Sunday, March 15, 2009

Can you teach resiliency?

This week, a lot of gossipy, mean-spirited, messed-up crap has gone down amongst my first graders. I've had stealing, punching, hitting, exposing one's private parts, inappropriate touching, nasty words being said, destruction of property-- general mayhem. The main part of the problem is that it is NOT happening in the classroom, but in the cafeteria, during recess, and during my preps... basically them times when I am not personally in control of my students. As I've said before, I maintain a no-nonsense atmosphere in the classroom and I can quickly identify the source of any issues and immediately punish those who started it and give them an opportunity to give a genuine apology. I can make a child cry for their misdeeds (those of us that are teachers know the importance of a child feeling remorse for their actions) and build them back up convincing them that they are a great person despite what they have done all in the matter of 5 minutes and without disturbing the flow of the day or involving other students. The problem is that they are not internalizing standards of behavior or the conflict resolution skills we practice in class. The moment they leave the room all is forgotten. It doesn't help that their punishment for misbehavior is not being able to go out for recess. They sit in our indoor yard watching other students misbehave and enduring a noise level that I am positive has reached the decibel level that can damage their hearing. Then they are led to the cafeteria where again, the noise level is insane and they see other students misbehaving without consequence.

When I finally come to pick them up, the recess aide has nothing but complaints for me and tells me disgusting behaviors that my students have practiced of the the last hour that I now have to explain to parents. I am so tired of this!!!! It makes me almost want to have my children eat in our classroom and take them personally out to play when we are finished, but I can't.

If I were in charge of lunch, we go to the cafeteria and bring our food back upstairs to the classroom. We would all wash the tables, wash our hands, pass out food, napkins, silverware, etc. sit together in a quiet environment and have real conversations. We would identify the food that we are eating and be thankful for it, not destructive and wasteful. The children would clean up. Two kids would walk around with a trash bag collecting from everyone, a handful would once again wash the tables. We would separate the recycling. On our way out to recess, we would deposit our trash in the proper receptacles so as not to attract rodents into our classroom. We wouldn't go to recess in our school yard, but rather walk to the public park that is two blocks away for some real space and nature. Maybe we'd go with another class, so I could have some adult company during this time too. We'd bring frisbees and balls. I'd let the girls bring their dolls without worrying that they'd get stolen or broken. If kids wanted to bring books, they could sit next to a tree and quietly read.

But I can't do all this myself. I too need a break. I have been working so hard and sacrificing every prep in addition to taking them out of after school programs over the past 2 weeks to assess their reading levels, I just don't have the energy to endure all of this. I need support from my administration, but they offer none. As I've said before, we need everyone on board to make our school work and it just feels like no one else is on board.

Now I get to the question in my title. Can you teach resiliency? Obviously, the chaos of their lives is not going to change and even at schools we can't control every moment. I want so badly for my students to make it in this life and be productive members of society. I want them to know how good life can be and that they too can be happy. I want them to know that there are so many possibilities for positive change, but I can't do it all. I've started some conversations with them after lunch to talk about resiliency. We talk about the disrespect and outright disgusting behaviors they see from other students during recess. I tell them, "It doesn't matter what someone else does, you have the power to decide for yourself if it is right or wrong." "You can decide what kind of person you want to be." "You are not your brothers and sisters, you are your own person and you make decisions for yourself." We talk about examples of children making their own decisions, like the brave children who helped desegregate schools. I want to infuse more of this into my curriculum. Although I am conflicted about teaching them such an individualist way of thinking, but I really think that they need it because the collective behavior and thinking they are exposed to is doing a lot of damage both in school and at home. What do you think?


miss brave said...

I love this! We have the exact same problem at my school. I'm shocked at the way some of my students behave when they are not with their regular classroom teacher. It's taken time for me to realize that it's not that they're making an effort to take advantage, it's that the change in environment and adult presence throws them off and makes them go wild.

One thing they've done at my school to encourage good behavior outside of the classroom is collectively reward classes by letting them earn "school money" when they behave nicely at lunchtime. Maybe you can offer some small reward to your class if you get a good report from the lunch aides? I know how frustrating it is to have a class totally under control and then feel shocked and dismayed by the reports of what goes on when you are not in their presence.

I think you are on the right track with what you are beginning to teach them. We always tell our students that they are responsible for their own behavior, and they know that my LEAST favorite "excuse" is "So-and-so made me ____." In one of my classes we call it our "dominoes," and all the teacher has to do is say "Dominoes are falling!" for the students to realize that they are letting themselves be led astray by one or two students' misbehavior.

I always talk to my students about making their own choices and thinking before they act. I tell them to ask themselves, "Is this going to help me become a better reader?" (well, I teach reading -- but the same could go for anything) and if the answer is no -- then they shouldn't do it!

Penny Ryder said...

Great Post!

When I was teaching in New York, we did have to supervise the kids throughout lunch. It was a small private school and the only real break I got was when the kids had French. It's hard to maintain that control throughout the whole day, especially when you want a break for yourself as well.

I'd love to see this post added to the Teaching K-6 Blog Carnival. You've brought up some great points that others could learn from.

siobhan said...

I am a college teacher, and I frequently look at the behaviors of my college students and wonder: why did no one teach them in first grade not to behave this way? What your post makes clear is that, even if students receive conscientious, caring training in appropriate social behavior, other factors in their lives may take over once they leave the classroom. As teachers, all we can do is sow seeds. Whether those seeds fully blossom is often beyond our control.

Siobhan Curious