“[Student], may I talk with you a minute?”
“Oooh . . .”
Whispers. Possibly including words in other languages that may sound familiar and vaguely inappropriate for school.
“Me?” An incredulous student points to self.
Any teacher knows that a timely, calm, quiet but firmly voiced, “May I talk with you a minute?” can have the same impact as a more dramatic and angry response to a student’s bad choice. Although, the dramatic and angry response is not without precedent from time to time.
I am still working on the art of the teacher lecture. This year as a grade level leader at an international school in Indonesia for seventh grade –or Grade 7, as it is known to Canadians and Europeans–my role as a “pastoral leader” has been a focus of intense reflection on my part.
My patience and problem-solving skills have been tested–especially from the perspective that an international school may have different responses to student misconduct than the universally accepted American approach that has been the “ground I’ve walked” most of my life.
A range of parental expectations exist in a culture where nannies and drivers are adults, largely subservient to children’s demands. Teachers can fall into the category of a “super nanny” or a more revered “guru” or somewhere in between.
I have found that parents universally want their child to succeed and that I can position myself as a partner in helping children make choices to achieve their personal best.
Yet, again and again, I have been challenged by middle school “Encyclopedia / Wikipedia Brown” investigations that I launch daily to suss out the underlying forces behind bullying, emotional outbursts, homework excuses, etc.
The tools I rely on most heavily are:
- the “good cop” discussion that just wants to know what you can tell me about the incident
- followed by the email home in the child’s own words explaining his or her role and reflections on the situation
Other strategies require more time and thought, customized to the group. The following list includes well-worn tools in every teacher’s tool kit but I’m listing them here in hopes of collecting teachers’ compelling anecdotes and effective approaches:
- a personal relationship with the child so I can build credibility into the discussions that take place after an incident–on my best days they sound like “Love and Logic” on other days, more like “Law and Order.” Because in the middle school justice system, the students are not represented by 2 separate but equally important groups, but rather by a teacher who serves both roles, the person who investigates the crime and the person who prosecutes the offenders . . .
- empowering by-standers (instant results can not always be expected)
- discussions with colleagues who provide insights and strategies
- providing alternatives by giving misguided souls a role and purpose, a way to be included
- a parental meeting, usually after school and sometimes with a translator who is a family member (an elder sibling who doesn’t mind translating if it also involves a bit of tattle telling) or a doting faculty member from the languages department (who forms an instant connection with the family, as you do, when you are a member of the same tribe)
On the days when I get it wrong–I have the opportunity to apologize, just like I ask the students to do. But on the days when I get it right despite exhaustion from planning, teaching, grading, anticipating, investigating, troubleshooting, entertaining, inspiring, guiding and encouraging–the reward is priceless.
“Yes, miss. I’m sorry. I’ll try to do better next time.”
So will I.