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When We Know Better, We Do Better

I’m sticking my neck out there on this post. First of all, I’m going to share out a picture of me at the end of my first year of teaching (circa 2000). All these years later, I can pinpoint that it was my first year both because of my awful hair (big hair was cool back then, I promise!) and because of the enormous bags under my eyes (There’s no type of tired like end-of-the-year-first-year-teacher tired). Even more mortifying than my hair is what you’ll find behind me on the white board. Yup, gaze past the bushy hair and find a portion of the white board that says ‘Doing Time”. Allow me to explain, and then allow me to extend my most sincere apologies to my former students for this poor judgment.

Like many other first-year teacher, classroom management was a huge worry for me. I remember in my training listening to veteran teachers explain, “The best step towards effective classroom management is effective lesson planning.” I remember at the time thinking, “Yeah, yeah. Enough of the platitudes. Tell me what to do if a kid swears at me.” What I created was an amalgamation of the top resources of the time – a classroom contract, pearls of wisdom from Harry Wong, and a system that was based on both the carrot and stick approaches to behavior management. I don’t remember many of the details, but I do know that when my students violated classroom rules, their consequence was that they owed me their free time (lunch and recess). I justified it with the smug explanation of, “If you’re taking my time from teaching, then I’ll take your time.” I wrote the names of the offenders on the board, visible for everyone to see and publicly shamed them into making better behavioral choices.

By now, you’re probably shuddering – I am too. There’s much in this that is cringe-worthy. First, with my glib title of ‘Doing Time” I was totally insensitive to the fact that I was working in communities where there were incarcerated family members. I am embarrassed that classroom management became a public affair – most definitely not what the “offending” child needed. And mostly, I’m appalled that my consequence was taking away recess and/or lunch!

By publicly shaming my kids, I alienated and embarrassed them. I did not teach self-regulation to the students who needed it the most, and I failed to create a relationship in which students saw me as an advocate and ally.

When we know better, we do better. And now, I know better – thanks in large part to some great thought leaders who write about the negative repercussions of systems like mine. Do you know the book No More Taking Away Recess and Other Problematic Discipline Practices? And what about this recent article – Tear Down Your Behavior Chart?

Yes, I recognize that I’m being hard on myself – and that the vast majority of us would like to track down our first group of students to apologize for the mistakes that we made early in our career. So to Pablo and Damon and Fey and Alma and all of my other resilient, brilliant former 6th graders of Room 206 at Roosevelt Middle, please accept my sincere apologies. Now that I know better, I’m speaking out so that others will do better.

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