Thursday, September 4, 2014

Small Gestures = Big Bang for That Child

Small Gestures = Big Bang for That Child
By Jill Jenkins
          School has started and all of the teachers anxiously peruse their rolls, looking for “that child.”  There are some simple techniques to handling “that child.” Ideally that child will assimilate quietly into your classroom without disturbing the orderly process of education. If you have “that child” on your rolls, there are small gestures that will have a big bang on his/her behavior. 
My daughter, Jeanette, another "that child"

            “That child” seeks attention.  Remember teaching does not end at your classroom door.  If you can make a connection with “that child,” he/she will stop being such a disruption.  Learn everything you can about all of your students including that child: what music does he listen to; what does he enjoy doing in the summer; what books does he read; and what problem does he face at home. Greet him and your other students in the hall outside of your classroom and chat with each child about his life outside of school.  Listen to him, because he needs that.  When you see him in the hall, chat with him.  When you enter the cafeteria, in the immortal words of my college theater professor, Jay W. Lees, “play the room.”  Wander from table to table chatting with your students, and slather on the B.S. (Behavior Science was Jay W Lees called making positive comments). When you see him/her doing him/her doing something right, let him/her know very publically how much you appreciate it.  Students who feel their teachers care about them are less likely to be defiant and belligerent in the classroom.  Be careful to make whatever you say sincere, because students have good crap-detectors. They will care about their teacher.  A teacher once told me that a group of sixth graders, “turned on me” when I was being evaluated.  If students don’t feel appreciated they will use their power to make your life miserable, but if students feel you care about them, they will put on such a wonderful show when you are being evaluated.   Small gestures have big bangs.
My daughter, Jeanette, another "that child"
            Quite honestly, I was one “that child.”  I always completed my assignments before the rest of the students and then I could disrupt the class with endless chatter.  I recall being sent to the principal’s office in sixth grade for this very behavior by Miss Peterson who said, “Go to Mrs. McDonald’s office.  Maybe you can entertain her.”  I wasn’t being belligerent or defiant, just chatty.
            I was a child, so I thought like a child.  I thought Mrs. McDonald is all alone in her office and she probably gets pretty lonely.  She just might need me to talk to her.  So unruffled, I went to her office.  After about ten minutes of listening to my endless noise, Mrs. McDonald tired and put me in the adjoining office in front of a phone.  She instructed me to answer the phone and push a button to send the call to her.  She stated clearly, “You are in charge of the phone and greeting visitors.”  I felt so important.  (That was a smart move for Mrs. McDonald.  She gave the student a task and made the student feel special for completing the task.)
Bottom Row Second child on the left hand side, that's me.

            She returned to her office.  After a few minutes three firemen entered and asked to speak to someone “in charge.”  I assured them that Mrs. McDonald said I was in charge.  They laughed and asked to speak to Mrs. McDonald, so I led them in.  In a few minutes, the fire alarm rang.  I evacuated the building right of Mrs. McDonald and the firemen who were saying to Mrs. McDonald, “She said she was in charge.”
            Mrs. McDonald laughed and said, “She thinks she is.” (This was not a smart move because I heard her and I was completely destroyed emotionally.  Children are very sensitive so be cautions what you say around them.)
Me with my cousin
            If you have one of those precocious little darling chatting in your room, simply give them another assignment or have them help around the room.  Miss Peterson did not need to send me to the office.  She could have found some chore that needed to be completed.  Obviously I wasn’t disrupting the class out of malice, simply boredom.  Students like this don’t care if the assignment counts on their grade or if they will receive any points.  They are anxious to learn and to please you.   If they are one of those students who finish their work quickly, but the work is not well done, ask them to redo it.  Walk around the room and interact with your students as they complete an assignment. When I taught math in an alternative program, I had two students who belonged in an advanced class, but they were stuck in my basic skills class.  I always found additional activities that took their skills to a higher level, usually math games or puzzles. They competed to see who could solve the problem the quickest.  Neither of them disrupted the class and everyone was happy.  Never let “that child” sit stagnant or he/she will make himself/herself in charge.
            How do you handle “that child?” Basic ideas like recognizing connection with a student includes interacting with him outside of your room.  Learn as much as you possibly can about each student including his likes, wishes and problems, not just his name.  (That may mean you have to go outside your comfort zone and watch MTV or read books that aren’t your favorite genre.)  Always have additional work for the bright students who finish early and for the students who need to learn in smaller bites to master skills.  Most importantly, remember that all of your students are “that child.”