Part 1: I shut up.

6th period I teach advanced 7 math which is actually about 18 7th graders and 11 6th graders or something like that.  They are great kids: smart motivated and so forth.  They are the kids people make exceptions for (more on that later). Anyway, 6th period is the last period of the day so they’re are always chatty.  It’s fine, I can deal with chatty.  In fact on the whole I like chatty.  Except that recently we have moved from chatty to just plain obnoxious.

Back to today: As they are coming in I write on the board, “Please take out a piece of paper for notes.” Except only about 5 of the kids do.  So I start to get annoyed and it’s loud.  Real real loud.  So I write the title of the notes on the board. And still not a lot happens.  So I write above the title, “this is the title you should write it down.” I wait about another minute.  I realize that I have not said a word yet this period.  I decide in that moment that I’m not going to.  It takes about one slide of notes for the students to realize that is this not a joke.  That they have to copy from the board on to their papers and that I am not going to tell them to.  Suddenly it’s quiet. They are shussing each other.  a couple kids say things like, “why are you being a mime,” or “this is my quietest class all day.” I just keep going.  I do a couple examples we do thumbs up, down or middle for understanding.  I do not say anything.  I’m not even really miming.  I am just writing things on the board letting them copy and do examples.  The last 15 minutes I get out the pink half sheets.  My students know that this means quiz.  I always give quizzes on the same color paper.   Every kid clears off their desks.  I put the 2 problems on the board, I write “Cover your work” and then let them go.  One kid talks.  I walk over rip up his paper and throw it in the trash.  The period ends and they leave.  Well, they say good-bye, put up their chairs and a few of them do the daily set puzzle.  (I just want to throw in here that the kids weren’t mad or annoyed by this but intrigued, they didn’t leave upset.  They left telling me to, “have a good weekend.”

A couple things, 1) I did not do this cause I was mad but because I can’t yell over them.  I have been and it’s killing me. 2) I can’t move on if I am constantly waiting for students to be quiet.  So today I didn’t.

I learned from this, probably more than they did.  I learned I rely on my voice a lot but that’s not necessary they respect me and want to please me without it.  I learned that sometimes just different can bring a class to attention and I learned that while standing at the board and giving notes is not my favorite sometimes it just works.


Part 2: I should probably shut up.

There is one really good way to make me mad and that is to talk about “those kids” as in those kids that always do bad things or those kids that steal or those kids that fail and by “those kids” you mean my students.  If you do that there is a good chance that I will stop both respecting and listening to you.   The condensed version of this story (which this is not the correct forum for) is that I got upset over something and went to talk to that person.  That person told me that it was not about all the kids we could make exceptions as needed (see above for the kids we have exceptions for) but that it was about “those kids.”  Sorry but I just stopped listening to you.


Part 3: You are grown ups learn to shut up.

I went to my first school board meeting and all I can say is this: I felt like a kid watching their parents fight.  I wanted to say, “Could you wait til we go to bed? You’re upsetting us.”



7 thoughts on “Silence.

  1. I sometimes dress and act like a mime for Halloween.
    I put on the screen an introduction that says something about the fact that I will not speak, that they should understand my body language after 2 1/2 months of school, that we have classroom routines that they understand.
    Kids buy in right away. I think they like the change in pace. They seem thrilled with themselves when they know what comes next without being told and are very loud when they tell their neighbour what to do next.
    And sometimes I “lose to win”. I say one word – usually ‘yes’ or ‘no’. The class makes it a measure of accomplishment that Ms. Harris said one word in THEIR class. And they talk about the day for the rest of the year and sometimes when they come back to visit years later.

    About ‘those kids’. I left a reasonably high performing, somewhat diverse, National Blue Ribbon middle school to go to a low performing, Program Improvement, ‘ghetto’ school. It’s location is right in the middle of a gang injunction area. The population is 95% hispanic, 95% free or reduced lunch.
    But I came with the same high expectations for behaviou, and work ethic as I had at the previous school. And THEN I started hearing about ‘our kids’. Like ‘those kids’ they can’t behave like other kids, can’t achieve like other kids, just aren’t like other kids.
    It’s a battle I’m still fighting 5 years later!


  2. Great post. I think you communicated a ton of respect for your students when you didn’t give in and talk. I’m curious, because I just imagined what I would do as a student to try to break the teacher without being a jerk: did any students ask questions?


    1. So, i feel like not really. There were questions but in that class i’ve built a pretty strong “ask your neighbor not the teacher” culture also I have students in my class all the time (lunch/ brunch/ after school) and I have gotten pretty good at ignoring them when the moment calls for it. So I may have ignored a couple but I don’t remember.

      Oh, I did get a lot of “Is this right?” but i always just shrug to that question anyway.

      I did answer one question to a student during the quiz, I told her to express her answer as a decimal. To be fair through the whole period I maybe said 10 words.


  3. You showed a lot of wisdom in this experience, in my opinion, as well as a deep respect both for them and for the learning in which you are jointly engaged. But maybe most importantly, you demonstrated a bottom-line respect for yourself — and you communicated that you will not tolerate its being trampled.
    That took real courage! So I say good for you for setting that limit!!!

    I too have a class of whip-smart, at-risk students who are my favorite chatty bunch but who have trouble with self-control when I need them to quiet down.

    Because I, like you, simply cannot yell over them effectively, I am experimenting with Michael Grinder’s ENVoY system of classroom management techniques (recommended by Dan Meyer on dy/dan). I bought one of the super-cheap used copies (so fish around for the additional formats to buy):

    It is definitely working better than trying to yell over them. His major premise is that it’s best to communicate as many of these rule-based, behavioral instructions in as non-verbal a way as you can manage. The two techniques I am focusing on are: (1) consistently using a small set of gestural instructions to communicate who is permitted to talk during which segments, and (2) concise visual/written instructions on the board instead of my speaking them.

    I opened class on Friday with a slide of the new seating chart and no instructions other than the words “New Seating Chart” as the slide title. I was dumbfounded at how much quieter, more cooperative, and generally more peaceful the whole class went.

    Elizabeth (aka @cheesemonkeysf on Twitter)


    1. Elizabeth – about your new seating chart – I think kids enjoy figuring it out without you giving them instructions.
      Sometimes it gives the whole class a sense of accomplishment and I see kids help each other figure it out.
      Great collaboration activity!!


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