Getting kids to behave in a teaching setting

It’s all about tactics…

We’re reading this book by Doug Lemov on how to improve K-12 teaching, figuring it should help us with college and graduate students too, even if not everything transfers over.  This book is really awesome because it’s about tactics.  What are techniques that you can actually use to get students to pay attention, keep listening, behave themselves and learn (mostly remember) the material.  It’s a great book with lots of great tips in a classroom setting.  Little nitty-gritty details.

We’ve had it in mind as we go through the summer, applying it more to a pre-K setting.

Example.  So DC says to me the other morning, “Ms B said if I flipped my flip flops one more time, she was going to wear them.”
“I think that means she wanted you to stop.”
“You were probably disturbing her or other kids.”
“Really?”  DC asked incredulously.
“Did you stop?” I asked.
“No, I flipped them two more times.  But Ms B didn’t put them on,” ze replied, disappointed.

I think what we have there is a failure of Ms B to communicate.  DC honestly had no idea that she wanted hir to stop flipping or why on earth she would have wanted that.  With kids a certain age, it’s best just to be direct.  “DC, please stop flipping your flipflops.  It is bothering me.”

Also while we’ve been reading this book, DC has started swimming lessons. The first session ze had an experienced and short woman teacher.  DC behaved like an angel and progressed marvelously.  Second session, DC had a tall inexperienced male teacher.  DC acted up in ways that we rarely see hir act up.  And so did most of the other kids in that group.  We were constantly reminding DC to listen to the teacher because swimming pools are dangerous and it is important to listen.  (Indeed, on the last day of class, DC fell into four feet of water and took a while to fish out, but was oddly unfazed.  DH, otoh, almost had a heart attack.)  DC claimed ze just didn’t hear when the teacher said to stop splashing or to stay away from the slides.  He would also give up on kids doing the right thing too soon, and would make idle threats that he never followed through on.

DH spent some time over these sessions comparing what it was that the first teacher and the second teacher were doing differently, especially on occasions with the tall male teacher when the students actually behaved.  Specifically, the kids behaved on the days when they were in the big pool instead of the smaller one where they could stand on their own without life jackets.  In the big pool, they had to sit on a mat for safety reasons when it wasn’t their turn with the teacher.  And, importantly, in the big pool, the tall teacher was the same height as the kids, not towering over them.  It was easier for them to listen to him.

Supernanny was right.  It is important to get down to the child’s level when you’re trying to get them to behave, listen, or obey a command.  Second, when they’re bored, they’re going to act up.  Give them something to do and limit their possible actions.  Too much freedom can lead to pushing that freedom too far, and not being in a position to pay attention to the teacher.  Finally, as before, follow through with commands and threats.  If you give up too early, then they have more reason to ignore your commands and threats.

These are all tactics.  Not high flung philosophies and so on, but concrete small things that improve the experience for everyone and help increase learning because of that.  It is easier to learn when kids are not distracted and it’s easier to teach when kids are well-behaved.

So that’s our recent experiences in getting pre-K and K-12 folks to pay attention and learn stuff.  We wonder what bleeds over to college students…

38 Responses to “Getting kids to behave in a teaching setting”

  1. Everyday Tips Says:

    Tough situation with trying to teach swimming. Pools are just too darn tempting, so I would imagine the teacher would need to be REALLY good to have a problem-free class. For younger kids, I am sure it would be beneficial to have more than one instructor also since there are also safety issues.

    I am not a teacher, but I was one of those students that was easily distracted, even in college. Large lecture halls are the worst, I mostly did crossword puzzles during those classes. (You would have hated me.) I much preferred grad school over undergrad because I was actively involved with discussion instead of just trying to take notes or whatever. So, based on reflections on myself, I think the absolute key to be a successful teacher is to let also allow for people to be involved, and to let the topic almost take on a life of its own if possible. Kind of like ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ where there isn’t a script, but more of an outline for each show. I recognize that certain areas MUST be covered thoroughly, but in the ideal world, that is how all of my classes would have been taught.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Getting students involved is much easier in smaller classes than large. #2 has a lot of good activities for large lecture halls, but it is still easier for students to hide. There are tactics that can be used that makes it more likely that students will behave.

