The Cult of Pedagogy Podcast, Episode 11
Jennifer Gonzalez, host
Jennifer Gonzalez: Hi there, this is Jennifer Gonzalez welcoming you to episode 11 the Cult of Pedagogy Podcast. In this episode, I’m going to talk about how to avoid the “Wait ‘til your father gets home” trap of classroom management and get control of your class all by yourself.
Gonzalez: If this is your first time listening to the podcast, I’d like to invite you over to my website, cultofpedagogy.com. This is my home on the web and it’s where I’m regularly churning out things to help you become a better teacher. I explore instructional strategies, review great teaching books, introduce you to valuable tech tools and dig into the psychological and social factors that impact the way we do our work. If you’ve been listening for awhile and you enjoy this podcast, I would also ask that you take a moment to leave me a review on iTunes. The more reviews we have, the more likely we are to be found by other teachers. I would really appreciate it if you would do that.
Okay, so let’s get into our topic for this episode, the “Wait ‘till your father gets home” trap. So what is this? Well, I nicknamed it myself, so this is not anything that you’re going to find anywhere else, I don’t think. But this is basically what it is: It’s when you as a teacher make someone else the ultimate threat to your students. This would be an administrator, parents or another teacher, instead of establishing consequences within your own classroom and making yourself the person to contend with. So I gave it the nickname because it is sort of similar to a mother who is at home with her kids all day and they’re misbehaving, and she says, “You just wait ‘till your father gets home!” And she sort of defers the punishment to him. I think sometimes teachers do the same thing. It’s not the father as much as it is the administrator or someone else who the kids see as more scary than the teacher themselves.
If you are in this habit, I would like to talk to you a little bit about why it is less than ideal and some ways that you can work to cut way back on that habit.
What’s Wrong with Sending Kids to the Principal a Lot?
So first of all, why is this a problem? Why is it a problem to take this approach of threatening, and then sending your kids to the principal every time you have a behavior issue? Or maybe more often than you should? Well, the main problem is that you’re giving away your power to someone else. You’re not establishing the respect of your own students. Instead you’re saying, well I’m not capable of giving you any type of a consequence, but this person is. You’re sort of putting yourself in the position of the tattle tale and this is not really a role that is going to gain you a whole lot of respect from your students. Furthermore it’s kind of annoying to your administrator to have you sending lots of more minor disciplinary issues to them to handle. I think lots of administrators would agree that they really appreciate teachers who can handle the majority of their discipline problems themselves. But, the main issue really does come down to the relationship between you and your students. If they don’t see you as capable of delivering consequences to them, then I just think that it sort of upsets the dynamic between you. It’s a hole in the relationship that you have with them and I think that it probably also makes them feel a little bit less secure with you because they don’t feel like they are in the company of someone who is strong and capable.
The other thing, along those same lines, that I think is a problem with this approach, the “Wait ‘till your father gets home” approach, is that you’re really missing an opportunity to model strength and control for your students. A big job of a teacher is to just teach your kids how to be people. They need more role models who know how to handle conflict assertively and stay in control. This is really, especially important for female teachers. If you want to help raise strong, assertive young women in your classes, and young men who respect and admire strong and assertive young women, you need to show them how a strong, assertive woman handles herself. So being able to basically deal with most of the discipline problems in your class, you’re showing them how a woman handles herself, how a strong woman handles herself.
Understanding Why You Do It
So the first step toward stopping this habit is to understand why you do it, why you give your power away. So, I’ve got a couple questions that you could ask yourself. Some of these may be your reasons why you have this habit of just sort of sending your discipline problems off to someone else.
The first question is: Are you afraid to be the bad guy? I know that a lot of us — even teachers who say they don’t feel this way — a lot of us want to be liked by our students. I know that this was an issue for me. Even though I knew that it was not supposed to be something I felt, I did want my students to like me and I didn’t want to be mean, basically. So if you feel that way, let me give you something to think about: There is a difference between being a jerk and being serious. You can be kind and you can be sort of always a good, nice person and still be serious when it’s required. So think of it that way when you are about to reprimand a student or correct them in some way. Instead of thinking: I don’t want to be mean, I don’t want them to perceive me as mean, think about it in terms of I do want them to perceive me as a serious person. I want them to perceive me as someone to be taken seriously when it’s required. That may be able to fix that mindset.
