Dear Kid Whisperer,
I teach fourth grade. I have three weeks of school left. I am going to lose my mind. I would estimate that I spend at least half of my time with kids correcting them, lecturing them, or telling them what to do. I’m not getting much teaching done. My students are going to end the year behind where they are supposed to be since I can’t really teach effectively. That ship has sailed. I just need to know something simple that I can do so that I CAN SURVIVE THE NEXT THREE WEEKS! -Jenna, Los Angeles, California
It is safe to say that there are literally millions of teachers in the same boat with you right now, just struggling to get to the last day with students. It was certainly true of me in my first two years when I was trying to teach without having learned behavior management skills.
Here’s something that you can use to survive the rest of the month of May.
Just for a moment, think about what your students are trying to get with their dysfunctional behaviors. Chances are, what they are trying to get is attention. The funny thing about attention is that the kids who are causing you the most grief don’t care what kind of attention they get, and many of these kids are excellent at getting it by using negative, anti-social behaviors.
Here’s a truth about attention-seeking behaviors: you can either give attention on your terms, or kids will take it on their terms. We can give it in a way that will make your classroom better, or kids will take it in such a way that it will destroy the learning environment. The latter situation seems to be happening in your classroom.
The solution is to blanket your students with positive attention for positive behaviors from the moment they walk in the door. Be ready for kids to be surprised and confused by this at first: they may not be used to getting attention for positive behaviors.
This is how I did it in my classroom for a decade, and this is how I suggest you use it to be able to survive your last three weeks. Notice how I don’t engage with students’ incredulous responses to my noticings. That would take away from the time I need to notice positives, and it would take away instructional time. After each noticing, I suggest immediately walking away from the student you noticed.
Kid Whisperer (whispering to a kid who walked into the room first thing in the morning): I noticed that you walked into the room peacefully.
Kid: What? So?
Kid Whisperer: (Walks away. Leans down to another student who is working on assigned work): I noticed that you came in and got right to work.
Kid: Why are you telling me that?
Kid Whisperer: You’ll see.
Keep noticing the positive behaviors and walking away. You may be wondering how you are going to get to all of your lesson plans if you have to be noticing these behaviors. The answer is that you are ALREADY not getting to half of your lesson plans! It’s better to spend that time to train your students to get attention using positive behaviors instead of accidentally training your students to use negative behaviors! Over time, you can slowly add more and more teaching time as you get fewer and fewer negative behaviors. You may be surprised how quickly, often immediately, you will see behaviors improve as the children realize that the new best method of getting attention is to be pleasant and to work hard!