This is a very long post, mostly consisting of me processing through what’s going on in my classroom right now, and also trying to focus on the positive I see in my students.
I am feeling super burnt out. This current class of students I have is one I’ve been hearing about since they were in kindergarten for being a rough combination of kids. We’ve been swimming along through the school year and everything has been okay, but after winter break my kiddos have started to get somewhat out of hand. The kind of out of hand that leaves me exhausted and frustrated at the end of every day.
I always start my discussions with my class with this preface: I know that when I say “all my students” I don’t ever mean ALL. I know that there are some kids who follow directions and make good choices most or all of the time. I tell them I know who they are and I thank them for those choices. But I am having trouble with enough of my kids that we need to all talk about it.
Here are some of the things I was having a hard time with:
- Students making poor choices about where they sit and who they sit by, which impacted their learning or the learning of others around them. (Read more about my deskless classroom here.)
- Students not being accountable and not taking care of our classroom. They would get a pair of scissors and cut a piece of paper, then walk away leaving the scraps and scissors sitting out.
- Students being disrespectful and talking back to me. This one is the worst, in my opinion. When I asked them to do something, I had students whine and complain, argue with me and question my direction, and students just ignore me completely. When I was in school I never would have dreamed of talking back to my teacher! I fear that this is becoming more of a norm among kids nowadays, so it’s something I feel I need to directly teach my kids: When an adult asks you to do something, you need to do so, the first time. I also felt it was important to share with them a little background information. That I thoughtfully planned every activity and direction I gave them. I had never previously done anything to break their trust in me, so they should trust my intentions toward them: that everything I ask them to do is for their benefit and to help them learn.
I just couldn’t take the chaos anymore, so I made the decision to get some of my furniture back into my classroom and assign seats to my kids.
I personally hate seating charts and assigned seats. They put the responsibility of my students making good choices back on me. If they talk to their neighbor it’s “my fault” for putting them by that child, and now I have to spend time redoing my seating chart and trying to separate every kid from all their friends (an impossible task.) Giving the kids their free choice puts the responsibility back on them. They need to make a good choice about where they sit and how they behave sitting there and how they interact with the students around them.
With all of this, my class and I have been having a lot of talks and class meetings to try to come up with some solutions that will help our class. And with those discussions I am super impressed by my students.
Friday afternoon my kids were running around getting packed up and I just plopped down on the floor at the front of the room. One boy asked me if I had flipped my lid (a Positive Discipline term meaning I was upset.) I told him no, I was just sad at what had happened to our class.
After they were all done packing up we had a class meeting. My kids know that when we are in a class meeting they have to sit up, face forward, and not be silly, and despite the craziness my class has been going through, they always pull it together when we’re having a serious talk.
I told the kids I didn’t know what to do and I needed their help. Their comments and ideas really surprised me.
The class suggested that we keep assigned seats, because they recognize that they are more focused when they don’t have the choice to sit by their friends. But they also suggested that after a certain amount of days being good they could earn a free choice day. The initial suggestion was two good days equal a free choice day. I asked the kids if they thought that was fair. One girl spoke up and said she thought that based on where we are as a class (having our desks back and having assigned spots) we needed to better demonstrate good behavior before getting a free day. She suggested four good days for one free day. I totally agree and think this is a very wise conclusion for a third grader to come to, and brave of her to speak aloud during our class meeting.
The natural day for this to be was fridays, after all, free choice Friday has a nice ring to it. Then another girl spoke up. She said we are already kind of crazy on Fridays because it’s almost the weekend, and she didn’t think that would be a good free choice day. So the class determined Wednesdays would be better.
Now since we would have four days of assigned seats before we earned our free choice day, that puts it back on me to create seating charts. The kids thought that changing the seating chart often, even daily, might be good. I thought that sounded like a lot of work. But several kids suggested it be totally random. So I found a website Instant Classroom , that allows me to input my kids’ names and the desk arrangement and it will randomize for me. I will do this daily to mix the kids up.
Now when it came to earning that free day, the kids thought it would be better to do some kind of point system instead of me just saying “you were pretty good this week,” or “not quite this week.”
I also have a few kiddos that regularly struggle with making good choices and they are aware of that, so they requested their own island desks that won’t change. I am very impressed with this decision they have made.
So I don’t know that after all this anything will change, but I am hopeful. And at the very least, this kind of problem solving conversation is really good for my kids to be able to participate in. We’ll see how Monday goes!