Wednesday, September 18, 2013

A Day in the Life of a Chief Operating Officer for Mini People

Today, I managed 127 kids.

127 beating hearts, 127 little minds. 127 different people; fighting their own battles, writing their own stories.

Some days they come into class smiling, obedient and ready to learn. And other days, they don’t. They walk in wanting to give up; they feel defeated and defiant.

We all know when someone forgets to check their baggage at the door. They may refuse to sit in their seat. Or work with their partner. Or complete their assignment like the rest of the class.

Instead, they rebel. They give attitude. They roll their eyes. They tap their pens and yell across the room. They sing just loud enough for the class to laugh at their 2 Chainz lyrics. They crumble fresh pieces of paper and try to MJ them into the garbage can.

On those days the traditional “behavior management cycle” does not work for these kids. Disciplinary action only makes their behavior worse. Instead of backing down, it seems to fuel their fire and magnify the problems in their personal lives.

So how does one manage this behavior? "Relationship building," is what they told me.

Easier said than done, is what I told them. 

Here’s what I thought I’d be doing as a Reading Teacher:

Here’s what the job description should have said (what I’m actually doing):

Chief Operating Officer for Mini People
Job Description
You will see 127 kids each day. Your largest classes will be around 30 students; those will be your most challenging. You will teach 6 classes and have 50 minutes to teach them as much as you can.

Teaching the lowest tiers, you will have the students who need the most help, but also the most love. There is a strong correlation between the students that are struggling in school/reading and the ones that struggle behaviorally. You will teach all of these students. And you will learn the behavioral management cycle the hard way.

You will need to find a way to build relationships with all of these mini people, especially the ones that act out in your class. The key to managing these students is making sure they respect you and know you are there for them. For 1 class, this may mean targeting your 13 most challenging students. Get to know them by writing personal notes and having one on one conversations before class. Then, get to know their families by calling their parents after school.

When you have finished that class, rinse and repeat 5 more times for the rest of your classes. Remember you will be doing this relationship building simultaneously while you are teaching, creating lesson plans, making copies and grading papers for all 127 students. Your typical workday will be about 10-12 hours, but it won’t feel like ‘work’ because you’ll be so busy. 

In fact, you’ll feel so fulfilled emotionally. So much that you will have days where during your off periods you will cry. You will feel frustrated and it will get worse before it gets better.

Not all of the kids will have behavioral problems. It will really only be about 1/3 that will stress you out. And the rest of them will be great students that have an earnest desire to learn and get a better life for themselves and their families. Your heart will break for those kids. You’ll wonder if they're actually learning; if you’re actually giving them the help they need. 

And one day after a spelling test, you’ll see that one of your beginning readers spelled only 4 out of 25 words correctly. You’ll feel so bad and wonder what more you could do to help. You’ll pass the test back and at the end of class, he will excitedly come up to you and say, “Ms! I spelled some of these words right! I’m learning how to spell!!!” And in that moment you’ll realize that celebrating those little victories—those 4 correct words—is what teaching is all about. Sometimes it takes the perspective of a child to help you see that the glass is really half full, no matter how big of a mountain it feels like you have to climb.

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