Stories from Stephanie Corvese, second grade teacher, St. Catherine of Siena, Woodbridge (Toronto), Ontario
I'll never forget my first year of teaching. What a nightmare! I had a split grade 1/2 class and several behavior problems. I wanted to have the best year of my life but somehow it turned out to be the worst. I wanted to be a kind and respectful teacher but I just didn't know what to do when a kid would tell me off or interrupt my lesson, so instead I yelled at them all year. In fact, I had so many problem kids that year and lack of experience, that I dreaded waking up each morning. I cried every day after school, because I felt so exhausted from the day and I felt so helpless didn't know what to do to get them to listen to me. I tried stickers and treats but it never really worked in the long run. So, I'd get angry and yell at them. The following year, I changed schools, was given a grade 2 class of 28 students and made the decision to create the most positive environment ever. I Knew that I had to make this year different. Let's just say, by the end of the first week, it was clear that there were a lot of behavioral kids and it was going to be difficult, but I knew I couldn't repeat the previous year. I didn't want to feel angry all year. I wanted to wake up each morning and feel excited to go to work. I began with class meetings immediately. Whenever there were problems in the school yard or in class, the kids would put the problem on our class agenda and we would solve it at the end of the day. I shared personal stories with them, laughed with them, smiled at them and in a short time I began to love those kids and the awesome thing was that I knew they loved me. Sure, there were really "tough" days when a child would interrupt me constantly or another would swear but no matter what, I tried to always remind myself that they are "kids" not little adults and it's my job
TO BE THE CHANGE I want to see. If I want them to be respectful towards others, then I made sure I was respectful towards them. Now, that I'm teaching grade 2 again, and using the Positive Discipline Principles, I know I could never go back to my old ways. The most interesting thing too, was that whenever I was absent from work, supply/substitute teachers would leave me notes about how "bad" they were. Even other teachers at my school would come up to me and say "wow-how do you handle them?...they're crazy". The thing is, I cared about these children, I listened to their problems, I respected them and in turn, they did their best for me. I think kids want to behave when they know their teacher likes them.
One of the things that used to drive me crazy was a noisy classroom. For some reason, I expected my classroom to be extremely quiet all the time. Screaming at them to be quiet would work for about 15 seconds, and then the kids would be chatting away again. One of the positive things I do is note passing. During seat work time, the children are given a piece of paper and are allowed to write whatever they want on the paper. If they have to go to the bathroom, they write out the question. etc. I also came to the understanding that there are times when a noisy classroom is OK. Many times, during my centers, children are reading around the room, or reading aloud at our classroom library, and the classroom gets loud but if there is a lot of learning going on then I don't let that noise bother me.
Just the other day, a student of mine from last year walked by my classroom and started talking to me. He popped into my classroom and commented on how I'd changed some things around in the class. I asked him what the best thing about being in my class was and he said with the biggest smile.... "Class Meetings. Yeah...they were cool"
I have this kid who, at the beginning of the year was constantly lying to me. He would always be getting into trouble at recess or doing things to bother his classmates and of course it was never "HIM" who did it. "Who ME... Miss Corvese" he would say in a very astonished confused voice. (when I would catch him poking his classmate) I was frustrated with his lying so I made sure that whenever any student in the class "goofed up" I didn't punish them. I would say. "Wow...you made a mistake!!!!!...welcome to real life. I make mistakes all the time. Let's see what we can do to solve this problem." And, then the child would think of a positive solution to solve the problem" Many times, I too made mistakes. In fact, just last week, I'd had a very bad cold and the noise was bothering me. I kept yelling at them to be quiet. The day after I felt bad about yelling at them so I apologized and told them that I'd made a mistake. I wasn't feeling well and I just wanted quiet. The kids said very sweetly. "That's ok Miss Corvese...we make mistakes too!" After a few months of this, this child must have realized that it's really OK to make mistakes so he never lies to my anymore.
Last year, I had quite the "difficult" class. I had several behavior students and decided I was going to make the best of it. I had one particular student who just refused to do anything you asked him, he couldn't sit still and "bounced from wall to wall" He claimed he "hated school" and nothing I said would make a difference. At first, we had power struggles. I'd want him to get his work done and he wouldn't and in fact, the more I pushed for him to get work done, the worse his behavior got. He'd shout at me, scream in class, kick his desk and throw his chair. The behavior Resource team at my school put together a plan for me where he would have a time out in the class if he didn't do his work and if he still defied me he would get sent to the office. If he refused to do any work at the office, he got sent home. Well, he spent most of his days in the office having temper tantrums and the parents were frustrated that he was getting sent home. After I was introduced to the idea of giving students choices I decided to try it on him. Whenever, there was work to get done, I would say "Joey, you have two choices, you can do this...or you can do that..." You decide which activity you want to do and when you're ready, let me know" Well, I'm not kidding but that phrase turned his behavior right around. At first he just sat there, ( probably waiting for me to get angry but when he realized I wasn't going to push or get angry anymore he picked up his pencil after a few days and got to work). I couldn't believe it. One simple phrase transformed our relationship. This child just didn't want to feel controlled. He needed to feel like he was being responsible for his own learning. This one change, helped me make it through the year much easier. I'll never forget the last day of school when he hugged me and said. "I'll miss you a lot this summer" Wow-what a feeling to know I had made a difference.