Monday, October 18, 2010

Tips & Tricks: The Non-Worker

The bell just rang. Class has begun. In my room, the students should be quietly reading their independent reading book. You look around, take roll and begin to walk around. Most of the kids are quietly reading their book. Some of them alternate reading with staring off into space for brief periods, either thinking or taking a short mental break. That's when you see him. The non-worker. For whatever reason, he is not working today in class. Sometimes he's attempting to avoid you so you won't come over and ask him to work. Other times he's staring at you defiantly as if to say "Do it, bitch. Say one word so I can go off on you and spend this period in the office." Because, hey, no one makes you do work in the office.

You have a couple options. I'll tell you first what you don't do. Do not, under any circumstances, draw attention to the non-worker. If they're avoiding you, embarrassing them isn't going to make them want to work. If they are in a defiant mood, you just gave them an audience. Do not talk loud enough for anyone to hear but them. Ever. You'll just make it worse in both instances. If the student escalates it, you can deal with it then, but for now, your other students are quietly working and you want to keep it that way. Regardless of how interesting their work is, they will stop and stare at the train wreck that is you taking on a kid.

Here's what you actually do:

  •  Make eye contact. Give some kind of signal that lets them know you are aware of their lack of work. I catch their eye and then tilt my head. It's the only "teacher look" I have because my "mean face" is too funny looking. The one that was trying to avoid your eye will now likely, reluctantly, take out his book/work and get started.
  •  If the defiant stare is still going on, give him a minute. He is mad. He's not mad at you yet, but that can change if you confront him in any way. Take this time to observe the rest of your class. Smile at your defiant student. If you can't do a real smile, skip this step. They know what fake is. You might want to note to another student that they are doing a good job at this time.
  • Slowly walk over toward him as if you are going there for another reason. The student who you praised for a good job should probably be near your defiant student. If he hears you talk to another student in a nice, happy voice, he'll know you're not mad. Once you get to him, find a way to be on his level. Sit in the desk next to him, squat beside his chair, do something to remove the fact that you are physically over him. Now you're on the same level. Now you could be peers
  • Do not ask why he's not doing work. Do not bring up the work. Right now you are there to talk about him, not the work. Ask him something about himself. "Are you feeling okay?" You need to come from an area of concern for him. And you are! If he doesn't do his work, that is detrimental to him, but for some students, refusing to do a teacher's work is supposed to be an insult to the teacher, even if it hurts the student. 
  • From there, address whatever concern he has. If he's mad, take him to talk in the hallway or send him to talk to the school therapist. If he's not feeling well, tell him to do as much work as he can and you understand.
He'll probably be caught off guard. You see, when he doesn't do what he's supposed to do, he usually gets yelled at. Asking how he's feeling can address whether he's sick or he's mad or whatever is making him not want to work today. By showing you're more concerned about him rather than everyone following all of your rules, all the time,you just earned yourself an ally in the classroom. If you need something, you can count on him because he knows that if he needs something, he can count on you. Kids thrive when teachers are predictable and trustworthy. He, and anyone in the class who was eavesdropping, now knows how you react to a kid who is under performing. If a kid is going to make you upset, they are going to be the aggressive one, not you. If a student does get aggressive, you can count on your allies to help you out.

Teaching is not about lording over students in the classroom. It's about a delicate balance between authority and friendship. Sometime you need to lean more towards the friendship side, other times call for authority. Part of being a good teacher is knowing how to tell the difference.

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