      The current swimming teacher is awesome– she gets down to their level and has them do group activities (something the previous two teachers did not do). Somehow she’s convinced DC to actually put hir head in the water, which is a big step forward! DC is learning a lot this session.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I would love to have my students more involved in discussion, but some of my classes have over 300 students in them, and IT IS NOT MY JOB TO MAKE THEM PAY ATTENTION. It’s my job to be as interesting and relevant as I can, and it’s the students’ job to pay attention and take notes even when it seems boring — or else take the consequences and not whine about grades. I didn’t get a PhD so I could be an entertainer. Sometimes real life involves learning how to be successful even in non-ideal circumstances, and many of my students don’t realize that. (You kids get off my lawn.)

      • Everyday Tips Says:

        Well, I guess I think of myself as a consumer at the grocery store even if I use a coupon. If I pay anything for a service, then I in my opinion, I am a consumer.

        I never expected great grades for minimal effort. I got good grades in the classes I did crossword puzzles in too, that was never an issue. I was not disruptive to anyone else in those classes, and I can’t say I ever saw disruptive students in my classes (at a state school).

        I guess my point, if I pay for something, even if it is on sale, I expect a quality product. Now, everyone’s opinion of quality can vary. To me, I wanted a teacher that taught in a way that encouraged discussion, spoke english, and didn’t just read from 10 year old slides. However, if I did underperform in such a class, I recognize it would be my own fault.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Think of it instead of the manufacturer giving you a coupon, the government is giving you foodstamps so you will feed your children. That’s a better comparison.

        They expect a quality product too, but the state’s definition of quality is very different than an 18-22 year old’s. One of the reasons college costs are rising so much is the emphasis being put on fancy dormitories, gymnasiums etc. That’s not what’s important in the long-run and can actually be detrimental to well-being if kids can’t afford such nice things once they graduate.

        And those crossword puzzles are disruptive to the people sitting next to you. The biggest problem today though is people texting, IMing and facebooking during class.

        If you don’t believe that a lot of students don’t care about learning, check out, pick a gut major at a state school. Look especially for ratings with misspelling. You’ll see high marks for teachers cancelling class or giving high grades without attendance, and exams matching homework/class problems exactly. If they don’t, if critical thinking is expected, if homework is assigned, etc. then low ratings. That’s not true at all schools (some highly-ranked SLACs have highly articulate students who rate based on learning), but it’s definitely a defining thing at far too many schools.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Also… we do an excellent job teaching. Some students are better than others. We see that in the different classes we teach. Entry-level required classes have a different student mix than upper-level electives. Some majors have better students than others. #1’s students are MUCH better than #2’s students because the reputation of the difficulty of the major causes sorting. (Also, #1’s largest class size was under 40, #2 regularly teaches hundreds of students in one lecture hall.) One of our partners has the worst students, despite being a fantastic teacher, because he teaches the entry-level course in a major that is where undergrads who failed another major go (before dropping down to the university’s gut major). One of our daycare teacher’s husband’s is in that major and says that the problem is they’re too busy smoking weed to attend class, no matter how inspiring the professor. Frankly it’s a waste of their money. They want the degree, not the learning. We want them to learn.

    • Everyday Tips Says:

      I think there is a difference between being an entertainer and an educator though. I did have some large lecture classes that I learned a lot from because the professor found a way to make a possibly boring topic interesting. The focus was not to entertain and make people laugh. However, there is a big difference between the teacher that makes the topic interesting, and the one that just reads through their slides. (Which that might be interesting as THEY can be.)

      Just like how a professor isn’t paid to be an entertainer, a teacher isn’t paid to be a babysitter. However, sometimes a job requires more than what the job description states. I have heard coaches say it isn’t their job to motivate the kids (under 10). I disagree, I think that is part of the whole package I am paying for. I am not saying paying money, but motivate through positive reinforcement or something. Nobody just responds to orders being barked out.

      I don’t mean to sound argumentative, I am sure you are both very good professors. I have just experienced wayyy too many bad teachers and professors in my life that I am probably a little jaded. I actually had a finance professor that told us we could say whatever we wanted on the end of semester evals because he had tenure and would do what he wanted. I think when you pay for a product (like college), it is a two way street.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I don’t really care so much about the students who are choosing not to learn. I do care about the negative externalities they give to their classmates. That’s why the tactics to minimize classroom disruptions can be so important. If a few obnoxious students learn as a result, that’s fine by me.

