Though I have tried to keep these posts upbeat, this one needs to be written. It is not upbeat but real, and maybe the ending will give hope.
This school year has been a struggle. That is an understatement. Of course we expected this year to be different. The effects of the pandemic are unique and there is no single “How To” guide for understanding and getting through. Still, I was hopeful.
I attended several workshops this summer (virtually) to help prepare for this year. I shared ideas with colleagues and was almost excited. After reading some plans from the state’s department of education, I decided to take the first week to connect with my students, let them readjust to school, get to know one another, etc. I waited to introduce content until the second week. I thought this went pretty well and started the year on a positive note.
Lately, though, things have gone downhill. Behavior choices have me flummoxed. The first to completely catch me off guard was a high school student turning the sink faucet around, turning the water on to create a puddle on the counter, using the puddle as a drawing board, and then calling me over to see the art he had made. Yes, calling me over to admire his artwork. He was genuinely excited to show me. I was not excited. I was concerned.
Since then, I have had a glue stick stuck directly to the wall, mishaps with scissors, breaking things and returning them without saying a word, and a pencil broken off in the pencil sharpener (that was a 15 minute challenge to unjam the sharpener). These are in addition to the less alarming cell phone usage, broken crayons thrown in my sink, writing on desks, etc. Again, all of these are high school students. All of these have escalated and it is not me. I say that last part because I have seen too many in society jump to blame the teacher. These behavior choices are not because of lack of supervision, insufficient directions, or lesson plans. These behaviors are concerning as they are signs of something much deeper. Distance learning and all that happened in 2020 and 2021 caused something to go awry beyond what most of us expected or were prepared to deal with.
I spoke with our school counselor about my concerns. One suggestion she made was to call the kids out on those behaviors as soon as I see it. It seems the thinking is that kids may not even be aware of what they are doing, or aware that what they are doing is not appropriate. I agreed it was worth a shot.
The class period after my chat with the counselor, I started class with a discussion about my concerns. I asked for feedback – why are these behaviors happening? No response. I let them know I wanted to enjoy my time with them and that I would like to get to the bottom of this so we can get back to an enjoyable class. No response. As I was attempting this discussion on behavior choices, I looked to my left and saw two students were doing something. I stopped and watched as did the rest of the class. One student had taken a piece of my clay (not out for student use) and was stretching it vertically while the other was cutting it into pieces. They were unaware that we were all staring at them. I got their attention once I was able to comprehend what I was seeing, and asked, “What are you doing?” The one holding the clay stopped and looked at me. I asked what he was thinking and assured him I was genuinely interested in his response. Nothing. I asked the one with the scissors and he said, “I was thinking it was probably a bad idea.” I followed that with, “You thought it was a bad idea but decided to do it anyway. Can you help me understand why you chose to do it anyway?” “I don’t know.”
The counselor was right. The students do not seem to be aware of what they are doing or why they are choosing these behaviors. So, how do we rectify this situation. First, calling the student out in the moment will have to continue. The intent, though, is to disrupt the behavior and draw the student’s own attention to his behavior choices. Next, and here’s where I am hopeful, I am going to start every class with a free write journal entry. I am not sure what questions I will use to guide them later on, but for now we will start with writing about how we feel physically, emotionally, and mentally as we prepare to begin class. I plan to do a little research on meditative writing and may bring some of that in, too.
If any of you have tried something new this year, or have had unexpected behaviors in your classrooms, I would love to hear from you. Let’s learn from one another. I offer you my support 🙂