At the end of the month, I’m scheduled to present a short seminar on behavior management at one of the upper schools nearby. (I should clarify—I’m in Cyprus, a beautiful island in the Mediterranean. That picture of the natural land bridge, up there? I took that. ) As someone who last taught in a Title I Urban school in Florida, I was curious about some of their specific issues, and my initial meeting with the headmaster and conversations with others in state schools gave me some valuable insights.
Parent involvement? No problem (unless too much involvement can be considered a problem). Remedial or below-grade-level students? None. High student-teacher ratio? 20:1. Number of students in poverty/low-income? None. Students not doing homework? Most students do their homework.
Violent, gang-related behavior? No. Lack of supplies/textbooks? Every student is provided with textbooks for class and a laptop, if he/she doesn’t have one. High stakes tests causing too much stress on everybody? No, O-levels, A-levels, and proficiency exams are large part of the educational culture.
The biggest issue is the students’ disrespect of teachers.
Ironic, isn’t it? Over here in Eastern Europe, society actually holds teachers in pretty high esteem. The careers are competitive, and some have to wait for years before they can become educators. Thus, the students aren’t acting on something they’ve heard at home or in the media.
All of the issues that I was used to dealing with simply don’t exist here. However, their core problem is the same.
Of course, this got me to thinkin’ about home and US schools: When all of those reasons that we hold out as to why we have difficulty teaching students is “fixed” or “resolved”, what’s left? What do we do when they’re still disrespectful and apathetic? What do we do when calling (albeit sympathetic) parents, who actually do dole out consequences (instead of threatening to sue us), is a futile course of action? What then?
I know that how I carry myself (emotionally and physically) has a lot to do with managing classes—some of mine were at 40+ students. Dressing as a professional teacher in professional business dress may be something we discuss, especially since the “island” look may be part of the problem. We may also talk about posture and body language.
I also know that at 5’3” tall, my voice is my most effective behavioral management instrument, so how I choose to use it, or not use it, makes a huge difference. We’ll probably talk about how to convey authority more simply and authentically with the voice. Shouting equates to neither power nor authority. A simple question can verify that—“How’s that working for you?”
Much of my success with students had to do with how I treated them (they said), so we may talk about their perceptions of students as people. Do they see them as “the class”, or do they see Maria, James, and Giorgio? Do they know a little bit about each student, enough to carry on a personal conversation? Do they “see” them as individuals or abstracts? Are they too chummy or “pally-pally”? We might talk about making the distinction between mentor and friend.
We might also brainstorm a little on the concepts of control, power, respect, authority, leadership, because these terms don’t necessarily work in tandem.
Simple things to do and think about, really, for this shared issue on both sides of the Atlantic. Things we can do no matter the state of the economy, the media’s perspective, the parents, the tests, the DOE, or the academic level of student.
Things that might make a huge difference in how and what students learn from our classes.