Friday, April 29, 2011
A recent online conversation about gum chewing in the classroom led into an interesting side tangent about teachers, students, respect and responsibility.
Several teachers insisted students cannot be taught to responsibly chew gum at school. One even went so far as to say it is a waste of time to try to teach students to be responsible.
Personally, I find this highly insulting to both students and teachers. If you think any part of teaching is a waste of your time, you need to find a different profession. Period. End of discussion.
Even on the worst day of my teaching career, even when all the scores on a test were low, even when behavior was roaring at an all time worst... I've never felt my efforts were a waste of time. I might feel I need to re-evaluate my strategies. I might feel overwhelmed and defeated. But at no time have I thought it was ALL for naught.
As far as gum chewing goes. Whatever... I really don't care whether a teacher allows gum or not. I am a gum chewer, so perhaps that taints my own views. I also think for active students, especially middle schoolers, chewing gum is a great release of some energy. Some research even suggests chewing gum stimulates the brain.
The real discussion point of disagreement wasn't about the gum itself though. It was whether or not students can be taught to respect school property, the classroom, and be trusted to act responsibly with gum.
I find it easy to teach students to be responsible and respectful of property but showing them HOW that looks. Often, we, as adults and teachers, make assumptions that students SHOULD know how to act, instead of gently showing them, encouraging the appropriate actions, and positively reinforcing their efforts.
At the end of each class period, take a minute or two to have students clean up. Make sure their floor area, desk, etc.. are clean. My motto is: It doesn't matter if it is yours or not, take care of it! Have students learn to automatically push chairs in when they leave a table.
Have them learn responsibility for the school at a larger level as well. When you clean lockers out, and the hall is littered with rubbish, grab THOSE boys to sweep the hall. Have students haul the garbage barrels to the dumpster.
Grab some wet cloths and disinfectant once a week or so and have students quickly clean desks or tables. Let volunteers clean boards.
When you have a 'party' or project in your classroom that creates extra waste, have students dump the extra instead of making more work for the janitors. When you notice the hallway is full of garbage or tracked dirt, grab a kid to make a quick sweep.
It doesn't take long and all those become second nature for students. It doesn't disrupt your teaching. In fact, it makes your own life easier. Students will began to automatically put materials back where they belong, take care of their own messes, and take responsibility for the classroom's 'essence'.
Teaching is more than just delivering the content. We are preparing our students to be adults, contributing members of society. We are teaching them how to be a part of something greater than themselves. It doesn't take much effort, and it makes a trickle effect larger than you can imagine. It all comes down to classroom culture and building respect, mutually, between yourself and your students. If they feel important, valued, and part of the greater whole in your classroom, the physical appearance of your classroom will reflect that. If they feel respected and valued as individuals, discipline problems will be virtually non-existent. It really is a give & get situation, a win-win for all involved on every front.
It is possible, and it is worth the time and effort. Don't sell your students short!