The daily musings of a substitute teacher in East Central Illinois.

The Informants

Today I was a 5th grade teacher at Robeson Elementary in Champaign. And yes, I was subbing for my mother-in-law again. Her student teacher is in the early stages of her full takeover, though, which means that my job was to be in the building as the certified teacher responsible for what happened in the classroom. I could have spent the day chilling in the teachers’ lounge, but they don’t have any comfortable chairs and, based on some information I had received about some behaviour issues yesterday, I opted to spend the day in the classroom, but I kept out of the way and let the student teacher do her thing.

This class has a handful of challenging students who can make things very hard for a young prospective teacher, but she has done a very admirable job working with them. This was only her third day of a four-week takeover, so I expect to see a lot of progress between now and the end of the month. We talked about some strategies to reduce or eliminate disruptive behaviours. I’ll be back on Monday and am interested to see how the class has responded. One strategy she is going to try is something I came up with on a whim today.

I spent the first 45 minutes of the day observing the class and taking note of which students were being the most disruptive. It turned out that only four were actually making all of the noise. One of the students has loudly proclaimed that he doesn’t care about the rules, expectations, or consequences, but the other three have let me know at various times that they do care and they are trying to have good days. So I decided to take a page out of the life of Thomas S. Monson (president of the LDS church, of which I am a member) and his experiences with a Sunday School teacher when he was a boy.

The story goes that he was part of a rather rambunctious class taught by a sweet young adult. Lucy did her best with the class, but there were days when things were quite a struggle. One Sunday after class, he noticed that Lucy was sitting in the room crying. He went to her and inquired as to the source of her sorrow. She explained that several of the boys in the class were being very disruptive. She suggested that Tommy, as he was called then, could help by trying to set a good example for the other boys. He agreed to do so and the disruptions quickly disappeared. It was years later that he realised that the disruptions were being caused primarily by him.

Thinking of this, I went to one of the students who had been speaking out of turn and asked him if he would be willing to do me a favour. I explained that the student teacher and I were trying to figure out who was talking the most and interrupting class. He agreed to keep a list for me. I then asked the two other students if they would help, as well, and they both agreed, as well. Things didn’t magically get better, but the noise levels definitely decreased. All of a sudden I had three of the four noisiest students working quietly but also keeping tabs on their classmates and letting them know if they were going to be reported for not following expectations! This allowed the students who got easily distracted to have an important task that kept them focused. I suggested to the student teacher that she try to do this in the coming weeks. Find a task and allow the students who are getting up and talking to have a meaningful responsibility in the class that will keep them busy (but not just busy for the sake of being busy; busy doing something important).

I have no idea how successful it will be this late in the year, but I think that it can make a positive impact for many, and help eliminate the amount of lost time in the classroom. The one thing I want to be able to do most with this prospective teacher is help her overcome these challenges so that she doesn’t give up hope and abandon her career!

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3 responses

  1. Ginny

    I’m glad that worked, but it seems to me there is a chance for backfire with this. With the example story you told, “Tommy” was focused on his own behaviour. However, it seems in this class, the students you asked could easily become very focused on who was talking or otherwise distracted as compared to doing their work. And, I can see a lot of finger point occurring.

    April 13, 2011 at 4:57 pm

  2. Oh, it definitely could backfire. Fortunately for me it didn’t. Also, I decided to take advantage of the fact that the kids in this class are often focused on who is doing what anyway. I told all three of the informants that they had to do their work, as well, or I wouldn’t let them keep track of the talkers.

    Of course, since they were among the top four most talkative anyway, they didn’t have nearly as much to keep track of (and I told them that I was keeping track, too, so they needed to record when they were the ones talking). 🙂

    April 13, 2011 at 5:07 pm

  3. This was more or less how the Emperor of China dealt with his pirate problem in the 17th century. He made the chief pirate a government official responsible for patrolling the coasts against pirates. Divide and conquer. Very Machiavellian.

    April 13, 2011 at 10:27 pm

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