Today’s topic comes from an email exchange (used with permission) with one of our colleagues in the art department:
I was just watching your video on troublemakers and how to handle them. I really appreciate the refresher. I used that technique at the beginning of my teaching career but in recent years got caught up in students’ non-stop bad behaviors and basically gave up out of exhaustion. I’m an art teacher and will be starting at a new school in a couple of weeks. It’s a dream job. My strength is content knowledge not discipline. But I want this year to be the beginning of a new era for me, so I’ve been doing my own form of professional development this summer.
OK, I’ll get to my question – can you give examples of what giving students respect looks like? I have felt that I was being respectful to students but not getting it in return. I must be doing it wrong because what I see is teachers who are “mean” (in my opinion) are the ones who get students’ respect.
Feeling dazed and confused. Thanks, Victoria
Congratulations on your new job! The fact that you’re watching teacher videos during summer vacation speaks volumes about your heart and ability to have a great year. Your question is really big, of course, and the answer is rather situational, which I’m sure is not what you want to hear. With classroom management, our personalities determine the success of different techniques. I obviously don’t know you or your style, so I’ll speak here in generalizations.
Respect is an interesting thing and I’m wondering what this looks like to you. Is it a happy hum of productivity? Is it kids sitting silently as they work? What’s happening in those “mean” teachers’ classrooms that you’d like to bring to your room? What’s your goal?
You don’t have to be mean to be respected. I’d argue that being mean is actually a block to learning; Rita Pierson (video below) taught me that “kids don’t learn from people they don’t like.” They want to know that you are on their side and that you’re thinking about them, their lives, their interests as you build materials for your class. To win their respect, we also need to have reasonable rules that are evenly enforced. Kids won’t admit this, but they crave structure and limits because these things make them feel safe.
So, what does respect from a teacher look like? Gosh, Victoria, it’s a hundred actions, both big and small. Here are a few questions I ask myself, in no particular order, as I think about how to show respect for my kids…
• Do I know and use their preferred name/nickname?
• Do I pronounce and spell that name correctly?
• Do I know all their names within the first week? The first two weeks?
• How does my face/body language change when a kid walks into my room?
• Is my room comfortable? (It’ll never be Pinterest-perfect, but is it cozy? Does it smell good? Do the displays at least look like I tried?)
• Are my lessons connected to things they find relevant and interesting?
• When possible, do I give them choices about how to complete their work?
• When problems occur, how do I handle the situation?
• Do I keep my cool?
• Do I discipline them in private or public? (Always in private, of course.)
• Does my punishment allow for tomorrow to be a better day?
• Do I build relationships by making positive phone calls home? Do I occasionally send a surprise postcard or email to a parent?
• Do I notice and comment on good behaviors as often or even more often than I notice and comment on bad behaviors?
• Do I listen more than I talk during class discussions?
• Have I built fun into our routines? (Okay, maybe it’s nerdy English teacher fun, but it’s still fun…)
• Do I have a sense of humor about myself and my failings? Am I honest with my students and own my flaws?
• Do I apologize when I’m wrong?
• Do I genuinely care about them?
One thing I’ve noticed is that some of my colleagues who struggle seem to love the subject matter more than they love the students. Not sure if this is you, but it feels like self-reflection time: Do you love kids? Do you think they’re funny and idealistic and interesting? Okay, maybe that’s not possible for all (I mean, some of them make it SO hard to love them), but do you generally enjoy teenagers even when you’re not talking about art? If the answer is yes, you’ll be fine. If the answer is no, you’ll likely continue to struggle.
So…what can you do to make teenagers feel loved and, yes, respected? Consider your class from their point of view. Why did they sign up for art? From the kids I know, they’re probably looking to express their creativity and they need some breathing room in a stressful school day. How can you meet their needs while still hitting your course objectives?
I talked on the blog earlier this summer about Quarter Trios and the importance of adding fun into our classrooms. Could you fold in some kind of game play? Could you set up lighthearted procedures that are student-focused, such as Disc Jockey of the Week, where a student chooses the school-appropriate music to be played during that week’s independent work time? Or Instagram Artist of the Week, where the students vote on which image from your class to add to your ongoing IG account?
For the more difficult students who refuse to work or regularly disrupt class, go back to basics. Invest 10 minutes of prep time visiting that kid during a different class period and find out what’s up. Call home, when needed. Parents are our allies. Give the rowdy ones special jobs. You know the drill. The more time you invest in them in the first month of school, the smoother the rest of the year will be.
Finally, your question brings to mind the wisdom of two experts. First, education pioneer Haim Ginott reminds us of our incredible power:
“I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.”
Those words guide my practice and I hope they hit your heart, too.
And no teacher’s school year should begin without spending seven minutes of PD with the fabulous Rita Pierson:
Thanks for reaching out to me, Victoria. A fresh year, a fresh campus, a fresh start. You’ve got this!
Okay, blog readers, what did I miss? What advice can you give Victoria? Her art elective is different than our English classrooms, but what projects or procedures would you add? Please leave a reply below to help Victoria – and all of us, really – have the best year ever. As always, teach on.