that never had a brain break most days last semester – I did a 10-minute thing with them for a while in the winter/spring, and gave up on it because I couldn’t get a student to do it reliably enough. Too complex for me to manage while teaching. Perhaps I can try that again.

          1. Also, I’m going to send the student with the most opposition out before class begins. Just writing it makes my heart pound. He gets to try reading the novel I’m working towards on his own with the glossary, and has Bryce’s dual entry journal form to use after each page.

          2. Best to Lynette!
            I like the proactivity here. We all have students like this and some of us take the high road, keep smiling, tell the CHILD that it will be this way, completely hiding our own apprehensions so that all the CHILD sees is a calm teacher who has made a decision about what is best for the CHILD so that the CHILD doesn’t think that it is about the class needing some space from the CHILD but that the CHILD needs this new set up for the CHILD’S best interest.
            There’s that thing about the prefrontal cortex in an adult sized CHILD making the child look much more formed/adult like which fools some teachers into affording them too much respect when they are really only CHILD and need to be told.

          3. Yep, guess it’s time to learn this. I figure this’ll make me super tough, in a good way, once I get through it. I tolerate too much crap. Once I got over the idea that if I have a small class (which all of them are) I need to keep the number as high as possible, the idea of forcing him out of the room was easier. No, I need a quality of class that will be whatever size it will be.
            I have always called students children in speaking with other teachers – a holdover from teaching younger grades, I thought – but good point.

          4. Oh wow Diane. This feels eerily similar to my group, except I really cannot pinpoint the one kid.
            Thanks everyone for this intervention in real time. I sent a note to a mentor in the building today asking where I can send these kids. I need them out. I am also frantic for finding them something to do, but I just found it bc of Diane. THANK YOU! I don’t have enough novels right now, so I think I will give them Blaine Ray stories and a Spanish dictionary.
            Pulling out the Bryce contract also. And page by page dual entry journal. Brilliant! Thank you!
            Now I just hope there is someplace I can send them. Fingers crossed. They seem very hell bent on keeping the kids in the classrooms. I get that, for the kids’ sake. But not at the expense of the other 75% of the class.

          5. Guess what, it was the one kid! There were minor issues with 4 in class today, but with Mr. Oppositional out, it was an entirely different atmosphere. We smiled, we laughed, we made up silly stuff in Chinese and they laughed about it, etc.
            I FEEL SO HAPPY I sent that kid out. I think I may never tolerate such a pattern ever again. I caught him in the hall, privately, before he entered the classroom and gave him what to do. He didn’t do everything on the list of instructions, but he did some of it. When he gave materials back to me after class, I told him he’ll need to follow instructions more closely. This is graded.

          6. Oh yeah – I forgot the bowling in a basketball game analogy. His classmates did not seem to notice his absence. Maybe for the SLA-related quote on Friday.

  5. We have to keep in mind who’s training who. I just got a dog and something I have learned is never to let him out of his kennel/cage–he sleeps there at night and loves it–while he is whining or barking or whimpering. If you do, you are training him what he needs to do to get out. Or rather, he is training you.

  6. Finding my calm has changed everything for me. I think of myself as a duck, and students’ annoying behaviors are like water rolling off my feathers. That image, as well as breathing (got that from yoga).
    Students feed off the calm–I’ve noticed that once I set the expectation, students are telling each other to be quiet.
    Yesterday, I had kind of a sad transaction with a troublesome student. It’s obvious she has spent a lot of time in the hallway and in other classrooms in her life. She is a freshmen, I’ve known her for just over 2 weeks. She talks and has no idea how to listen. I don’t know how to teach her how to listen?! She even talks when no one is listening–blurts out loud comments like “I’m hungry and I want some cheesy spaghetti” right while I’m in the middle of teaching. Anyways, yesterday I put her in the hall for the first time. Forgot she was out there because the rest of us were in a flow. By the time I got out there to talk with her, she started right out with, “You ALWAYS send me out here!!!!!!” Very calmly and quietly, I said, “This is the first time you’ve left our class. I hate having you out here and I want you to be able to listen and learn French with us.” (Truth was, class was great without her there–and I don’t feel THAT bad saying that). I think she is sent out of classes so often that she doesn’t even keep it straight. She calmed right down and was able to come back in. I still called her mom and first thing she said was, “Is she getting into trouble?” I heard the girl in the background saying, “I didn’t do anything!” We will see what happens next. I like the idea of having a desk ready in the hallway tomorrow, and perhaps some work ready. Thanks for that!

