Tag Archives: behavior

The Rules of the Game

24 Feb

I’ve never been good at following rules. While I understand important rules that keep us safe and maintain a certain degree of order, a lot of rules seem to exist only to stifle creativity. In my personal life, I like to do unexpected things at unexpected times; things that are outside of society’s “norms”, and don’t follow the “rules” of the world. If people look at me like I’m a little crazy, it doesn’t bother me. Needless to say this makes me a pretty unconventional teacher. I have tattoos, I don’t think it’s always a bad thing for kids to call out, and listening to a little music never hurt anyone. Obviously, it’s easier for me since I teach art, and understandably the rules are different in the art room than they are in the math room. I encourage my kids to participate in discussion, and have found that waiting for a raised hand often stops the flow of ideas. I like for them to feel comfortable expressing themselves, and if they need to listen to Jay-Z to do that, that’s ok with me too.

So it took me a few years to really settle on my Classroom Rules. I had to learn about myself as a teacher, and what was really important to me. I had to learn the nature of my kids, and what things tended to cause problems throughout the year. When I would look at other teachers’ rules, they just seemed empty and meaningless, like “Don’t talk out” or “Stay in your seat”. Nobody was talking about the anger our kids were dealing with: that it was a common occurrence to get angry at another student and walk out, or get angry at your work and tear it to bits (something that always broke my heart). I wanted to find a way to discuss the issues I felt were most important, and do it in a way that was down to earth and simple.

1. Clean up after yourself: where you were sitting, and any materials you used.
2. Treat everyone the way you expect they should treat you.
3. Don’t walk out. If you need to go somewhere, I need you to talk to me about it first.
4. Don’t be afraid to express yourself. This is the one place where there really is no wrong answer.
5. Respect the work that people do in here. Don’t destroy or alter someone else’s art, or your own.

By designating a bulletin board in the front of my room as the rule board, these five rules were always visible and I could refer to them when I needed to. I always explained them in the beginning of the year, and the kids always seemed to appreciate the fact that I was not only looking out for what I wanted, but that I was ready to stand up for them too. In fact, it was a rule that I do so. And that was a rule that even I could follow.


A Question a Day

23 Feb

Sometimes Art Class Isn’t Just About Art

By my fourth year of teaching, I had learned a few things about my kids. They were each others worst enemies. That’s the problem with taking all the “bad” kids and sticking them together…they feed off of each other. There’s no “regular” kids to set the standard. There’s no peers that offer an example of how you’re supposed to behave. When one of them gets mad at another, it’s like watching someone get sucked into a black hole; the situation gets worse and worse until all is lost. It looks something like this:

Setting: Two students are working at different tables across the room from each other. One of them is humming slightly to himself.

Student #1: “Oh my God, would you shut the *@^% up you are SO annoying right now!”
Student #2: “YOU shut the &#^$ up, you’re the annoying one!”
Me: “Ok, guys, lets just try to…”
Student #1: “Your mother knew how to shut up last night!!”
Me: “Hey!! If you’re mad, I need you to…”
Student #2: “Say something about my mom again. Go ahead!!!”
Me: “Ok, guys, no one is going to say anything about anyone’s…”
Student #1: “Ok I’ll say it about your sister then!!”
Student #2: “I’ll punch you in the face!!”

And so forth and so on. By this time, the students have crossed the room to each other and have squared off. Aside from tackling them or blowing an airhorn, there is nothing I can do to remind them that I am even in the room. They don’t mean to disregard the classroom rules or my directions, but they get fired up so quickly that they have blinders on to the rest of the world. Certainly, no one can be creative when they’re all bristled up and defensive.

So I decided I needed a way to get them to respect each other more. A way to get them talking. Not about their problems, or about these fights, just about their opinions, their ideas. I needed a way to get them to see that each classmate was a person, not just a threat. If they could see that, then maybe they would see the value in addressing each other more appropriately, and not skip right to posturing and anger.

So i started the “Question of the Day.” It was a bulletin board on my wall that asked a different question every day. I would change it each morning, and got the students in the routine of answering it when they first came to class. I would read the question out loud, and set a timer for one minute. Then, they would write everything that they could think of in response to the prompt. When the timer went off, we would go around the room and discuss our responses. I was really impressed at how well they did. They were able to find common interests, and they related to each others stories. They discussed their differences of opinion, and (with some help) were able to accept those differences. The whole process takes about 5 minutes, and it made the rest of the class period go so much smoother.

Here is a list of some questions to get you started. Leave a comment with some of your own ideas and lets see how many we can come up with!

What was your favorite childhood toy?
Name 3 reasons you should get out of bed tomorrow.
What do you think about growing old?
Everywhere you have lived, in order.
What does this quote mean to you? “An angry man opens his mouth and shuts his eyes.”
How do you feel about your neighbor?