Monday, November 5, 2012

Teachers vs Students in the Schools

One of my current jobs is as a substitute teacher.  I love kids and thought it would be a great way to supplement my income while I work towards becoming a full-time motivational speaker.  I had no idea what I was in for.  I’ll tell you, once I started substituting, I gained a whole new-found respect for teachers.  I wish I had respected them more when I was in school.  It is unbelievable to see what teachers have to deal with today. 

When I was in school, we didn’t dare even look cross-eyed at a teacher. It was in the days that paddling was acceptable and the consequences were severe if a student acted up.  Granted, I do not believe in paddling, but students no longer have any fear because the consequences of their actions and behavior do not hinder bad choices.  Many just get a slap on the hand or sent to detention where most times, they can do whatever they want because even the teachers of those classes cannot control them.

The first two years that I subbed, it was so stressful that I hardly took any jobs.  I also had other things going on in my life that were stressful at the time, so adding school stress was just too much and I couldn’t deal with it.  Plus, I hadn’t found my niche in getting control of the classes. 

My first mistake was that I went in being nice and wanting to be their friend.  Once you do that, they know they have you and the results are not fun.  And if you don’t get control and set the tone right from the get-go, you’re a goner and they know it.  Students walked all over me and they knew there wasn’t a thing I could do about it.

About that time, I read a spiritual novel that was part truth and part fiction.  In it, the main male character was a substitute teacher, and because he tried to be nice to the kids, the kids walked all over him.  It was very stressful to him, too.  Another teacher suggested to him that he be mean first, and then be nice.  A light went off over my head.  It is not my job to be their friend.  I am their teacher first and foremost.  Once I got in the frame of mind that I don’t care if they like me or not (well, I do, but it’s not my first priority), I started to find my footing in setting the tone and having control of the classes.

It’s still stressful, but most times I can control a class and it can be a pleasant experience.  And many of those times because I did have control, I and the students could find a connection to where they actually liked me and said I was a cool sub.

How do I do this?  First thing I do is have everyone sit down and be quiet, and I do not continue until they are all seated and no one is making a sound.  I then introduce myself and say that I am going to give them my expectations that I have of them so that they can know what to expect of me.  If the students do not have to work with each other on assignments, I do not allow any talking at all.  I tell them that if they talk, I’ll move them, and if they talk after that, I’ll turn in their names.  And I enforce that rule.  This will usually work for the most part.  I will still have a student or two who will try to “push the sub.”  The problem with letting them talk is that it’s then hard to control the volume level and they get out of hand no matter how many times you ask them to keep it down.

I also tell them that I am strict, but fair; and I will be nice until I cannot be nice any longer.  If it looks like most of the students have their work done in the class, I will allow them to talk the last ten minutes or so as a reward for good behavior.  It is at this time that I also try to interact with the students, showing them my nice, crazy side.  This is when I kid around, sing, dance, joke, and the kids can get the feeling that I’m actually human.

Following this protocol works most of the time.  But there are times when it doesn’t work.  There will always be those few students who are so desperate for attention that they will say and do anything to do so.  Recently, I was asked to sit in on a class for about a half hour while the teacher had something to take care of.  When I got to her class, she had one student arguing with her right off the bat. She informed me that he and a couple others may be a challenge.  Boy, were they!  I gave my opening remarks, but these several students, particularly the one, were going to be extremely defiant and they were determined not to behave no matter what I said.

I ended up having to go into aggressive mode, which I do not like to do because I do not like conflict and avoid it at all costs if possible.  There was no way I was going to be able to avoid it here.  I was dealing with the bullies of the classroom; the students whose main goal in life is to bully teachers.  Most get away with it and they know it.  But I wasn’t going to let them get away with it in my class.  It was not pleasant for the majority of the students and I felt for them. 

The one student, who was the worst, happened to be black.  Color does not matter to me as I’m color blind when it comes to people.  He was in constant act-up mode to get attention.  Some of the other kids would laugh.  I told them that they may think his behavior is funny, but it’s not; it’s actually quite sad.  Some of them got it and didn’t laugh again.  Then this student asked if he could go get a drink of water and I told him no.  He also had a full bottle of water in his hands and I showed the students.  The student next to him called me a racist because I let two white students go.  I told him that I let them go because they were behaving.  The student who called me a racist wrote a note to give to the other student.   I intercepted it and it was about me, and it wasn’t nice.

