Back in the days when I was student teaching, about to earn my B.S. in Elementary Education from Old Dominion University, I was confident in the subject matter I was teaching to the 6th graders that were in my charge. I was confident in my creativity and ability to plan interesting lessons. I was NOT confident in my classroom management skills. Even though there’s a whole semester class called Classroom Management, it’s one of those things that is truly learned while on-the-job.
This particular group of 6th graders was very chatty, and when you mix chatty kids with a student teacher who is trying to step out of the box creatively, Classroom Management skills really need to be there. I was not having too much luck controlling my class, until I came up with this gem:
One day in particular, the entire group just got way out of hand. I was tired of dealing with them and at a loss. Finally, I decided that we were going to take up our Language Arts time to write letters home, telling their parents exactly how they were behaving, how disrespectful they were acting, and how they were using their learning time to write the letters. Naturally some of the kids acted like they were going to “pretend” to write their letter and take it home. That’s when I told them that not only did I have to approve their letter, but that their parents HAD to sign the letter and send it back to school.
I was blown away by some of the parent responses I got; they were all positive, thanking me for my work and promising that they would have some conversations with their students and handle things at home for me. I was so pleased that they weren’t all just “signed”, and I actually kept some of them (they’re here somewhere, along with the 250-page “Roaring Twenties” social studies unit that I created!).
Fast-forward to 4 years ago, when the fifteen-year-old was eleven and in sixth grade. I caught him making a locker sign for a friend that was full of curse words. I decided to use my letter-writing trick because when I asked him if he had any idea what kind of trouble he’d get into at school if he was caught, he didn’t know the answer.
First, my letter to the Principal, to give him a heads-up:
Dear Mr. R,
I just wanted to briefly explain THE BOY’S e-mail to you, to try to prevent you from being completely confused.
He had been working on homework this evening, and came to me asking for help in locating a Word document that he couldn’t recover. I went to the computer and discovered (in the drop-down menu of recent documents) something that I thought could have been what he was looking for.
Actually, what I opened was a sign/flyer he had made for a friend of his. It contained a couple of curse words. Obviously, my husband and I know that it’s normal for kids of THE BOY’S age to start experimenting with cursing, because it’s “cool” (or whatever), but we were somewhat speechless upon my discovery because this kind of thing hasn’t come up before.
The two of us discussed it and decided that rather than punish him for using the curse words in this document, we would have a discussion with him about although it is inappropriate to curse, we realize that we can’t control what he does away from us and he needs to think about his words and actions a little more than he used to. We told him it’s unacceptable to curse in our home, and it’s especially unacceptable at school, in front of his younger brother, etc. We had a great talk with him and although he was “closed” and upset when we started, I think we all felt pretty good by the time we were finished.
We explained to him that as he grows up, we have to “let out his line” from us bit by bit, and hopefully we have given him the tools to make the right decisions for himself. In this case, since we CAN’T control his actions (and the balance of control is shifting rapidly in his favor as he grows up), he has to be careful, and also realize that for all of his actions, there are consequences.
Which brings me to you! We asked THE BOY what he thought would have happened if he brought his little sign to school to give to his friend, and his teacher saw it. He thought perhaps he’d get a detention or something like that, but really didn’t have a clue, and frankly, didn’t seem to have thought about the very idea of getting caught. We told him that he had to e-mail you to see what you’d say, so that he could discover some examples of consequences for doing something that he originally thought was harmless.
Originally we were going to have him seek you out at school, but decided against it because we didn’t want to put him in a position of having to explain to his friends what was going on; we decided to keep it here in the house.
He’s a great kid, Mr. R, and we are doing our best to keep it that way, and continue working on his “foundation”. Thanks in advance for helping us out. We (THE BOY included) would appreciate any thoughtful response you can send on to him. And by the way, please reply to HIM; he doesn’t know I’m e-mailing you to fill you in. Thanks!
The Principal’s response to my e-mail:
Thank you for the heads up. He has not contacted me yet. Sounds like you handled this extremely well!
THE BOY’S e-mail to the Principal:
Dear Mr. R,
This is THE BOY on team 6-2.
I have a friend who made this joke called boo boo the talking donkey. And as a joke I made a poster on Microsoft Word, that had some curse words related to a donkey, and was going to bring it to school. My friend was just going to put it in his locker.
When my parents were helping me find a destroyed document, they found it, and it was only a joke but…my parents talked to me and told me that I had to write to you and ask this:
If I had brought it to school and been caught what would have happened?
The Principal’s response to THE BOY:
Hi BOY – If you have your assignment notebook, check out page 27 under the verbal abuse section. In more extreme cases, an out of school suspension for up to five days can be given as a consequence. If your picture was readily visible, it may result in a Saturday School. Actually, I am glad that your parents found the picture. I hope you did not get in too much trouble at home, but they probably did save you some trouble at school. Consider thanking them for being good parents.
And we never had that problem again.