Blogging here has taken a bit of a backseat recently due to the newest freeloader at our house, but I’ve found time to Twitter and comment elsewhere. Two posts that have piqued my interest recently are from Kate Olson and Dan Meyer.
After receiving (and responding to) an email from one of her students, Kate evidently had second thoughts and asked her readership if email contact with students is OK. She received the expected litany of voices (including mine) affirming her, but one dissenting comment took me a bit by surprise:
I have to take a position that says this is not a good idea. I also caution against phone contact for the same reason.
This communication is different than a hallway greeting because it is 24/7 access outside of school parameters.
In an effort to explain, let’s say student tells you they are involved in or considering any of the following:
– going to an underage drinking party
– they are not going to the underage drinking party that’ll be happening this weekend
I think believe the best route for both teachers and students is to maintain boundaries.
@Ellen: Boundaries, I can agree with. Walls? Not so much.
When I think of boundaries on email communication, I think about communicating on school-related topics – i.e., keep it professional. My students email me to ask questions about projects, assignments, and scheduling issues. Sometimes, students who are out sick email me to get info on what happened in class, and what they need to do to be prepared for their return. We do not email to talk casually about drinking, partying, etc., nor would I ever condone it.
Boundaries are set in this forum just as they are in my classroom: in a professional context. How we as professionals conduct ourselves, both in face-to-face interactions and online communication (email, Twitter, IM, etc.) can set good (or bad) examples for students. Many schools across the US give all their teachers e-mail addresses for just this purpose – to facilitate communication between school and home. That doesn’t mean teachers have to check their email and respond 24/7; it just means they can be sent a message 24/7.
If a student was to email me to disclose suicidal ideation or report abuse (or, you could argue, drinking/drug use as well), then clearly they are calling for help, and I would act on that email the same way I would act if they told me in person: by putting them in touch with someone who is better trained to do so than I. I would also be thankful that they felt they could reach out to me and get that help instead of suffering through their problems alone and/or potentially harming themselves.
Even the most technology-resistant teacher at my school uses email to correspond with students and/or parents in a professional capacity. Unless I completely misread the original commenter (or was being trolled), I think this sort of thinking goes beyond issues of technology and speaks more to a teacher’s willingness to engage with his or her students.
Speaking of engaging students, Dan wants to know why no one’s blogging about classroom management:
Is It Because:
- you’d rather talk about something flashier like tech integration or master scheduling?
- you teach in a predominantly white, mid- to upper-ses district where a threatened phone call home is all the muscle you need?
- you’ve worked at your school so long your legacy is all the muscle you need?
- you figured it out so long ago, committed these movements to muscle memory so long ago, you’re useful to your students but useless to a student teacher trying to put it all together?
For what it’s worth, here’s what’s worked for me in my teaching environment:
- Demonstrate compassion and respect daily. Note the verb: not “have”; demonstrate. That doesn’t mean “be a pushover”, but be the kind of person a child can respect. Treat them with the dignity and respect you expect from them.
- Plan well. To me, this means both planning interesting lessons/activities AND minimizing downtime.
- Be flexible. As Jeff noted, deviation from the plan isn’t always a bad thing, and it reminds students that you’re human, too. Goes a long way to helping them treat you like one.
- Give clear expectations, and stick to your guns. Sometimes we say one thing, and kids hear another. It’s our responsibility to make sure we communicate expectations (behavioral and academic) clearly; this takes practice. Having said that…
- Choose your battles. Does it REALLY matter if this one’s got gum, or that one’s tapping a pencil? In some cases, yes, I guess. Just be smart about what you’re willing to go to the mat for, and what you can let slide in the name of harmony.
- Be proactive always, reactive when you must. In my limited experience, proactive planning has gone a long way to preventing problems before they even start. I ask myself constantly, “Where can this go wrong?” and try to plan accordingly. Sometimes, though, you just can’t plan for every variable. If something goes awry, deal with it immediately with whatever resources you have available.
- Don’t swat a fly with a bazooka. Remember that teacher you had in school who overreacted to everything? Remember how much fun it was to provoke him? Don’t be that guy. Keep a level head and let punishments fit crimes, so to speak.
- Laugh. Laugh with your students. Laugh at yourself. Laugh when every last main character in Hamlet dies. Laugh when you say “hypoteneuse”. Laugh at history’s absurdities. Laugh at celebrity gossip. And while you’re laughing…
- Take your job and responsibilities seriously, but get over yourself. I’ll leave this one wide open to misinterpretation.
This list is neither complete nor specific, but that’s by design. So much of learning about classroom management comes from OJT that some of it has to be fine-tuned by the individual teacher as they go along; I think that’s unavoidable. I also think, however, that a noob teacher could do a lot worse than to take some of these concepts as starting points.
Thanks for getting me back in the saddle, Kate & Dan.