Genghis the Teacher
Teaching is a great job if you can do two things:
1. Teach the students to be kind and polite.
2. Manage the paperwork.
If you improve by 10% per year, in a very short period of time you will be one of the best teachers in the school.
Take responsibility for your students. How do you explain why some classes are orderly and others are chaotic? If Patton walked into the class, do you think for one second anyone would be disrespectful? Norman Schwarzkopf, or Jaime Escalante?
Blaming the students, their parents, their neighborhood or your principal for rude and disrespectful behavior only eliminates your chance to effect change. Many teachers like to play the blame game. They do not take responsibility for their students’ behavior, but are quick to place blame on someone else. If you acknowledge your own responsibility as a teacher and a mentor to your students, you have the opportunity to change in your classroom.
All is fair when controlling 30 or 40 recalcitrant teenagers.
A) Lessons from military history.
B) Lessons from evolutionary psychology.
C) Lessons from interpersonal relations.
D) Lessons from experience.
Let’s take our lessons from:
A) Military History.
1. Get as many students on your side as possible. I was talking to a new teacher in the room next to mine. He asked, “Why are your classes so calm and orderly and mine so chaotic?”
As usual, I was thinking about war. “It is like war,” I replied. “War? What do you mean? Aren’t you supposed to be nice to them?”
“Rule one in warfare: get as many guys on your side as possible.” What do I mean by this? If you have thirty kids in your room, and if twenty-eight like you, your discipline problems are over. Always be nice to the students. Always be positive. Tell them how much you like them. Mention their new shirts and shoes and haircuts and any other successes they have had. After all, how many people like you, but you don’t like them? Not many. Teenagers are the same, if someone likes them; they are far more likely to like the other person. Work every day on finding the good in each, and praising it. Smiling solves many problems. Each day is new and precious---act accordingly.
2. Gather information. On the first day of school, give the students a personal questionnaire. Ask about siblings, hobbies, likes, dislikes, favorite teachers, problems with teachers. How they would like to be addressed, class schedules, successes they have had in school, perceived failures in school, how they like to be taught, and problems they have had in school. The more you know about them the easier they are to control.
If you know Johnny is looking for a job, and Robert has one and the firm where Robert works is looking for another employee, well, you have just made a friend for life and at least one of your problems is no longer. If you know Johnny plays baseball, often a word to the coach can eliminate rude behavior. If Johnny is causing problems and you know he is smoking marijuana, an anonymous note home to mom might get Johnny in so much trouble that he no longer has the energy to cause you trouble. The point is, knowing things about your charges can make a huge difference if you are vigilant and creative in using that information to your advantage. Talk to counselors and other teachers that have your problem children. Often identical students will behave remarkably differently in different classes. If you find a teacher who has found a way to get Johnny to be kind and polite, ask what they have done that you haven’t yet. Often counselors have insights into behavioral problems and can provide actionable intelligence that you can use to your advantage.
3. Use technology. Wars are won by those with the best technology:
a. cell phones
c. tape recorder-it is amazing how differently kids behave when they know they are being recorded.
d. Camcorder- see above.
e- web cam
f-loud whistle. Blow on that thing for five seconds and you will have the quietest class on the planet. (Make sure the paramedics are available because some might have a heart attack.)
f- bull horn- No lie. My first year, I taught at an “inner city” school. One teacher was having particular trouble. The class just talked all period. One day he walked in with a bullhorn. It was hilarious. One of the loudest things I have ever heard, you could not hear yourself think. After two weeks, some students came to him and said,” If we agree not to talk, will you stop using that thing?” The point is- be creative, there is a solution to these problems. As Patton told his troops, “ I do not want you to die for you country, I want you to make that other sorry sob to die for his.”
4. Employ the indirect attack. When someone is fooling around, walk up to him from behind and tap him on the shoulder. This will send the message that you are aware of everything and have the presence to do something about it.
5. Beware of Pyrrhic victories. If you humiliate a kid, that kid may shut up for that day, but there are two problems. First, you now have an enemy and teachers do not need more enemies; and second, you have sent a message that the class is not a team that you are not on their side and the mutiny is only one misstep away.
6. Always weigh the costs and benefits. Wars aren’t always won in a day. Save up and get in a good position for victory tomorrow.
7. Remember that speed counts. As Patton said, “It is better to have a good plan today than a perfect plan on the day after the battle.”
8. You don’t have to win every battle every day.
9. Do what is necessary but not more. All you want is for the students to be kind and polite. Once they are kind and polite, it is not necessary to impose more punishment. It is not necessary to hold grudges. This will just poison the class and you will have a harder time getting the students to see that you are on their side.
