Gina Powell taught one way for many years. She told students what to do and how to do it and expected things to go her way. As is often the case in the “My-way-or-the-highway” world of classroom management, teacher burnout ensues. For Gina, a drastic change was necessary. Here’s her inspiring story.
Rethinking How I Teach
I started teaching 7th grade English in the Bronx 25 years ago. I relocated to Virginia and taught English at an alternative high school. After a couple of years I decided to move to the elementary school level and if that didn’t work out, I knew I would have to rethink my career path.
I can’t remember the reason why I put a 2nd-grade student out of my classroom and sent him to the office, but I clearly remember the principal marching him back to my room and requesting to see me after students were dismissed.
She asked me about the incident that led me to “put him out” and then told me that I needed to do a few things before I just unceremoniously dismissed a student. Give warnings, time-outs, send notes home, and call parents before writing kids up and sending them to her office, was the advice I received. I wasn’t a happy camper when I left her office that day. I thought I was an experienced teacher and how dare she give me advice!
Although I was extremely angry, I thought about how I handled the students that misbehaved and then I remembered a professional development session I had attended earlier. The person that led the session told the teachers that we had to look at what we were doing objectively and that sometimes it was the teacher thathad to change. During that professional development I sincerely thought the school division was wasting its money paying the so-called expert, leading the session. I had been teaching almost 10 years – I thought I knew everything! Who was she to tell me I needed to change?
After contemplating what my principal told me and the professional development session — I took a good hard look at my techniques and decided it was time to try something different. I decided I would hire my students to help me manage my classroom.
Hiring students: A new workforce in action
I distributed jobs to my students and gave them fancy titles:
Restroom Officer– made sure the classroom restroom was tidy and reported any mishaps.
Waste Engineer– took the trash can around and swept the classroom whenever needed.
Paper Distributor– handed out papers and collected them.
Line Leader – took us down the hall to lunch room, library , etc. He/She guided the class without my direction.
Computer Operator – turned the one computer we had in the room on – turned on the Accelerated Reader program and made sure the student that was next took his/her turn.
Office Monitor – made trips to office to drop off things or pick things up.
There were also jobs for taking out the playground equipment, lunch trays, and turning off lights during a fire drill. Students had badges and wore them proudly when they were employed. Of course I discussed how important their jobs were and that they could get fired, just like adults, if they didn’t handle the responsibilities the right way (no one ever got fired).
How did this help? My students who couldn’t sit still loved the restroom and waste engineer jobs because they were able to use their energy by getting up and moving around. No one “told” on them because they could get up and move about whenever they were needed.
In addition to the jobs I created awards and I constantly recognized positive job results. Students started doing the same! One student said, “John, you can sweep really good!” I made positive phone calls and the entire mood of the classroom had changed. Why? I changed.
I didn’t have to raise my voice. I didn’t have to call parents to complain because since I changed, my students changed. I was happy and so were they.
An assistant principal told me that teaching was one of the only careers that you could have that allowed you to wipe off your desk and when you returned completely start over like I was doing. Now, every year I work on changing something. I do something new and always consider what I can do differently.
It wasn’t the discipline plan that changed – it was rethinking the way I taught that made a difference in my students lives.
Gina Powell is an Instructional Technology Resource Teacher in the Essex County Public Schools