        As a professor, I have to say I cringe at the idea of “student as consumer.” They’re NOT actually paying the full cost of their education at most state schools, even if they’re paying full tuition. Students as consumers for some reason think their job is to be entertained and given high grades for minimal effort because they’re paying money. That’s not what the state, who is heavily subsidizing their education, wants. The state wants them to be educated so that they will be productive members of society and bring prosperity to the state. Sometimes getting educated is at odds with high grades and entertainment, depending on how much the student enjoys hard work. A well-endowed college is also heavily subsidizing most students. They want graduates they can be proud of, especially ones that make enough money to give back once they graduate. Again, not in line with what many 18-22 year olds think they want in the short-term. Colleges and universities strive to give students what they need, not necessarily what they want. One of the things I realized when I went into teaching was that students like me are the minority, even at top schools, and there’s a reason my professors loved me.

      • bogart Says:

        Yes, per the Grumpy reply, when I was teaching at an (expensive, private) liberal arts college, one of my colleagues pointed out we (faculty) could have easier lives if we would just shut the “school” down and become a “think-tank” (i.e. got rid of the students). The school’s endowment was more than enough to support us faculty in the manner to which we were accustomed, and in reality — their tuition payments (etc.) notwithstanding — having the students there in fact cost the institution (endowment) money each year.

        (It’s not that I don’t think faculty should be expected to be effective teachers, just that I don’t think that short-term student happiness is the best way to measure that, especially as the only or principal measure)

  2. FrauTech Says:

    I guess depending on how old DC is this could create for an interesting two sides to the story. From the parents side, the teacher failed to communicate clearly to the student and so it’s not the student’s fault that they misbehaved. But on the teacher’s side I could see this being a story told to a sympathetic ear about how children disrespect their teachers, purposefully do exactly what they were told not to only a minute before, and then the parents back up their special child and say that the teacher is at fault. I mean maybe I’m overestimating age, but if anyone 8 years old and up did that it seems like deliberate misbehavior not polite misunderstanding.

  3. bogart Says:


    I learned to teach by teaching kids on ponies. Though it’s got serious downsides (horses can be dangerous and I was, in retrospect, no more than a kid myself), it’s in many other ways an ideal context: virtually all your students really, truly, madly want to be there AND they more or less understand that horses can be dangerous and they MUST do what you say. Also, I was working in an organizational context where we were taught to teach, where both students and instructors were called upon to be able to articulate the reasons underpinning our decisions, and where there was adult backup of our authority as instructors.

    I’m an average sized and usually quiet woman, and when I stand at the front of a lecture hall and start to speak, people are often surprised at how well I project my voice. Guess where that came from? I’ve mostly done OK with teaching college kids, in part because I’ve often (not always) been in pretty good environments.

    I do think many US universities are moving / have moved too far in the direction of defining “effective teaching” as “something the students like.” I’ll assume the shortcomings of that approach are obvious here.

    I’ll check those books out. Sound interesting.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Yes, there’s definitely been an element of “something students like” to what our university is looking for, though there was a huge outcry from the faculty with their last initiative and they seem to have toned it down. I’d be perfectly happy with common exams for core classes, but I don’t think that’s going to happen any time soon. Well, maybe once they move towards having core classes as one big lecture hall taught in the football stadium…

  4. Cloud Says:

    When I was in grad school, I visited my mom’s first grade class. Her goal was two fold- she wanted them to see that scientists aren’t all old white guys with crazy hair, and I was also going to do a simple physics demo (the classic drop a paper and a penny and see which lands first- I used a balled up paper and a bag of pennies to make it simpler and easier to see).

    I had fun, and the kids were pretty good for me. But I came out of there thinking that there was no way I’d want to teach kids for a living. That is one hard job.

    I have done some teaching, but it has been for adults who are retraining- a fairly motivated group, on the whole. I have no idea how I’d do with a class of college kids!

