Fight or flight...
I feared disruption while teaching--terribly feared my classroom would unravel out of control. Those moments are inevitable as all educators know like when a verbal disagreement escalates or when the outside world permeates inside the classroom in the form of dozens of questions about #blacklivesmatter that you can't possibly ignore.
Teaching myself while informing others...
When a student disrupts a lesson, our knee jerk reaction defaults to discipline. But consider both roles, teacher and student, before we prescribe or recommend any particular classroom management strategy. Of course, the discipline for the student pops into mind first, but what discipline could be applied to our behavior as the adult?
For example, one of my brightest students in my advanced intro to engineering class changed his behavior dramatically during our final exam at the end of the year. This final was a group project that required no new skills and was intended to be a culmination of all the 3D modeling skills that students learned throughout the year. He distracted himself, he disturbed others and he constantly complained about my teaching. I defaulted to "discipline." I gave verbal warnings, managed my proximity and moved he and his group away from others. I pushed through, steering my 9th graders through a challenging group final project in the middle of June.
Of course, the year finally came to a close, not leaving enough time for reflection, but all final exams were completed. The following fall, I got the opportunity to speak to this student about the final exam. He said simply, "It was really hard. And you wouldn't help us." Of course after hearing this, I had no choice but to reflect. My student was afraid of failure. I was not addressing the needs in front of me. I was not asking the right questions. I was not responding in away that relieved their test anxiety. What I learned from this was obvious--not all disruption requires discipline and not all disruption is created equal. Beyond the obvious, I learned that reflection on challenging situations is paramount.
Thankfully, this student is and would be a high achiever regardless of the situation. He's an amazing kid. But not all of our students get the opportunity to achieve at his level or have the opportunity to reflect after a final exam. Another example occurred after the 2015 Baltimore protests. One of my students got our class riled up as he lamented about the situation while walking into class. The resulting conversation among he and his classmates became so heated, I chose to postpone our classwork and shift to facilitating the conversation about the protests. The students appreciated this, and asked if we could have more conversations about current events, which led to me allowing student-selected articles for our "DEAR (Drop Everything and Read)" time.
Hindsight is 20/20
As I look back on my time in the classroom, those moments were actually teaching moments for myself, informing me about my practice as an educator. I am truly grateful for those moments as they were full of potential, full of growth for myself and my students.
This post is dedicated to my students that continue to teach me more than they would ever know despite having since left the classroom!