Another reason you might do it is because you have no ideas for how to set up a system in your own classroom. You’ve really not been trained in any type of classroom management. That is sort of the default setting and that’s just what you’re doing. My response to that, and this is actually going to be some advice I’ll give in a little while, would be to start observing other teachers and ask around. Ask what other people do. There are probably a few people in your building who are great at classroom management. Go sit in on one of their classes and see what they’re doing.
Another reason you might do this is that it’s part of the school culture. Is this just how everybody handles things all the time? It might be and because it wasn’t pointed out to you before, you may have never realized how many people in your building just kind of repeatedly always threaten to send the kids to the principal. That’s just how things are handled. That may be the reason you do it.
Another question to ask yourself is: Do you believe this is the only thing kids will respond to? Do you threaten to send them to the principal because nothing else has worked? The reason for that is because you still haven’t figured out what their currency is. You haven’t figured out what is so important to them that they’re willing to behave for it. We’re going to talk about that in a few minutes.
Another reason that you might do it is that you think you’re not scary enough. This also was my concern. I know that I’m five foot two. I look kind of short. I look kind of young. Or at least I looked younger than my age when I first started teaching. When I was teaching high school kids and I was 26, I just didn’t look much older than them and they just didn’t take me seriously a lot of times. I used to really envy how some of my coworkers, you know men who were six foot two and two hundred and twenty pounds, they could walk into the room with their big, booming voice and just say “Hey!” and everybody would just snap to attention. That’s all it took, all they had to do was just talk and they would get attention. That was not going to be something that I had any natural, physical gifts that I could use along those lines.
So, when you’re not naturally an intimidating person, you have to use other tools to get kids’ attention. For me, the best way to do that was developing a relationship with them. Probably the best tool that I had in terms of classroom management was that I knew my kids really well and they knew that I cared about them. They didn’t want to disappoint me. So if you’re not naturally scary, that’s not a bad thing. It just means you can’t rely on that to get kids’ attention.
One other concern, before I start talking about actual ways that you can break this habit, is that there may be real physical danger in your school that you have to contend with every day. If that is the case, then it is really important to understand the difference between a situation that really does need assistance from other people, like a case of physical violence where you really do need to get somebody else’s help, and a situation that you probably could handle yourself. Really, the line can pretty easily be drawn with the threat of physical violence. When I say physical violence, I mean physical violence toward you or toward another student. Especially if you are small of stature, you should not expect yourself to handle those situations all by yourself. One thing that I would say is that if you are in a situation where physical violence is a sort of frequent guest at the table, that you start studying ways to de-escalate problems and how to identify the early warning signs so that you can head things off before they ever get going. Again, it’s not necessarily your responsibility to always make sure that happens, but to start to learn when certain kids are getting heated. You can maybe head things off earlier on, before they get going.
Breaking the Habit
Okay, so hopefully you’ve figured out why you have this habit if you do have this habit of telling kids “You just wait, I’m going to send you to this person and they’re just going to really take care of you.” So, how do you stop doing it? How do you break the habit of “Wait ‘till your father gets home”
First of all, Be aware of it. You’ve already accomplished this. If you’ve already sort of seen yourself in some of the things that I’ve said, and you’ve realized, “Yeah, I do send away too many of my problems,” you’re already halfway there because just developing an awareness of it is going to help you to probably cut back on it. .
The second tip I would give you is to — if you’ve made a decision to change this — be transparent about that. I would say talk to your administrator about this. Tell them that you want to start handling more things in your classroom. You may want to even brainstorm with them a list of things that are definite things to send to them and definite things to handle on your own. Or things that they think you should be able to handle on your own. Also be transparent with your students. I used to have these types of conversations with my students a lot about classroom management issues. I would just say, we need to talk about this. And I would say to them “You know, I tend to send you guys to the principal way too much. Or, I’m always threatening to call your parents every time you step out of line even a little bit. And I really think that I’d like to develop more ways for us to manage undesirable behavior right here in this classroom.” You don’t even necessarily need to say to them “I want to be a more powerful person.” Just say “I think we’re a family in this class or I want us to become more of a family. We need to create our own set of rules and consequences for this room.” I think that if everybody knows that you’ve sort of made a decision to change, then, I don’t know, I think that sort of heads off problems of “Oh, why is she all of a sudden doing it this way?” or “Why is he all of a sudden doing it that way?” I was just a big believer in always being as transparent with my kids as I could.