10. Focus on the goals. What do you want your class to be like, and what do you have to do make this happen?
11. Be strong to fight another day. Ok, you had a bad day. It happens to the best. Figure out what went wrong, why, and how you can remedy it. Reflect on the near-certain fact that it is going to be better tomorrow.
B) Evolutionary Psychology.
1. Students learn from peers, including how to behave. If you get most to be kind and polite, others will fall in line.
2. Fitting in. Most teenagers desperately want to fit in. If most students are kind and polite, they will have influence on the rest.
3. Stand out. Throughout the ages some young males have gained status by challenging the alpha male (You). The teacher has to make it clear that no matter what, you are in a position to make that child’s life worse.
4. Students want to help. Have chores for as many students as possible. Get them to do things for you.
5. Students were not designed to sit and listen to old geezers talk. You will have less trouble if you talk less. You need to find a way to get the students involved and doing something - not just listening. In general, well-focused, motivated humans can actively listen to a monologue for no more than twenty minutes, and few teenagers can be described as focused and motivated. So, you need to reduce monologues even more.
C) Interpersonal Relationships.
1. Make friends. Find out who the best teachers in the school are, and do what they do.
2. Almost every good teacher likes to be asked about tricks of the trade. You should always ask these people how they handle specific problems (no book, tardies, rudeness, bathroom policy, writing referrals, etc.).
3. You should always ask general questions about how they conduct class, handle papers, give tests/quizzes, give grades, etc.
4. Make friends with those around you. Often they can provide a great deal of support. Many teachers won’t mind if you send a problem student to their class once in a while. You can always reciprocate.
5. Make friends with those in your department. Often if you are teaching the same class the same period, you can trade problem children. Problem children are only problem children because of their environment. Change their environment and you drastically change their behavior.
6. Make friends with those who are having problems and want to change. This support group can give you an opportunity to vent and talk about more effective strategies to use in the future. Bounce ideas off others and get a different perspective. Think of more effective strategies.
7. Make friends with those in administrative offices (counselors, deans, assistant principals, security personnel, janitors, clerks). Make sure every one knows you are doing everything in your power to improve. Also ask for their support and guidance.
8. Body language. A huge percentage of communication is non-verbal. Kids can smell fear and trepidation. You must look competent and confident. Presence and proximity matters - you will have fewer problems if you walk around the room. You will have more trouble if you sit at your desk. Not very many bank robberies are committed in front of the police.
1. First Day. Here is how I actually run my classroom on the first day—my own tricks of the trade, so to speak. Contrary to intuition, or common sense, I never tell students the rules. Instead I present a glimpse into my position. I invite their empathy. “I have a very difficult job,” I say. “I am not complaining. I only mention it so you’ll understand: If you do anything in this room to make my job more difficult than it already is, God help you… In fact, not even God will be able to help you.” Kids understand this immediately. They know right off that you are serious about maintaining standards in the classroom.
You must find a way to make it very unpleasant for misbehaving students. I tell them that I have three rules:
1. I went to University of Southern California. I love that school! I especially love the football team. If by chance they lose, do not say anything to me about their loss. Not “tough loss”, or “they almost won”. Especially do not laugh about it. Because if you do, I will hate you and you will not enjoy this class.
2. I will be in this room at lunch, nutrition and after school each day for you to get extra help. The only exception is Fridays when I play golf. Golf is very important to your teacher! So do not come here after school on Friday. Any other time is fine.
3. If I say anything that you don’t understand, raise your hand right away.
This takes about five minutes. Next I tell the students a story that helps them memorize 20 words:
There was this fifty-foot ice cream cone, out popped an eight-foot long skunk ran down the ice cream cone and sprayed your best friend. Why was he your best friend? Because he has a big heart, as big as a purple balloon. The balloon went up, a nail came down (kaboom). The nail went into your hand, and out popped a flower. On top of the flower was a fork. The fork went into your belly button and out popped a worm. (Hey! it could happen so don’t try this at home.) The worm turned into a brown horse. What was special about the horse? It had pink high heels and blue Elton John sunglasses. A finger was coming out of the sunglasses. It went straight into a lamp (kish) and turned into hamburger. The hamburger was eaten by Mickey Mouse riding a skateboard on his way to Mars.
I tell this with a great deal of embellishment and weird sound effects. I break it into four groups of five words. The first row must repeat the first five words, the second row must repeat the first ten words, and the last row does all twenty. While I am telling the story and calling on students, I am studying the seating chart. I talk to myself: First row:
Joe, Sally, Maria, etc.
I remember three girls sitting in a row. Their names were Michelle, Alice and Pamela. They all looked alike, I just thought of MAP, and got their names right in seconds. Tricks like this can make the process more efficient. I do this until I can say each student’s name without fail. The story takes about twenty minutes.
