Tuesday, October 14, 2008

An Open Letter to my Teachers

I sent this as an email to my 6th grade team today.

I'm still pretty new at my school, and we're in the "getting to know you" stage of our professional relationship. During one of the goal-setting conferences I conducted this year, one teacher mentioned some concerns/confusion she had regarding the discipline I'd handed out to a student she'd referred to me, and said it would be a good idea if I spoke to the grade level to bring them into the loop, as it were, with regards to how I planned to handle things. I couldn't make it to their meeting today, but still wanted to address this teacher's concerns, realizing that they were likely shared by others in the grade level.

Here's what I came up with, my disciplinary philosophy in a nutshell. I'm still going to meet with them, but I wanted to get this out there sooner rather than later.

What do all y'all think?


I don’t have a behavior/consequence checklist to follow, where “If student exhibits behavior A, he/she is issued consequence B.” In each student contact, I take into account several things, in no particular order:

  • What is the student’s past disciplinary history?
  • How much information has the referring teacher provided me?
  • How has the referring teacher dealt with this student’s behavior in the past?
  • Has this particular behavior been an issue in the past?
  • Was the behavior provoked by another student?
  • What was the motivation for the behavior?
  • Is the student one with a disability?
  • Does that disability have an impact on their behavior?
  • Does the student seem honest?
  • Are they remorseful for their behavior?
  • What impact has the behavior had on the others in the classroom, including the teacher?

Balanced with these, among other factors, are my overall goals in any student disciplinary situation: to assist students in stopping an undesired behavior and to support teachers as they perform their jobs. While attempting to reach these interrelated goals, I have to decide:

  • Does the behavior require a consequence?
  • How much of a consequence is appropriate?
  • What does the teacher who referred this student want to see happen?
  • Will this consequence have the desired impact on the student’s behavior?

Obviously, many of these require a judgment call on my part, and while I feel confident in my abilities and my experience with middle school kids, I will, on occasion, make an error. I may misjudge the impact of a particular behavior on your classroom, or I may be unaware of a student’s behavioral history in your class. These errors or misjudgments on my part may leave you feeling that I’m “too soft on the bad kids,” or “taking their side against us.”

I believe you will agree that allowing this sort of feeling to go unresolved is poisonous for the working relationship we need, but I have a cure to suggest: Come talk to me. Ask me why I responded to the situation the way I did, and I will be happy to tell you. Let me know when you think I dropped the ball, and I will either tell you why I don’t think I dropped it, or I will correct the situation. Either way, I want you to bring your concerns to me before you start trashing me in the lounge (There will be plenty of time for trashing me in the lounge after!) I don’t guarantee that you’ll like my response, any more than I promise I’ll like what you have to say, but open communication is vital.

Thanks very much for what you do for kids, and for allowing me the opportunity to support you while you do it.

It's a great day for teachin', Bob!

I was watching the Red Sox get pounded by the Rays yesterday, and at the end of the game the usual expert panel post-game show came on. Cal Ripkin was one of the commentators, and I was reminded of all the retired pro athletes who do the color commentary and post-event analysis of sporting events.
Then the thought struck me: Wouldn't it be cool if retired teachers did running commentary and post-lesson analysis for current teachers? Imagine this scenario:
"We're joined in the studio by Mrs. Johnson, former 4th grade teacher at Jefferson Elementary School, to help us analyze Mr. Simmons' math lesson for today. Welcome, Mrs. Johnson."
"Thanks, Bob, I'm glad to be here. Mr. Simmons did an admirable job today in the math trenches. Let's go to the tape... Here we can see him introducing 2 column multiplication to his students. Watch as he goes to the whiteboard..."
"But what about here, Mrs. Johnson, when Simmons obviously missed little Timmy sneaking a peek at the answers in the back of the book before he raised his hand to answer?"
"Well, Bob, Mr. Simmons is only a 2nd year teacher, and Timmy's been pulling that same trick since 1st grade. Fortunately, Simmons has Suzie in his class, and we all know what a great undercover agent she is. Watch here, she's raising her hand and pointing at Timmy and his book! He's totally caught!"
You get the idea.
ESPN, I'm waiting for your call offering me the executive producer job for this one.