So number three, the third tip. So, (1) be aware of the problem, (2) be transparent with your administration and your students. Number three is find your students’ currency. Figure out what it is that matters to them because that is what you can leverage to get the behavior that you want in your class. So, for some kids it can be something like preferred seating, especially in middle schools. Being able to sit where you want, whether it’s in the cafeteria or if it’s in your classroom, that’s a real privilege to kids and if they can work toward that then that is a great way to motivate them to behave well. I know one teacher who says she doesn’t really necessarily give consequences as much as she talks about lost privileges. So that if two friends are talking to each other, then they lose the privilege of being able to sit by a friend. They can earn that back, but they can lose the privilege. So, it’s not as much of everything is already taken for granted; these are privileges that you can earn and you can lose. For other kids it’s just free time. They want to be able to have more free time, to do what they want. So if you can figure out what the currency is in that class and for the individual kids then they can start working toward earning it. That’s so much more effective than just threatening them with punishments. If you find out the things that they value and the things that you can sort of use to motivate them, it’s much more effective than “You’re just going to get in trouble.”
Along those same lines, number four is try to keep things positive. I mean this in a couple of different ways. One is sort of along the lines of what I was just talking about. Think of your classroom management in terms of privileges that they can earn as opposed to punishments that they’re going to get for noncompliance. Also in terms of your language. How often are you telling students what they should not be doing versus what they should be doing? If you’ve got a student who is constantly bouncing, bouncing, bouncing his leg, and you’re constantly saying to him, “Stop bouncing your leg. Stop bouncing your leg.” That’s not as effective as if you say to him “Can you sit in a different way so that bouncing your leg is not as tempting?” or if you say to him “Here, can you go sit over on the classroom couch for fifteen minutes instead of in your chair? Let’s try a different method.” So you’re actually giving your students something to do instead of telling them something not to do. If you have two students who are talking to each other instead of working on a writing assignment, instead of going over and saying “stop talking,” or shouting across the room at them to stop talking, which a lot of us do. My theory on why parents and teachers shout is because we are all too lazy to get up and go and deal with situations. So we shout it. I know as a mother of three kids, I do that all the time. Anyway, instead of telling them to stop talking, you tell them what to do. Instead of it being something general like “Get back to work,” go over to them, point to something specific like the introduction they’re supposed to be writing, and say “Okay, you’ve got three words here, what were you going for?” Start talking to them about the task that they’re involved in. And say “Okay, let’s get the next sentence down. What could you write next?” Tell them something to do, instead of something not to do.
Number five is try the notebook system. You probably don’t know what I’m talking about, so I’m going to explain that to you real quick. I’ve got a video on the site and in the show notes for this podcast, I will link you to that video, but I’ll just explain it really quickly. With my students what I did was, I kept a notebook and each kid had their own page. It was a looseleaf notebook. Each student had their own page that just had their name on the top of it. What I would do is I would just record observations there. These were not academic, these were behavior observations. So if I noticed that a student held a door open for another student, if I remembered, I would write that down and I would mention it to him. I would say “James, I noticed that you held the door open for Todd and I thought that showed really nice manners.” I would just write it down. I’d write the date and when he did it.
Similarly, if another student was late, I would just write down, Tardy, three minutes on this day. And what I was doing with this notebook was just keeping a running record of behavior. The students knew about it and they knew that I wrote down things about them. They were allowed to see their pages anytime they wanted to. Nothing else really happened with this notebook besides just that I wrote down the information, but it had a really, really powerful effect on them. They didn’t want me writing bad things about them. Even though I didn’t take that information to the principal or I didn’t show it to their parents, they wanted to see good things written about themselves. It just had such a powerful effect and I think this is for me, such a simple way of managing behavior. It not only manages it in a way that doesn’t involve any other — you don’t have to bring other people into it or anything like that. But I think it really builds a growth mentality in the student. It builds intrinsic motivation. They want to be good people. They want to be good students. If you can show them, “Look I just wrote down that you were late three minutes this day. Then you were late two minutes on Thursday. Then you were late one minute on Monday. You were late three minutes the next Thursday.” They can see it’s over and over and over again. You no longer have to get into these debates with students where they’re like “You’re always picking on me. You’re always saying that I’m late. You’re always saying that I’m this. I hardly ever am.” You just have a record. So, if you don’t have another system in place, try that. It’s incredibly powerful and I would recommend it to everybody.
