10 September 2007

Throw Off the Crutches and Walk

As teachers move through various career stages, do they also vary the number of rules and procedures instituted in their classrooms?

I recently heard a teacher spend five minutes talking to students about her expectations for chewing gum: when you can ask for some, what kind there should be (not too smelly), where you should stand if you want to ask for a piece...and so on. I thought this was slightly excessive, until I remembered that when I was about her age (career-wise) I had a kerjillion rules, too.

When I started my career, I had a nice tidy set of rules---maybe 10 in total. And then when I began to learn all of the difficult lessons The First Year of Teaching tossed my direction, I somehow channeled that into legislating my classroom. I had all manner of rules and procedures, although I don't think I went quite so far as devising a whole set of chewing gum expectations.

There were two problems with my response. One: it's too many damned rules. Good teachers know that you shouldn't make any rule that you're unwilling to enforce every time it's broken. I was freakin' exhausted trying to do this when there were so many rules. The second issue with having a legal code style syllabus is that the kids have six different sets to remember. Classroom management feels more like a "gotcha" system because each teacher wants something different.

And now...in my seasoned veteranhood? Hey, there's a student handbook with expectations and a discipline code. I don't repeat anything in there on my syllabus. Frankly, there's not much left for me to write about. It's a weight lifted from everyone's shoulders. I am a firm believer in teaching and reinforcing procedures: where to turn in assignments, how to get make-up work from absences, and so on. These are not so much disciplinary in nature as just helping everyone function within the general culture of the classroom.

I know it's not my place to say anything to the chewing gum rule-maker. I see my younger teacher self in her rules. I know that they feel like a security blanket for now; but I also look forward to seeing her throwing off those crutches and walking.


Anonymous said...

This is one thing I really tried to change this year. Instead of focusing so much on rules at the beginning, I'm trying to teach my students how things are done in my classroom. I tried to create a system for everything so that the students are just as organized as I am...or try to be :)

ms-teacher said...

I'm right there with you. It really is all about picking your battles. This year, I've decided to not say anything about gum chewing or eating in class, other than I didn't want to see it or hear it.

Not so surprisingly, this year I am not having any issues with gum chewing at least not to the extent I've had in the past.

The Science Goddess said...

Maybe this is something that teachers just have to figure out over time. I wonder if there is a way that we could support beginning teachers in reaching this conclusion more quickly?

Hugh O'Donnell said...

Over at Frumteacher's blog we had a big discussion on discipline that was kicked off by a gum-chewing post.

All new teachers think they need a bunch of rules because, at least in my case, my role models had rules. All I could do was differentiate between good ones and dumb ones.

One year it occurred to me that I was duplicating the student handbook, so, as in your case SG, I simplified.

Then I decided I needed only one, and it was really just reinforcement of the handbook. The rule was, "I respect you, you respect me. All the rest is in your student handbook."

The catch is that a teacher must really respect his or her students. It won't work for a control freak. ;-)