February 27, 2021
My first teaching job was 6th grade Reading and I had no idea what I was doing. I had been military, then corporate while I worked through a business degree, but when I realized that life was about making money and not so much helping people and limited how much time I got to spend with my family, I changed paths and got my teaching certificate. Then I started interviewing. I’ll never forget that job fair. I interviewed with dozens of schools. The one that ended up hiring me asked why I thought I could teach middle school without experience. My answer? I figured if I could handle pilots, I could handle them. She smiled and thanked me. Ten minutes after leaving the job fair, I had a job offer.
I started teaching when my oldest son was 9 years old and in 4th grade. He was a pretty good kid, but in typical fashion, challenging at times as he was finding his way. I was raised in a very disciplined household with prior military parents and, as I said, had also been military. Plus, I was a single mom, I had more on my plate to handle than I probably could.
By my third-year teaching, he entered middle school and was the same age as the kids I was teaching. He was challenging—they were more so. It was a rough school where the kids had life experiences and situations I had never heard of and was developing a major respect for the fact that they came at all, but I knew I had to figure something out since the typical discipline system had little to no impact on them. I had a student I will never forget. Mom had 4 kids and my student was her oldest and lots of trouble. After several calls from me about issues, she finally said, with exasperation in her voice and a crying baby in her arms, ”I don’t care what you do, just don’t get him sent home to me”. That hit me hard. I had to reach this kid and so many others. And, while PBS (Positive Behavior Systems) are great, they are long term and don’t deal with problems that really can’t be ignored. As a reading teacher and lifelong learner, I did what I always did–I turned to books.
Boy, did I find a great one! It’s called Have A New Teenager by Friday by Dr. Kevin Leman. I’ve loaned it out so many times, I don’t even know where my copy ended up, but now I just recommend the title whenever I hear of a teacher or parent struggling with their kids and teenagers. I even use the techniques in it with other interactions that could be tense and see my kids using it in their own interactions.
It essentially breaks down the elements that create the struggles and, therefore, the discipline issues, analyzes the WHY behind it, then teaches you about giving choices and taking away the power struggle. I’m not even kidding—the very first time I tried it with my own kid, it worked. When I applied the strategies to my own classroom, it worked even better. Our school tracked referrals and discipline issues and mine cut in half. The Dean actually came down to my room to find out if I’d just given up or what and was shocked.
My favorite story to share about how well it worked was with my own son. I don’t even remember the offense, but it needed addressed since that behavior needed to stop. Instead of the typical grounding from video games, which he was prepared for, he was given the choice of discipline options—a week without personality t-shirts or a week without basketball shorts, two items that were essentially his entire wardrobe. He begged to just be grounded from electronics or something else. After what seemed like hours, he finally chose personality shirts since he didn’t really have any other clothing options, then muttered I’m never going to do that again, that was tough; I didn’t want to give up either. Victory!
While it hasn’t been perfect every time, it helps a lot, and it has been over a decade since I read and started applying the strategies. My youngest is now 9 and has been raised with choices so that, when told directly to do something, it elicits less resistance. And, while I have been a virtual teacher at an online school for over a year now, I managed to maintain low discipline referrals throughout the years, usually only for major infractions. In my virtual classroom, I still apply the techniques when discussing assignments and giving choices. I may be wrong, but I feel like it contributes to keeping my non-worker and dropped course counts lower.
And my oldest son? He graduated with a degree in Criminal Justice and is headed towards a career in law enforcement. And his brother hopes to follow in his footsteps so they can be partners someday.
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