    1. Do you use classroom expectations on the wall, Emeka? And/or a rubric for grading interpersonal communication during class. Those, I think, help too. They can be shared with parents easily and demonstrate what you’re asking for. Less likely to have “I didn’t do anything” seem like it would stick.

      1. Hi Diane, I use the classroom expectations. I didn’t have success with the rubric for interpersonal communication in the past mainly because I couldn’t keep up with keeping track of 30-36 kids in a class. I didn’t make time to keep notes and really feel good about giving them a score. Maybe I will try it again though with just this class at the end of the day since I will have time right after they leave to note down what happened. Have a great day!

  7. One more idea here for Jen, not really for Diane (I have an oppositional kid this year too, but he’s got such sad life history that I’m having a hard time calling home).
    Can you set up a video camera in the back of class? I do that a lot, because I try to find out how much Russian I’m speaking or how active kids are, etc, and the kids are pretty much used to it.
    One time someone here said she showed a class one of the DPS videos, just so the kids could see how they’re “supposed” to be acting. I have been known to show my own “first day” video. I don’t know whether you can show one class to another without permission slips from the parents, but if you can, I would: show them how it’s supposed to go. Otherwise, find a piece where you’re teaching well, most of the kids are interacting according to the rubric, and the fab four are not. (You could even do a little MovieTalk about the ones who are on target and explain why they’re getting good rubric marks.)
    Sometimes that backfires, because the interrupters get glory. But more often, they see how ridiculous they look.

  8. This is a fine idea but in my own experience they will not respond to good will with good will. They KNOW how it’s supposed to be done and they choose not to do it anyway. That is called defiance and can only be met with strong adult force. Move them around in the class. If that doesn’t work, move them out of class. Be aggressive. The best defense is a good offense. Defiant kids will not respond to mere good will. Action, not words, is needed, required. Again, a timer is helping me this year immensely. The kids take it seriously and turn on the perps when they blurt. There is a catalogue here on blurting, by the way.

  9. I am not allowed to remove them. Kinda sucks. But today was the most tolerable situation so far. Tolerable = relative to the situation.
    I rearranged the chairs (again) so that I had the worksheet group all the way on one side of the room and the conversation group (the regular class) in a U shape in front of the white board so we could do a movie talk. Started with the fab five working on their dual entry journals. Added another 2 kids shortly into the class, then 2 more and 2 more. So that is 11 kids now doing worksheets.
    I’m entering ISA grades for everyone. The moving to the worksheet group is an automatic 1 on the scale, so…?
    Probably what I will end up doing is trying to get 20 mins of solid CI with the (now pretty small) focused group. Then everyone will be in “group work”. This will likely be said worksheets/ dual entry journals plus essential sentences. Dear lord, so much paper! I will drown in the paper, but I am not really planning on looking at any of it since that would throw me over the edge.
    It was really hard to monitor the 11 off to the side, but at least they were spatially separated and the focused group all pulled in tight together in order to separate as much as possible from the circus.
    I may try the video idea. I think it will be effective for the kids who are trying or “almost there” to have a reference of what it looks like when it’s going well. I’ll probably just use vids from all of you to illustrate that 🙂

    1. I showed a class video from Mark Mallaney in DPS (because at least some kids were in shot pretty much the whole time, and there was an actor who did that role well, two things my students weren’t getting at the time). It’s on Schooltube…
      Before I showed it (to a 7th or 8th grade class like 4-5 years ago), I coached them on what to look for. Listed the classroom expectations, and asked them to look at the students and see how well they did those things. That helped them not just watch to find fault or make fun of whatever they saw.

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