After the story I teach them how to prime factor the first twelve numbers. Their first assignment is to prime factor the first one hundred numbers. I walk around the room and correct the papers while they are doing the problems at their seats. With five minutes left in the class, I pull out a one-dollar bill and say, “would anybody like to bet that I don’t know his or her name?” Robert raises his hand, and I say. “Probably not a good decision, Robert.” Then I go around the room and correctly say everyone’s name.
So what was accomplished the first day? I learned all their names, the class got to laugh and have fun. I told them a little bit about how to improve their memory and how the brain works. They learned that most of the class is about solving math problems and the teacher is very helpful. I conditioned them to expect to take out a sheet of paper, copy the board, and start doing what you can to solve the math problems. This is what they are going to do every day.
Conditioning is very important, once they get into the habit of walking into the classroom, copying the board and start working, most of your problems are over. I learned which students have learning problems. (If you can’t remember the words from the story, there are going to be problems), who is going to have trouble with the math and who will be my problem students. I start designing strategies to deal with them right away.
a. Asking to go to the bathroom. The first time in the semester this happens, I tell them did you ever notice that in some classes 5 people per day have to go to the bathroom and in others hardly ever? Well, man must ask himself three questions:
· What do I want?
· What is the price?
· Am I willing to pay the price?
The price of going to the bathroom is 10 minutes at lunch. Invariably the student says, that’s ok; I don’t have to go that badly. I say, next time, it costs 10 minutes to ask. Very few ever even ask. When this happens and I have some time to teach another lesson, I say let me show you a trick. Stand up. Put your hands on your head. Now hop for 5 minutes. Yes it is funny. No I have never had a student that did this, but they get the message, it is not wise to ask to go to the bathroom in my class.
b. Not having the proper materials. If you come to class with no book you stand in the back of the room.
· Pencils on sale for a quarter.
· Paper on sale, 5 for a quarter
c. Getting out of seat. I just never have this problem. The first day, inevitably someone will get out of his seat. I SCREAM. The class reacts like a puppy doing something bad. I then say, “I am sorry, but I get very nervous whenever someone leaves his seat. You see, what happened about ten years ago, a kid was going to sharpen his pencil, and then he stabbed me. I would show you my scar, but there are ladies present. But he made a terrible mistake. Whenever you knife someone, always turn, this damages the vital organs, and the victim will die. That kid forgot to turn and I survived. What happened to the kid? He disappeared. Just flat out disappeared. The police investigated and the CIA, but not one ever saw him again. So, please, please never leave your seat.” No one ever does. (Sometimes being a little crazy helps.)
d. Throwing things. My first year I was writing on the board when an orange whizzed past my head. I thought - gee, they didn’t talk about this in Teacher College. I had no idea what to do. I went home and thought. The next day I walked in, told a sweet pleasant girl to go to the board and write everything I told her on the board. I walked around in the back of the class and dictated the lesson. Problem solved. I don’t know how much they learned that year, but that class sure was quiet from then on.
Recently, I heard a projectile whiz past my ear again. This was a wonderful class with one bad apple. After the lesson was complete, I took a few kids from the back of the class out into the hall and asked who did it. No one said anything. I then took the bad apple out of the class and said three people said you throw that thing. He said, “Well, I was mad.” I called the dean (who is my best friend) and we arranged a confession and a permit to go to another school. Make friends!
e. Talking out of turn. This is the most serious problem you will face in your teaching career. If you can solve this one, it is all down hill.
First, what not to do:
Warning. Never give warnings, ever under any circumstances. They have to realize that the first word out of their mouths will have consequences.
Arguing. If you are arguing with a student, STOP! You are doing something terribly, terribly wrong. Calmly ask Johnny to come in at lunch (or after school). Johnny immediately asks, why? At that point in a loud voice, “BECAUSE I ASKED YOU NICELY!” Then I say, you have a choice, but 8000 students have said you can’t make me come in at lunch. And 8000 students have been wrong. But, hey, maybe you are special, I wish you well. If they do not show up at lunch, I have a referral slip already filled out for them as they walk into class the next day. It just says “Student is confused as to how to behave in class, please send back at lunch. Welcome back any time.”
The Dean says if you don’t show up for detention, you will be suspended.
At lunch I always ask, “Why are you here?” The student invariably says, “I don’t know,” at which point I go back to reading the newspaper and say, “When you figure it out, raise your hand.” Five seconds later, the hand goes up. The student says, “I was talking when I should not have been.”
I say, “Yes you were. What are you going to do to make sure this doesn’t happen again?” “Well, I am not going to talk any more in class.” If contrition is sincere, I let him go.
