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Today’s Do Now: Making consequences stick

Meli is a first year teacher who’s struggling build a peaceful classroom community, and her administration recently told her if she doesn’t quickly improve her classroom management, she should “reconsider [her] position as a teacher.” Here’s what’s troubling her:

I’ve been advised by several people in TFA that my zero tolerance to violence should involve having kids moved to another class for a few minutes. This will convey to them that they are not part of the community if they choose to hurt someone else. This also shows the others in the class that there is an immediate and logical consequence to the violence. But I am not allowed to send my kids to my co-teacher’s class and my lead teacher has been very discouraging with this. Also, since the talking-to I had from the administration, I admit I am almost hesitant to report any violent incidents because of how it reflects on me: I have no control over my students. I’ve asked my co-teacher if our kids are as violent in his class and he says they’re not. But I’m finding that hard to believe. Are first graders really walking into my class thinking, oh it’s Ms. V., let’s go nuts? or are other teachers as hesitant as me to admit that kids are hitting each other in their classrooms?

Yet another illustration of the importance of good school leadership — instead of helping a new teacher, they’ve made her afraid to report incidents and ask for help!

I think in this situation I’d start by observing the other teacher at work, and maybe asking a trusted experienced teacher to observe my class. Another person can often spot the ways your body language is undermining what you say to students, or how one event led to another among the children. And seeing your own students in another context can help you rethink what they’re capable of and who they are as personalities. But don’t forget that it takes time to develop a reputation among students; they’ll always test you first. That’s not to say give up — not at all — just that it’s going to take time.

Other suggestions?

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.