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      It’s funny… I think I would be better at teaching a full-size class of kids than just my kid. I could spend all day as a teacher (and in high school I did a lot of volunteer work as a teachers aide, including doing pull-out math), but not as a SAHP. Partly though I think that’s just because my kid is so very intense, and having other kids there helps to spread that around.

      • bogart Says:

        I think teaching your own kid is laden with pitfalls. I’m not familiar enough with the world(s) of homeschooling to know whether or how it (they) addresses this, but I think there is much to be said for having someone other than the person who’s your 24/7 go-to (if you’re the kid) be your instructor. It’s probably not an accident that the apprentice system farmed teenagers out to other families.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        That is definitely true.

        DC has this thing ze likes to do where ze intentionally gets answers wrong because it is hilariously funny (to hir). Ze doesn’t do that so much with teachers, ze prefers showing off for them.

      • scantee Says:

        This topic is very much on my mind since my 3-year-old just had his first swim lesson where he freaked out and would not get in the pool, a very unexpected response since he has never been afraid of new people or experiences and loves swimming. His teacher dealt with it ok and said she was fine with having him cry, which I am too since I know once he’s gets started he’ll love it, but when that didn’t work she just ignored him. So, not sure that is going to work out in the long run, it could be an expensive adventure in sitting at the side of the pool.

        I was a swim instructor in my high school and early college years and I found that it was actually easier with young children to have more students in a class rather than fewer. In a small class if you get one kid goofing off then the others tend to follow but if you have a larger class and a few kids are following instructions than the others usually fall in line. Maybe if I had like, five or six kids, I would find it easier to be at home? Eh, I’m not going put that one to a test.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        “Maybe if I had like, five or six kids, I would find it easier to be at home?”

        I suspect it would! So long as they were of mostly different ages. I don’t think I could handle multiple babies at any point in time.

        We are also not going to put that to the test. I’m dreading the idea of sleepless nights with a potential second child!

      • bogart Says:

        Grumpy: Are you sure your kid isn’t my kid? The wrong answers on purpose thing certainly overlaps.

        Scantee: we’ve had some similar swim lesson experiences, similarly situated (kid comfortable in water and ready for the level of lesson but freaked out by the change in context). Things that have helped for us: me getting in water with kid — OKed with instructor, for us, given circumstances (actually pretty common for that set of lessons and age of kids at our pool, which sounds about parallel to where your DC is, agewise), I got in and hung out but gradually faded back and obviously stayed out of the way; discussing with kid what the problem is (why did you freak out, phrased more kindly) and ways to deal with it (e.g. “maybe if you can move around and kick your legs underwater you’ll feel more comfortable” or to look at me and wave, or whatever … I have suggested some strategies but also let DC suggest his own. For us, my acceptance/support/discussion of the fact that yes, parts of this (swim lessons) are hard (to DC) but we are (he is) going to do it anyway and let’s brainstorm together on ways to manage it have worked pretty effectively, no idea if there is anything in there useful to you, but FWIW).

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        It’s probably one of those smart kid habits. If I didn’t get comments blocked on davidsongifted for complaining about the rampant sexism and classism, I could ask!

  5. Zee Says:

    I think the problem is often when students think that a university education is a product and that they are a paying consumer is that often this flows into an incredible sense of entitlement. (I am not saying that Everday Tips is this or is suggesting this) However, as a TA I have had students actually say things like “I pay your salary, so you clean up that lab bench, I have somewhere to be”. I have been treated like the ‘hired help’ as opposed to an educator with great frequency. Years of dealing with this growing attitude breeds contempt on both sides and I think contributes to professors and TAs just clocking out in the classroom and reading from slides and giving easy exams. I think part of teaching is asking more from a student then what is easy or comfortable, it means pushing people past their perceived limits, it means being demanding and those are not things that people want from a ‘product’ they are purchasing.

    • Everyday Tips Says:

      Oh gosh, I am definitely not suggesting that. My only point is that if I pay for something, I expect a quality product in return. Someone cleaning up after me is not what I paid for in college, and I would never, ever say something like that, to anyone period.

