Sunday, April 29, 2012

Dear First Block

Dear First Block,

You know a lot of things about me. You know that I before I came to you all, I worked with elementary students who didn't speak English as their first (or maybe even second) language. You know that I also worked in an alternative high school for students who couldn't make traditional high school work for them. You know that from that place, I found out the importance of dialogue and teaching behavior just as often as I teach English. You know that I had planned to spend this weekend not thinking or doing anything school-related. But, if you've been paying attention as we've been getting to know each other this semester, you know that committing myself to forty-eight hours of not thinking about work wasn't likely to happen.

I keep thinking about you all and what needs to change for us. I think about our discussion in our community meeting about how I'm "mean" for expecting you to sign in and out to leave the classroom. I think about how I'm "unfair" for "yelling" at the wrong person for talking. I think about how hard it has been for many of you to take responsibility for your actions and realize that answering someone's question is still talking and that asking you to be quiet and raising my voice are two very different responses -- one of which happens pretty infrequently.

I also keep thinking about how many of you insisted that your other teachers let you leave class whenever you feel the need to, take late work even after the grading period ends, and aren't bothered by people up out of their seats for no apparent reason or pens becoming missiles. I checked with those teachers and they said they don't do those things. These all seem like normal teenage behavior, but that doesn't mean we have to accept it. We have to grow.  I feel like you all have taken advantage of my willingness to engage in discussions about our classroom community.

So, we're going to try something new. Tomorrow, two eleventh grade students who used to struggle with finding their place at school are going to come talk to you about how they behave in the class after yours and how rewarding and enriching they find that community because of everyone's choices to engage and work hard. Another teacher is going to come observe our class for a week and hand out detentions that will not be like when I ask you to stay after to talk about behaviors that are creating problems for you. We're going to see if you can start to frame your choices as yours if you see that other adults find similar issues with your talking and disrespect.

I'm not giving up on you or the power of dialogue in a classroom, but you're going to have to earn our community meetings back. I've recently realized that my classroom management philosophy comes out of my desire to teach habits rather than procedures when it comes to respectful, professional behavior. I think you all do not need to get in the habit of making your voices heard; you need to get in the habit of making them heard constructively. That's going to require some quiet time to think to yourself.

I know I seem mean and that it is hard to see how learning these behaviors now will benefit you in the future.  I hope that some day you will come to understand that I've given you this information and these expectations because I really care.

Ms. T

P.S. Cabin in the Woods was hilarious. I don't know what y'all were talking about.

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