Saturday, July 12, 2008

Teacher Classroom Management FAIL

One of my very first experiences working with a classroom of kids on my own came a few months after my initial student teaching. Officially, I was the "GATE Resource Teacher" for the school. Which, by the way, was not a good idea. How is a school district going to pick the freshest teacher out of a teacher credentialing program to be a resource teacher? By the very nature of the title, doesn't that imply that the teacher should be able to be a resource? Like, with experience and stuff?

Anyway, besides the school district's awkward placement of an inexperienced goof like myself into what should have been a veteran teacher's role, I did have the occasional duty as a real teacher. This first duty was a little more like kid-watching than actually teaching, but you'll get the point in a second. As is often the case with school districts, I later came to find out, a month or so into the school year there is a general restructuring of classes. Over the summer the administration plans for a certain population of kids to come, and anticipates for a correct ratio of teachers to students to maximize dollars spent on payroll. This helps clean up any overcrowded classrooms, and can work to combine smaller sized classes too.

In this case Monica's full class of first graders weren't going anywhere, but the school chose to combine a different class of kindergartners and first graders together. They requested Monica to take on that new class in a week. As she'd never taught K before, she asked if she could do a little observation in the K classroom to get a feel for what she'd have to do. The administration graciously granted it, and they asked me to watch Monica's class for an afternoon.

So, here's the thing about Monica's class. It was bilingual. And first grade. Meaning, these kids didn't know a lick of English. Naturally, my complete lack of Spanish was going to fail me here. I keep asking myself, "why did I chose to take French as my foreign language in high school, again?" So, this class of wide-eyed first grade Spanish-speaking kiddies who had only been on campus less than month, had just barely started to bond with their teacher, and who were probably going to scared to death of the bulking huge giant that I was, were at recess. Monica explained something about patterns and geometry to me, dumped a pile of geometric manipulatives and shapes in front of me, and demonstrated a pattern-sorting activity that was going to take the kids at least an hour to work on. Apparently, with my complete lack of Spanish I was to explain this activity to the kids when they got back from recess. Teaching math to a group of first-grade Spanish-speaking students who mutually share with me that neither one of us speaks the other's language was definitely going to be a challenge.

Monica was with me when the kids came into the room. She briefly explained that she'd just be gone for a bit, not letting on that just a week later she'd be gone entirely, and then she left the room and the kids to me. Somehow I managed to explain the lesson to the kids, and for the most part they seemed to understand. Mostly, they just craned their necks up to me and just kind of nodded, pretended, and looked a little scared. When the activity got going, the kids were very excited to work on their sorting. A little too excited, really. We were in one of these open-air 1960's-designed multi-classroom structures with open walls between classrooms. Classes have to be extremely quiet and respectful of their neighbors because they're all within earshot. These little guys were getting a little rambunctious with the activity, and I had to pull out one of my teacher tricks to get them quiet. Only, I had just started as a teacher, so I didn't have a full arsenal yet of tricks to try.

I went with "The Quiet Coyote." Who came up with it, or what's the psychological foundation of it, who knows. Here's how it works, you clasp your middle and ring fingers together with your thumb, and stick up your forefinger and pinky. Think of when you're making shadow puppets at a young age and you want to make a dog, it's like that. I teach the kids that when I put up my hand like this, it means be quiet. It totally worked, but in kind of a scary way. The hand signal went up, and the students cowered a little bit. Then, they quietly whispered to each other in Spanish. After the hand signal went up a couple of times, the students stopped making eye contact with me at all. Whoa.

Something went wrong. I had scared the bejeezus out of these youngsters. Well, getting them quiet had clearly succeeded, but creating any kind of rapport with them was totally lost. What gave? Eventually, I overheard one of the students whisper to another, "El Diablo." Oh, no.

The Quiet Coyote hand signal is near-identical to that of the sign of the goat's head, or Satan in many cultures. It's practically a universal symbol for Satan and the Devil. It's no surprise that these kids were scared speechless by me. I asked them to be quiet, then showed them the sign of the devil. How could I have been so naive? Why didn't I even think about this during my teaching methodology and classroom management course. Shouldn't it have dawned at me at some point that, oh yeah, The Quiet Coyote hand signal could be completely misconstrued as something else?

Monica returned and the class was deathly quiet, and I was completely embarrased. The rest of the year, I was known around campus, at least in the Spanish-speaking primary grades, as the devil. What a reputation to have as a teacher, huh?

The Quiet Coyote would have FAILED in Texas as well. Both on the Satanic level, but also on the Texas Longhorns level. It also doesn't work with sign language, as it's pretty close to the deaf sign language for "I Love You."

1 comment:

BellFamilyCircus said...

Oh my gosh. I'm so glad that you posted this article. First of all, I spent the first 5 minute rolling in laughter. We've just gotta be able to laugh at ourselves. We've all been there. Also, I have a friend who used this with her students last year and I was going to copy it this year. I googled it to try to remember what each part stood for and found your article. I think I'll definitely skip this one!! Thanks for the info!!