Stay off the Escalator!!!!
It is easy to step on the escalator, ride it to the top, get off, and move on to your destination. However, when managing behaviors, stay off the ‘escalator.’ While interacting with kids, there is no easy way to move on to a destination once arriving at the top of the ‘escalator.’
“An escalator can never break; it can only become stairs.”
It was a mid-morning class and Jimmy had told me that he did not have his assignment from the previous night. Jimmy had frequently not completed his assignment and I began to question him about the incomplete assignment even though I already knew what his response would be. I asked him a few questions that escalated the situation to the point in which he decided to give me the middle finger. Immediately I sent him to the office and I moved on with the lesson.
Over the next few days in which Jimmy was not in class, I began to reflect upon my actions that day. I came to the conclusion that I could have prevented Jimmy’s actions that day. I did not have to prod him with questions about not having his homework assignment. If I had just accepted his response of not having the assignment and moved on, then, the situation would have never escalated to an action that led to suspension. I completely understand that there were two individuals involved with this situation. However, I have control over my actions and frankly, I was supposed to be the adult in the situation. After reflecting upon this situation, I realized that my actions as an educator, as a colleague, and as a person have a profound effect on the individual(s) I interact with daily.
“What we do does not define who we are.
What defines us is how well we rise after falling.”
After that dreadful method of dealing with a student, I began a concentrated effort to make better use of my communication skills when speaking with students. I have collected some ideas from Todd Whitaker about communicating with students. Todd mentions that teachers should not scream, use sarcasm, or tell kids to shut up. I would also add that teachers should not use profanity with students. It seems simple until one day in a class full of students, one student is defiantly choosing not to do as have requested. Physiological changes begin to occur in the body, heart rate increases, sympathetic nervous system kicks in the ‘fight or flight’ mechanism, and the teacher utilizes the actions, whether productive or not, that have been used in his/her past. However, if teachers would practice, yes I said ‘Practice,’ communicating with everyone in their life without using sarcasm, screaming, profanity, and shut up, then, it becomes easier to speak with students in the same manner in a heated situation.
Screaming, or even raising your voice, at students who never are spoken to by parents in that tone will most likely get the requested behavior from the student. Otherwise, when an adult in a school yells at a kid who is frequently yelled at by his/her parents, the teacher is ‘running up the escalator.’ The student will immediately retort with a raised voice and most likely using profane and vulgar language. As educators we immediately believe this is disrespectful. However, when viewed from the student’s perspective, yelling is part of his/her everyday communication with an adult. Not yelling will help to keep stress levels down for the teacher and students without removing students from class for disrespect.
The type of language used towards students has a profound effect on their reactions. Many students frequently use profanity in their everyday communication with friends and parents. Some students would need to call their parents from the privacy of my office. The language that I overheard being used with a parent was similar to the language in which the student was sent to the office for using in class. When teachers use disrespectful and inappropriate language in a classroom, students that frequently use that type of language will reciprocate with similar language. Profanity from a teacher demonstrates that students can use the same type of language. Use of the phrase ‘shut up’ from a teacher demonstrates that students can use the same level of disrespect. Sarcasm by a teacher expresses that students can use similar demeaning comments towards others.
“Great teachers have high expectations for their students,
but even higher expectations for themselves.”
As adults in a school, we can also unknowingly disrespect students. Without forming relationships with students and completely understanding the student’s background, educators can easily become disrespectful towards students. As an assistant principal I spoke with students about their inappropriate interactions with a teacher. Many times the student would begin by telling me that the teacher was disrespectful to him/her and so the student chose to be disrespectful in return.
One student came to speak with me about a situation with her teacher. After discussing the situation, we came to the understanding that her reaction was excessive for the situation. During the discussion, she shared with me that the teacher was ‘in her bubble.’ She explained that the teacher had stood next to her and quietly addressed her individually to remain on task. However, the student felt the teacher was in her bubble and, at that moment, the student became defensive and responded angrily. The teacher was only subtly redirecting behavior without singling out the student in front of the class, which is how we[educators] have been instructed as best practice. After providing the student with strategies for handling responses when people enter her ‘bubble’ and providing the teacher with an explanation for the student’s reaction, both individuals better understood each other for the remainder of the school year.