Monday, July 2, 2012

Let the beatings begin!

Now that my son is nearly two years old, my wife and I are finding ourselves increasingly having to discipline him.  I realize that everybody who's ever been a parent already knows this, but there's this squishy period you have with your kid where you're not entirely certain whether any kind of discipline would even make sense.  I mean, obviously if he smacks you one when he's six months old, he doesn't really have any concept of what he's doing.  But when he's pushing two?  Oh yeah, he knows.  But it's not like there's a little blinking light on the kid that goes on one day and lets you know when the time is right.

Anyway, I think that we're off to a pretty good start with him.  Lately, when he's having a meltdown or doing something he's not supposed to do, I say to him, "Do you want to go to your room?"  Of course, he says no to that, but if he continues then I pick him up, put him in the corner of his room, walk out, and close the door behind me.

I usually don't leave him in there more than five minutes.  When I come back in for him, he's once again agreeable, smiling, and eager to please.  Some times he even insists on a hug and tells me he loves me after I let him out.  I think it's working, because over the last couple of days, there were a few instances where I didn't even have to take him to his room - just mentioning it was good enough to get him to behave.

So, not too shabby, I hope.  No doubt there will be situations that will throw me a curve, and there will come a time when this strategy doesn't work.  However, it is establishing the precedent that both Mommy and I carry through when we say we're going to do something.

All this gets me to thinking though that I really can't screw this up.  It also makes me think of my classroom management style at work.  With that, I had a learning curve, and I was most definitely NOT very good at it (although not a complete train wreck like some teachers I've known) my first year of teaching.  By my second year, I got a lot better, and I think that I've improved a bit every year.  Still, that first to second year jump was a huge improvement.  (I also went through a similar experience with my first and second year teaching seniors, even though I had already taught for a couple of years.  Something about those seniors; they're a whole new animal.)

Obviously, some groups of kids are easier to deal with than others.  Every now and then I find myself with a particularly difficult class.  A couple years ago, I wound up writing five referrals to the office for one of my freshman classes.  This had me thinking that I was losing my touch, as I usually average about 1-2 referrals a year for all of my classes combined.  However, I managed to make it through the last couple of years without writing a single one, so I guess that class was an anomaly.

For those who don't teach, you might not see the connection.  You might be thinking that I'm some kind of a pushover because I hardly ever send kids out of my room.  It must be chaos with me sitting there playing solitaire on my computer.  Well, that certainly CAN be the case (I know of one teacher who actually did that) but generally speaking, if you're writing a lot of referrals, it shows that you don't have a lot of control.  If you have the class in order, then you don't NEED to write them.  I've spoken with some of the Vice Principals, who handle discipline, and one of them even thanked me for taking care of any potential problems in class instead of sending a stream of kids to him every period.  (Of course, you also get the type of teacher who doesn't have control, but is a control freak.  Another VP once told me of a teacher who sent a kid out because the kid was drawing in class after he had finished his work.  Geez, I like it when a kid shows initiative and finds something quiet to do when he finishes early!  Plus, drawing?  Really?  We want to discourage creativity?)

My basic philosophy, which seems to serve me pretty well, is that I have a line just like everybody else.  I know what I will and will not tolerate it.  Kids, being what they are, will try and cross that line and see if the teacher gets angry.  (At least, you'll always get a few in each room.)  I don't like getting angry.  It's bad for my health, and it makes it look like I've lost control.  So, I pretend like my line is further back than it really is.  That way, when the kid crosses it, I'm not really as mad as I might seem to be.  (And there's a big difference between stern looks that kids interpret as angry and lost-your-shit angry.)

I seem to do all right with that.  Honestly, a lot of it becomes almost instinctive after a while.  I imagine that if I stopped teaching for five years and then went back into the classroom, I'd probably suck at it again.  As for now though, I've had some students in some classes comment about how I "don't get angry".  I remember one time there was a kid from that awful freshman class in my room, and he was talking to one of my other freshmen from another class.  He commented on how I always seemed mad.  The other kid said that he had never seen me angry.  In fact, the other kid talked about how I'd always pretend to get mad and shout at this one girl, "Go to the office!"  (The girl's reaction was to laugh when I said it, as it was all in fun.  I'd usually say it when she'd do something like point out a mistake that I had made or some other innocuous thing.  I think it's safe to say she was in on the joke, as she told me that she hopes to get me for senior year.)

When it comes to my son though, if I blow it now, I don't get to start over again next year with a new kid.  Like I said, I think that I'm off to a good start, but I also realize that if I get too complacent about this, I'll be doomed.

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