March 10, 2012


I hate giving detention. I invite students to stay after school on a regular basis (notes on low test scores, weekly invite lists based on average grades, missing assignments or lack of progress on a long term project) but the consequence for not attending is merely that they continue to not understand or owe assignments. Giving detention for poor behavior makes me sad, because it says that my students don't respect me or their peers enough to change their behavior on their own. It says that students are acting appropriately because they don't want to stay after school, not because it's the right thing to do. Reaching this point makes me really disappointed in my kids, but also in myself- how could I have allowed students to get this far without establishing a relationship based on respect?

Here is the strange thing- I teach on a block schedule so we have classes A-D on Red days and E-H on White days, then the next day is a red day and so on. My red day classes are awesome. We can get serious, joke around, have conversations while we work, get off topic and then refocus. We have reached the sweet spot in the year when we all understand each other and class runs smoothly. My white day classes? If I give them a centimeter (not even an inch) they take a mile. They can't refocus or settle down or work independently. My regular geometry classes are at the same time of day - one red day, the other white day - but if someone observed one class and another person observed the other class they would have completely different impressions of my teaching and ability to run a class.

I realized last week that my F block was really getting out of hand so Friday I started class with a new seating arrangement and the prompt "Silently make a list of the characteristics of an A student." It did not happen silently but we started making a good list and almost had a good discussion about being born smart vs. working hard, but yet again a few kids kept shouting increasingly irrelevant things out while we were in the middle of a discussion. It ruins the momentum of any conversation when I have to stop to refocus students. I ended the conversation by telling everyone to pretend that they're an A student in class today. Somehow, class only got worse from there. Every other class I've used this prompt with has given me at least one good day. Apparently I need to cut back on the freedoms I allow them and start doling out consequences until we can get back to a state where the priority is learning, not random outbursts.

What do you do with a class that doesn't know what to do with a little bit of freedom and responsibility? I clearly need some help.


  1. Usually, when you really reflect a little, there are only 2-3 students who are causing 80% of the disruption. I would really focus on those students with everything you've got. Calling parents, having the guidance counselor or an administrator arrange a joint conference with you and the student, isolating the student as much as possible in the classroom and giving consequences.

  2. I have much the same problem! I've tried everything with these kids. Including walking out in utter frustration, leaving my co-teacher in the room to pick up the pieces. Yeah, that worked about as well as you might have guessed.

    Can you identify 1 to 3 ringleaders? You know the kids -- when they're absent, class goes so much better.

    I've set up a deal with the freshman teacher next door (mine are sophomores). She accepts my ringleader about once a week and I take hers. I send the ringleader out with a worksheet and a "have a great day!" Meanwhile, the rest of the class and I have a great day. Something I can remind them of when ringleader comes back.

  3. You've both pinned the exact problem I'm having with these classes. In my other classes I know who the 1-2 kids are who will get off track so I stay on top of them. In one class I'm having an issue with there's a group of 5 girls who are all disruptive (two were out yesterday and it was still bad) so sometimes my co-teacher or I separate them from the rest of the class. If we sit with them and constantly re-direct they'll do the work but they are off task the second they have finished doing exactly what we say (and nothing more). In the other class I feel like half the class could be the ringleader, I need to pay more attention to see who is first. But it's really hard to tell because as soon as one person starts talking 10 others do. And then while I'm telling the 'bad kids' to be quiet the 'good kids' get bored and start chatting and so they switch roles and it's an endless cycle that resulted in me yelling (which I never do) and sitting down to just ignore everyone for the remaining 5 minutes of the period. They got quiet for a whole 30 seconds when I did that. It's almost funny today, hopefully I'll be ready to face them with a plan next week. It will probably involve several desks in the hall and a threatening pile of detention slips.

    Thanks for commiserating!

  4. I've even had trouble with this in community college classes... I do not have anything helpful to add, but am listening. (We, at least, can kick students out. But I really hate doing that.)

  5. I'm such a meany that I honestly do not have disciplinary problems :) (Or maybe it's my 20something years in teaching, and I've been at this small school - 190 junior high kids - for 8 years now, all that helps.)

    Having an engaging lesson is paramount, of course, but it's impossible to be on top of our game every period, day in and day out. To me, it's all about respect. Respect for me and for other students. So when I read your first sentence, "I hate giving detention," I immediately mouthed to myself, "Oh, I love giving detention." :) Of course I don't love it, but it's not about me. I didn't cause the detention, the student earned it.

    The ideal disciplinary consequence is that you only have to do it one time -- to just one kid. The whole class saw and heard the warning you gave and saw and heard your follow-through. Some years ago we had a new student in our class, so I asked the class to tell the new student what our class is like. One kid said, "Mrs. Nguyen will pick up that phone to call your mama so fast it'd make your head spin!" I had to smile because it was funny. And so true.

    It's interesting how your red and white days differ with the same group of kids. Full moons every other day? Thanks for sharing, Tina, and I really appreciate your candor.

  6. Your ideal disciplinary consequence is exactly what ended up happening. After the weekend away I started class with a slide projected outlining the rules and consequences. That plus a conversation I had with a couple students after the last class was all it took. I didn't even end up giving out a detention in the first class, I gave out just one in the other class. They certainly aren't perfect, but we're back to a working balance. Sometimes I think I just need to write out my ideas, and more importantly my feelings. When I'm at 100% we don't have these issues, but at the end of a long week I need to trust that they can handle me being a bit off. One step at a time!