So, we’ve gone through a couple of tips. Number one: Be aware of it. Number two: Be transparent. Number three: Find your students’ currency and use that. Number four: Try to keep it positive. Tell them what they should be doing, as opposed to correcting them and describing what they shouldn’t be doing. Number five: Try the notebook system. Number six, and this is an overall thing, work on developing relationships with your students. Probably if you are in a state of constantly referring kids to the office for discipline problems, you probably don’t have a great relationship with them, or not with most of them anyway. If you only have a great relationship with the kids who do behave well, then it’s those other kids that you’ve got to work more on building relationships with. This really, mostly has to do with just getting to know them. Getting to know them in a sort of non-judgemental, accepting way. Not necessarily accepting the bad behavior, but getting to know them separately from the bad behavior. Who else are they as people?
In the show notes for this podcast, I’m going to link you to two different resources. One is a book that I reviewed. In episode 9, actually, I spoke to the author of a book called You’ve Gotta Connect. He, James Sturtevant is the author. He talks about exactly how he builds relationships with his students. He teaches high school. It’s really a how-to manual for developing relationships. Another thing I’m going to link you to is something called the 2×10 strategy. This was something that my friend Angela Watson put up on her website. It just describes a strategy for working with kids who give you problems. The idea is this: You spend — for ten days in a row — you spend two minutes with that student, just casually talking to them. You make a point of doing this for ten days in a row. Teachers who have tried this have really seen miraculous results in those kids’ behavior because they feel like somebody cares about them and is interested in them. They no longer do the things that a lot of time those kids do just to get attention and get noticed. So, I’ll link you to both of those because those are both ways of building a relationship with your students that also decreases bad behavior.
Okay, two other, two other tips. This one is real simple: Practice the vague promise. By vague promise, I mean this: Sometimes — and I think anybody who has been a teacher or a parent can relate to this — you issue some sort of threat to your child or your student, and as soon as the words leave your mouth, you realize, I am not going to want to follow through on this, whatever it is. Sometimes for me I’ll say “No T.V.” to my kids and then it’s like “Crap, why did I say that?” I really want them to watch T.V. for an hour so I can get other things done. It’s the same as sometimes you’ll threaten to send a kid to the principal because you’ve got nothing in your bag besides that. So you just say “If you do this again, I’m sending you down to the principal’s office.” And they do it, then you have to do it. So, instead of that, instead of feeling that you have to offer a specific threat, a vague promise is something that is much less specific. So you can fill in the blank later. You can say something like this: “If you do that again, there is going to be a consequence and you’re not going to like it.” And that’s it. And if they ask you what it is, you say “I’ll decide that later.” But then you are buying yourself time to make a smarter decision. A decision about a consequence that would fit the action better, something that you can live with and maybe something that you can handle on your own in the classroom. So start practicing using vague promises more often and you’re just, you’re going to find yourself coming up with much better solutions to problems that are thrown at you.
The last step is copy somebody else. If you’re really at a loss for how to manage students in your classroom, ask around. Find out who does a really good job of managing the classroom and find somebody who’s got a similar personality to yours because sometimes people’s classroom management style is solely built on their personality type. If that’s not your personality type, it’s not going to work for you. But find somebody who’s got a system that works pretty well and that you think you could adopt. Then, copy it. Tell them this. You can tell your students. You can say, “I am going to use Mrs. Reeder’s strategy in here. We’re going to do the same thing.” And the kids are going to go “Why? I don’t want to do that.” Who cares? Try it. There is absolutely nothing wrong with copying somebody else, especially if the way they do it works. We say in teaching all the time, there is no need to reinvent the wheel. So, that’s another great way of setting it up.
So, number one: Be aware of the problem.
Number two: Be transparent.
Number three: Find your students’ currency.
Four: Keep it positive.
Five: Try the notebook system.
Six: Develop relationships with your students.
Seven: Practice the vague promise.
Number eight: Copy someone else.
If you have a bad case of “Wait ‘till your father gets home”, it might take you awhile to get full control of your classroom. Just start small. Whatever your current office referral rate is, just try to cut it back by a certain percentage every week. Even if you make just small improvements to begin with, your sense of strength and confidence is going to grow. So you’ll notice a change in the way your students respond to you over time. They’re going to be responding to your power and not someone else’s.
For more good things to help you make your teaching more effective and more fun, visit cultofpedagogy.com. Thanks for listening and have a great day.