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Constants And Variables

One thing I’ve learned as a teacher is that kids don’t do well with change. The central issue with my classroom management as a first-year teacher was a lack of consistency. The behavior of my students was a reaction to the instability of the classroom environment I created. But even once you’ve learned to create a stable classroom structured around rules, routines and procedures, there are always x-factors that can throw off your students.

Sometimes it can be something as simple as the weather. A thunder storm or snow can produce plenty of excitement. A change in the day’s schedule — a substitute in the classroom in place of an absent gym teacher — can get kids pretty worked up too. One of my students had a complete meltdown when this happened my first year. Then there’s major disappointments like today, when we learned that tomorrow’s field trip was postponed.

We had all been looking forward to our trip to the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx for months. But apparently nobody booked a bus … So, the trip had to be postponed a month. An adult in this case can weigh the actual disappointment of postponement against theoretical disappointment of cancellation and recover pretty easily. A third grader, however? Telling a third grader to wait a month you might as well tell to wait a year.

Sudden changes and unexpected adjustments are difficult for all kids, but I think they’re especially difficult for children of poverty. So many variables in these kids’ lives are uncertain. Will they be celebrating their birthday? Will they moving to a new apartment or shelter? Will they see their dad this month? Will they have dinner? For many of these kids school represents a rare constant in their lives. It’s not surprising then that they react so extremely when this constant changes.

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.