The next time that same student is in at lunch, I have him take out a piece of paper and start writing about how he is going to behave in class. After he makes a few attempts and his pain seems to be sufficient, I let him go. If there comes a point with a student when this is no longer effective, I bring him in at lunch and say, “This doesn’t seem to be working. It seems we are going to have to go to Phase 2. Phase 2? Yes, I will call your mommy, you will go to the dean’s office, and you will not be allowed back in class until you, your mommy, the dean and I sit down and figure out a way for you to be kind and polite in class.”
I wish I could tell you that Phase 2 is effective, but I have never actually implemented this myself. On a very few occasions I have threatened to go to Phase 2, but once the student hears about Phase 2, I have never had any more problems.
Remember: it’s amazing what a student will agree to at 3:04 p.m.
f. Head on desk. I say, “Johnny, let me show you a trick. Stand up. Stand in the back of the room.” After between five and forty minutes, I ask if he is feeling better and would like to complete the assignment.
g. Reading magazines and putting on makeup. I walk around the room a lot. When I see someone doing something like this, I walk up behind her and pick the objects up very quickly. Student always asks, “When do I get it back?” I answer, “Whenever your mother comes and picks it up.” But she is not going to come. Oh well! I have been doing this for twenty years, and have never had a problem with this technique. If a student comes and asks for the object back at lunch usually I will say, “ come back in one week with the homework perfect. Then you can have it back.” Periodically during the year I will give the stuff away. Poor girls get the makeup and the truck magazines go to those that like trucks.
h. Eating and drinking. I allow this. Small privileges that do no disrupt the class are allowed. It helps bonding, they like it, it helps keep them awake. Again, you want them to think you are on their side and not being capricious.
i. Off task. They can only have books and paper on their desk. They can’t get out of their seat or put their head on the desk. They can talk about math, but not anything else. The only alternative is just to stare at the book, not such a pleasant alternative. (Though a few do, much to my chagrin)
3. Procedures. Most problems occur at the beginning and end of the class. So take particular care to establish effective routines at the beginning of class and at the end.
a. Beginning of class. When they walk in, have something for them to do. A quiz, copy from the board, read something so that each student knows exactly what to do when you take roll and pass back the papers.
b. End of class. You must establish precedent that books are not put away until the bell rings. They can work on their homework, they can read, but they are not to talk. If they don’t comply? That is why God invented detention.
4. Teaching. Pay attention to when there are problems. In the vast majority of classes, the more complicated the instruction, the more problems. So if things are not going well, simplify the instructions. The more interesting the lesson is, the fewer the problems. This is just a fact and needs to be dealt with.
a. Not having something for the students to do, when they walk through the door. It could be a quiz, something to read, a worksheet, or something to copy.
b. Treating each student the same. Students, like all people, are different and must be treated differently. After all, if everyone is treated the same, what is the incentive to be good? If a good kid makes a mistake, the penalty should be much less severe than if a problem child commits the same act. When kids ask, “Why do you always pick on me?” I always say, “I just pick on the weak ones.”
When they say, “Other people were talking,” I reply, “I am not concerned with any one else. I only care about you. You do not have detention because someone else was talking. You have detention because you were talking.”
c. Keeping grudges. Once you have meted out the appropriate punishment, it is a new day. Act accordingly.
You win wars when you have more friends, not more enemies. Smiling solves many problems.
d. Arguing. Many things happen when you argue. None of them are helpful. Reasoning with recalcitrant teenagers is fine during detention; it leads to disaster when done during class.
e. Not having enough work for the students to do. Humans are social animals. We like to talk. If they have nothing to do, they will think of something to occupy that time. Most of the things they think of doing are not conducive to good teaching so make sure the students always have enough to do. Have extra work for those students who finish quickly. It is always ok to have the fast ones read at the end of the period.
f. Not asking others for help. You always tell them to ask for help when they are stuck, because you want to help. Each school has many people that would like nothing better than for you to be a better teacher. Find these people and ask.
g. Talking too much. How much do you remember your teachers telling you? Virtually nothing you say will be remembered by lunch by most students and certainly nothing you say will be remembered after the next exam. People learn by doing things, so have them do things. Remember - if they stop listening, stop talking.
h. Not going after the ringleaders. Every group has ringleaders and followers. If you go after the followers, you will still have problems. You must go after the ringleaders. It is an exercise in dominance. If you don’t handle, it you are not the alpha male and the class is one step from chaos. Once the ringleaders have been subdued, the followers will not cause any trouble either.
i. Trying to reinvent the wheel. Study people who have achieved the success that you hope to have and duplicate their efforts.