Last Monday, three of my kids were caught stealing from the Holiday gas station next to my school when they were supposed to be boarding their buses.
On Tuesday, one of my kids was suspended for throwing a paperback book at me while I was teaching.
On Wednesday and Thursday, everyone was back in action and behavior was so terribly atrocious (refusing to do work, screaming at each other and at me, ripping books, throwing objects constantly) that I left work each day exhausted and hoarse.
It was almost as bad as last year, except for the fact that the kids weren’t really getting away with anything- I was keeping track of every single last thrown paper airplane and doling out the appropriate consequences. They were just choosing to continue anyway.
On Friday, I was done. I got to school 30 minutes early and rearranged the entire classroom. My three main instigators were isolated, as far apart from each other and their classmates as physically possible. Then, I took EVERY item out of every desk and dumped it in a huge pile on my centers table. Every textbook, notebook, paperback, loose paper and random item. Everything.
The kids walked in at 7:25 and thought I’d lost my mind, which was entirely possible. For the whole day, they were allowed to have nothing on or in their desk except for the paper we were currently working on. Halfway through the day, I passed out one binder to each student. Every paper from the day had to go inside of it immediately after we were finished. No one was allowed to have their own writing utensil; I passed out 22 capless pens at the start of every subject and collected them at the end.
It was extremely tedious to manage, but we got through it, got our work done and seriously cut back on behavior issues. I reminded the kids every hour that they had no excuses left- no missing materials, no one “stealing” their favorite pencil, no loose objects to throw around- nothing. So any misbehavior that was still going on would be directly reported to the discipline dean and their parents, every day, regardless of severity.
Since last Friday, I’ve gradually allowed back tiny freedoms. A few students are allowed to use their own pencils. Each student has 2 textbooks back in their desks. Most are allowed to have free reading books.
This is what works for my classroom right now. I’m making tons of parent phone calls every day, it’s exhausting to manage, it removes responsibilities from the students and it’s not the happiest environment. But learning happens, meaningful work sometimes happens, and children aren’t harming each other.
I’ve read a few ed reform articles lately that touched on the idea of whether we should support schools that we wouldn’t send our own children to. I’m far away from having my own kids, but I still can’t imagine sending these hypothetical future children to my school or my own classroom.
Does that matter, though? The parents at my monocultural school value strict, quiet, no-nonsense educational environments. The students respond better to this as well. Even when my classroom isn’t on total lockdown, I run a tight ship. In the past, when I struggled to implement partnered and group learning activities, the kind that I remember constantly doing in school, administration advised me that silent independent work was better.
Urban schools, especially many of the successful charter networks, tend to be no-nonsense operations. Strict behavior expectations, silent lunches, the works. Clearly, this method can work. I just don’t know if it’s right for me to run a classroom and work at a school that I would never want my own children to experience.