B is for Blast Off

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Dec 15 2010

B is for Behavior

I spent last Tuesday through Friday at a training for Project GLAD, the Guided Language Acquisition Design program that provides strategies for instruction of English Language Learners (ELL).   Since 75% of Rocketship students are ELL, I appreciated the opportunity to learn how best to serve them.  The strategies are certainly geared more toward literacy instruction, but I spent the four day training attempting to find applications for my math class.  This proved easier than expected, because math is literacy, too.  Students learn new vocabulary in each unit and must be able to verbalize their explanations for each problem.  I started implementing many of the strategies I learned during this week’s lesson.

This post, however, is about my students’ behavior during and after GLAD training.  Despite how helpful I knew the training would prove to be, I dreaded going.  I have heard many stories about the horrors of leaving students with a substitute as a first year teacher, but I had no idea so many of my nightmares would be realized.

I want to say, for the record, that their behavior is my responsibility whether I am present or not.  As a teacher, I should be instilling an internal moral compass in my students so that their behavior is not based on incentives and consequences in my classes, but on greater ideas of right and wrong.  In Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire, Rafe Esquith writes about six levels of student behavior, beginning with “I Don’t Want to Get In Trouble” and ending with “I Have a Personal Code of Behavior, and I Follow It.”  The final level goes beyond rewards, rules, and consideration of others.

I believe that my students are generally working through the first four levels.  I can think of one or two who behave based on consideration for others or personal codes.  (By and large, these students have tremendously supportive and involved families who model these same tendencies.)  Generally, though, a giant criticism I have for my own classroom is that it is not yet based on trust and consistency.  I think many students still behave based on fear or on my approval, which is obviously ineffective when an inexperienced substitute spends four days in my room and fails to enforce consequences.  Then, neither my approval nor the consequences students fear prove to be obstacles to bad behavior.

As such, the week was a disaster.  Lest we not believe second graders are innocent children with no rationale behind their actions, consider this: last Tuesday, my third period class tricked our substitute into believing that they were all “itchy,” conning him into handing them a bottle of calamine lotion, which was promptly spilled on the floor.  Students spent the week lying to him about assignments that were due and regular classroom procedures.  They stood on furniture, took electrical outlet covers off the wall, skipped recess reflections, and more.  I returned to school every evening to prepare materials for the next day, and I found that the only consequence I could administer from afar was to threaten that students lose the opportunity to go on an ice skating field trip on Friday.

There are two take-away messages from all of this.  First, students need consistency, particularly in elementary school.  While some find the Rocketship behavior model controversial (students move clothespins up and down a color chart depending on behavior in each class), I cannot say enough for how useful it is to have a common system and language school and network-wide.  As students transition from class to class, they know that each teacher will operate consistently.  When teachers have professional development together across the network, they can discuss the clip chart and other behavioral structures productively to share ideas or make improvements.  The students had a difficult transition back to this consistent model this week in my class, but maintenance of this common model was so much easier since their other teachers use the same chart system.  Second, I want to make a concerted effort when students return to school in January to instill in students that our character is who we are when nobody is watching.  I have not emphasized integrity enough outside of test-taking scenarios, and my students desperately need to learn how to identify good and bad choices without my oversight.  The core values we discuss at Launch each morning (respect, responsibility, empathy, and persistence) must be in common outside the classroom, in student homes, and with other adults and role models in their lives.  Then, we can truly say that our students have internalized the first line of the creed: “I am a Rocketship Rocketeer at home, at school, and in my community.”

For the kids,

Bailey

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Bailey Thomson, Bay Area Corps Member 2010


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