After the class, I made sure to tell the teacher what had happened and she knew it wasn’t because of me.  But what could she do?  What can you do to students who are so disruptive?  They don’t care.  Their actions and their behaviors have become their identity.  I wonder what their home lives are like?  Some of these kids have the most horrific home lives.  In other classes and schools, I learned one student was in fifteen foster homes before he was a sophomore.  I overheard another student telling how his father was drunk the night before, and he had to ride in the car with him.  Another student saw her mom murdered.  I had a five year old tell me that he wanted to kill himself and die.  These are just a few out of the thousands that teachers deal with. 

I tried subbing at a local school for troubled kids and only lasted two days.  When I turned my head, one student was half-way out the window, another student threw a chair down the hallway, and I overheard a group of boys talking about sneaking a slice of glass past the metal detectors to hurt someone.  Me?  All I knew was that minimum wage was not worth risking my life; therefore, I decided not to sub at that school anymore.  

I am constantly hearing stories from other teachers and subs who say they refuse to sub for certain grade levels because the kids are so out of control.  One friend, who is now a minister, used to ride with some of the most violent motorcycle gangs and had been in fights to defend his life.  He subbed for a kindergarten class and said never again.  Most subs avoid the high schools.  Many say they avoid the middle schools.  In my experience, it’s pretty much the same throughout all the grades.

I've also seen and heard things in the schools that are appalling.  One teacher I subbed for had a complete meltdown the previous day.  During one of those classes, I heard yelling across the hall and it turns out the class across the hall locked their sub out of the room and she was yelling at them to let her back in.  Some teachers just give up and let their students do whatever they want to do just to not have to deal with them.  This is not an inner city school system either.  I know they do the best they can, but we have got to find a way to do better in all schools across the nation.  Laying teachers off certainly doesn't help.

There are some religious groups who say they want prayer and religion back in the schools.  Why do the schools need to be responsible for their children’s religious upbringing?  Parents and politicians don’t want sex education in the schools saying that the students should learn this from the parents.   Shouldn’t it then be the parents who are responsible for their religious teachings also?  If you put religion and prayers in the schools, whose religion, whose God, and whose prayers?  Even if you want only the Christian religion, there are thousands of Christian denominations all believing something different, so which Christian religion and/or denomination? 

It’s easy for some parents and some schools to want to fluff off the responsibility of the students’ welfare.  The schools want the parents to be responsible, and the parents want the schools to be responsible (except in sex education).  So, in the meantime, who is being responsible for our children?

What’s the answer?  To be honest, I don’t know.  I do know that students need to be held accountable for their actions, and the consequences needs to be equal to the actions.  Personally, I think there should be a program for students who refuse to behave that is run like a military boot camp.  We have so many military people coming home from the war with no jobs.  This would be a great job opportunity.  Teach the kids discipline.  In no class should they be permitted to just sit around and do nothing.  Make them run the obstacle courses.  Whatever it is they do in boot camps.  Or do community service.  Let them see how much worse some people have it life than they do.  Put them in positions to be of service to others less fortunate. 

But at the same time, we need to find a way to show love to these kids.  Their behaviors and actions are a cry for love, and apparently, they’re not getting it.  We need to teach them self-esteem and self-worth.  We need to give them hope.  We need to teach them people skills and that bad behavior is not acceptable.  We need to teach them respect.  We need to lift these children up and not tear them down.  We need to help them find their purpose.  We need to give them positive mentors.  Many children do not have father and/or mother figures in their lives.   We need to show them that people do care and that their lives do matter.

I could go on and on with some of my experiences in subbing, and more ideas on how to deal with this overwhelming issue, but then I’d have a book.  I do know that we cannot sit back and do nothing.  Our schools are becoming more and more crowded, more and more teachers are being laid off, and it’s getting more and more out of control.  We cannot wait any long.  We hear the slogan “our children are our future” but what kind of future are they going to have if we don’t teach the skills (both inwardly and outwardly) to deal with life? 

We can only do what we can.  Remember when they said it takes a village to raise a child?  If you know of a child, no matter what their age, or who they are, show them love and kindness.  If you know that they do not have a good home life and you have the means to help, invite them over for some meals or on some trips and vacations with your kids.  All it takes is that one kindness to change a child’s life.  You may not see the results immediately, but you will be planting the seeds.  Plant the seeds and help cultivate them.  Then watch the child bloom and grow.


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