The blackboard jungle

So, now that I’m a high-school teacher, I am thinking about my classroom style and practices with an eye to what I might like to try modifying, especially now that I have the opportunity to set my routines and expectations from the beginning of the year.  Three of my classes will be ninth grade, which means they should be receptive to clear direction about what is and is not acceptable in high school. 

As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t like dealing with bad behavior in the classroom, and I’m not particularly good at it.  I can do it, because I have to, and over the years I have found approaches that work for me that fit well with my personality and philosophies.  By the time school ended, I was beginning to perceive that I might end up being better at it as a high-school teacher than as a college one, simply because I am less ambivalent about telling fourteen-year-olds to behave than I am about telling twenty-year-olds. 

And, of course, the atmosphere is more conducive to, shall we say, behavioral guidance.  They are minors.  They expect teachers to step on them when they are whispering.  They know the threat exists of “being sent to Mr. —” if they get seriously out of line.  Furthermore, this is a college preparatory school, and most of the unwanted behavior is pretty mild–e.g., whispering (typically girls) and showoffy antics (typically boys). 

At the same time, they are, well, kids, which is why one of my projects this summer is to read up on adolescence so that I can understand better whom I’m dealing with.  The Soul of Education, which can be seen in the books column on the right, was recommended by a colleague, and gives some excellent food for thought about how adolescence is partly a search for meaning. 

I’m thinking about my own teachers, too, and how they managed a classroom.  I don’t remember a lot of discipline incidents in high school, though.  (I do remember a sixth-grade teacher carrying a student’s desk, with the student in it, out to the hallway and leaving it there.) 

Mostly, I was in fairly challenging classes, and there was far more incentive to pay attention and stay engaged than to start goofing around.  And indeed, my honors classes this year gave me very little difficulty; it was the “regular” class that had whisperers and showoffs.  In high school, my “regular” class was Spanish, and I remember el maestro fussing and shouting at the offenders–mostly ineffectually. 

So!  I’m interested in your experiences (from either perspective, student or teacher) of humane, dignified, yet effective high school discipline.  Do you remember policies, routines, or responses that helped keep a classroom focused and behaving appropriately?  Mature, experienced, resourceful readers–what can you suggest?


2 responses to this post.

  1. … ninth grade, which means they should be receptive to clear direction about what is and is not acceptable in high school.

    This is exactly the point that D. made to me when I was first railing against getting 9th-grade classes. I had more classroom issues with my 10th-grade class last year than with the 11th-grade (actually, I had very few problems at all with the juniors — the seniors were actually far more trouble than either the sophomores or juniors), so my thought was that the freshmen would be even more difficult than the sophomores. But D’s argument is that brand-new 9th-graders are actually the most receptive to clear instructions about how one acts in high school. So I’m feeling much better about the prospect for next year.

    That being said, one of my colleagues did have a terror of a 9th-grade class last year. The problems seem to be entirely the function of three girls who had been together since 6th grade and who were individually nightmares and then all wound up in the same English class. He finally had to resort to giving “points” for misbehavior; the funny thing is that he never spelled out what the consequences of a certain number of points were — the mere accumulation of points itself had a dampening effect on these three girls.

    Last summer, when I had students with behavioral problems, I found helpful David Walsh’s Why Do They Act That Way? A Survival Guide to the Adolescent Brain for You and Your Teen, which at least helped to me be more patient with my misbehaving students.


  2. Posted by meansomething on July 10, 2008 at 2:32 pm

    WN?, I’m getting that Walsh book today. Thanks! There seems to be a copy of it at almost every branch of our city’s library! Heh. Few of them are currently checked out today, though.

    Discipline is certainly an area where I really appreciate the free exchange of info among colleagues. I was happier knowing that a student who was a PITA for me was also one for his history teacher. And that another student who drove his chem teacher crazy was challenging but basically okay for me. (I didn’t have anyone who was terrible for me but fine for everyone else, but I’m sure it will happen.)


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