Teacher Tuesday: Noisy or Quiet?

If you as someone not in the field of education walked past a classroom that seemed noisy and chaotic, would you think learning was taking place?  Or would you prefer to see students sitting quietly in rows of desks listening to the teacher presenting the lesson?  It’s a question I asked myself often during my teaching career.
I worried that the teacher next door would hear my noisy classroom and judge me to be inept or poor at classroom discipline.  I worried that an administrator would drop in and judge a chaotic atmosphere to be a classroom out of control.  Where did these notions come from?
They came from my own experience as a high school student and a student teacher.  In high school I remember a couple of chaotic classrooms where I learned very little.  Never mind that one of my most loosely constructed classes–journalism–was the one that gave me the foundation to become a writer.
As a student teacher I was taught by my supervising teacher that noisy classes were out-of-control classes, and he encouraged me to use the paddle on noisy students.  So I began my teaching career using corporal punishment on students who talked without permission, even in science lab!  I cringe to think of those poor ninth graders who had to endure my lack of experience and common sense.  I can’t believe I never heard from upset parents, but back in those days parents upheld the actions of public school teachers and administrators without much questioning.
I have learned much in my thirty years as an educator.  I am happy to endorse today’s widely held belief that a noisy classroom can be a learning classroom.  With proper supervision, excited and inquisitive students can learn through exploration and discussion.  The key words are “proper supervision,” though.
Students left to their own devices and not held accountable for what happens in the classroom will most likely become distracted and soon will be off task.  There is a fine line between well-controlled chaos and utter chaos, and that is where an artful teacher comes in, one who knows her students and when to redirect and refocus.
Can a chaotic, noisy classroom be a learning classroom?  Absolutely.

Teacher Tuesday: Once upon a time. . .

. . .a long time ago, a young woman finished college and ventured into the world of public education with a desire to change the world, one teenager at a time.  Like most college graduates, this young woman, ME, was anxious to secure a teaching job.  I was lucky that the high school who allowed me to student teach offered me a job for the next school year.  I was elated, even though I would be teaching physical science instead of the biology or English I was certified to teach.  No matter, back in 1982, schools were allowed to place teachers in subjects they were not certified in for up to two years before they had to be certified.

I was excited to have my own classroom, though I had very little to bring to it other than my planning and organizational skills. I was given a teacher’s edition textbook along with some encouragement and thrown to the wolves–in this case, about thirty 14- and 15-year-olds.  It might as well have been an enemy army.  Only thing is, they didn’t have any weapons other than their freshman silliness.

Fortunately, I had two wonderful mentors who modeled classroom discipline and building relationships with students, so it was easy for me to build a proper classroom climate and good rapport with students.  In 1982, in Texas high schools, corporal punishment was not only allowed, it was expected.  So I set my expectations and used the wooden paddle on transgressors.  

At only 5’2″ and 110 pounds, I was not very intimidating.  I will never forget the look on one young man’s face as I gave him everything I had.  The other teacher who witnessed the paddling said the boy’s eyes widened in shock and appreciation.  After that, he became my biggest ally.  Sadly, he passed away this year.  I wish I could have said goodbye.

One thing I have always demanded of my students is good classroom behavior.  I always expected my students to behave themselves and treat me and each other with respect.  These are some things I have learned in my 30-year career:

  • Students will respect you when you show them the respect you expect from them.
  • Listen to each student as if he or she is the most important one in your classroom.
  • Never belittle students.
  • The student is more important than the grade.
  • Students want to succeed.  It is up to you to find a way for that to happen.
  • It is okay to smile, laugh, and have fun.  But students must know when it is time to be serious as well.
  • Never participate in gossip about students or staff members.
  • Treat all staff and students with respect.  Be friendly to everyone.
  • Remember that you are a role model inside and outside of school. . .including restaurants, bars, and Facebook.
  • Do not expect rewards and appreciation but be pleasantly surprised when they come your way.
  • If you are not in it for the kids, then you are in it for the wrong reason.
  • Have fun!
My first year of teaching yearbook. . .