      Not to beat a dead dog, but I had professors that blew off office hours, professors nobody could understand (accent) and some professors that obviously hated their job. I paid for my own college (along with some grants), so I got frustrated when I felt the ‘university’ was not providing what I was working myself to death for. I worked everyday of college as a secretary, I worked every Christmas and Easter break, and I worked every summer. So, maybe I felt like I personally had more invested and I wanted a decent teacher for all my classes. Don’t get me wrong, I had some absolutely wonderful teachers that were fantastic examples for me.

      Now, going down to a high school level, I don’t know if I can count on one hand the decent number of teachers I had. Our school had the lowest test scores in the county, decent facilities, but a lot of people were poor. There was not a lot of parent or teacher involvement. I breezed through like a pro, and had zero study habits going in to college. Maybe I needed a smaller college, but I couldn’t afford anything like that. It was a huge adjustment for me going from an environment where I didn’t need to ever bring home a book to being in an academically challenging environment with up to 440 students in a class.

      I went to my former high school a couple years ago, and the classrooms were all upgraded. A lot of good that did, every single classroom I walked by had the teacher sitting in the back of the room while the kids watched the TV. I am sure they were watching something pertaining to their class, but it sure made the teacher’s job look easy.

      With teaching, like every profession, you have those that love their job and it shows, and those that want a paycheck and are hoping for retirement. I am definitely not saying that there are only bad teachers out there. I will be forever grateful to some of the great teachers and coaches I did have as they made a huge difference in my life. As a matter of fact, if I could do it all over again, I would become a teacher.


      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        We’ve probably had more crappy university professors than you did, just by dint of spending more years in schooling. And we were getting paid to attend school some of that time. The fact that we were getting paid to go rather than paying is irrelevant to whether or not the teachers should be doing a good job. They should be doing a good job not because students are paying money but because that is the contract that professors have with their schools and their students. Students should be here to learn, professors should be here to facilitate that. We do it because we want to produce good members of society, to enhance our school’s reputation, to share the love of our subject, and so on. Not because people are or are not paying tuition.

  6. First Gen American Says:

    As I read through the comments, I have to side with Everyday Tips on a few points. I went to a private school where the professors were 100% focused on their research. It had a huge endowment and most of them did not like teaching. Also most of them were lifetime academics. (ie, no real world experience). As an engineering student, the best professors I had were the ones who actually spent a few years doing engineering in the real world before becoming professors. It wasn’t just pages of equations on a blackboard and theoretical stuff, they tied it back to how this would relate to a real world product. My husband went to a public college and most of the professors there wanted to teach as a second career. All of them had been in industry for decades before doing the teacher thing. When we compared notes, it was like night and day. Most of them wanted to give something back to a new generation and could give a rat’s ass about publishing x times/year.

    I’m sure you two are both great professors, but I worked my butt off to be in school. When I fell asleep in class one day and the professor ripped me a new one, I apologized profusely and told him I worked a double shift the day before. He assumed I was up late partying. He coincidentally was one of the ones that had all his premade slides that he whizzed through. I did want to learn and that was the first day I started drinking coffee because something had to give. We ended up being on very good terms afterwards. It’s not his job to keep me awake, but I’m glad he said something, especially since I was only a freshman. It made a difference moving forward..that teachers actually notice what goes on in the classroom. On the flipside, I was killing myself to be able to go to that school and I really didn’t like to be treated like teaching me was an inconvenience that was eating into someone’s research time. I didn’t think that going to a high ranked college would be like that and frankly I felt majorly jipped. As an aside, I would never treat a TA like hired help. Those guys were the ones that actually spent the most time with us and I don’t know how I would’ve gotten through college without their help.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      My husband feels very much the way you do about engineering and teaching, and went into the department on campus that has that philosophy. He gets the engineering students who drop out of those engineering majors with the large lectures and teaches them in smaller classes. Some of them just need more hands-on one-on-one attention but the majority have terrible study habits and poor work ethic. They are awful. He thinks it’s him. I’ve observed him teaching. It is not him. He is totally demoralized but it is in no way his fault. He would find teaching much more rewarding if he had more than 2 conscientious students a semester. But he’s probably not going to get tenure because he doesn’t publish enough or get enough grants, and the students are driving him away from teaching, unlike the students he TA’d at his graduate institution.

      And he gets the excuse that they have to work long hours too. Choices = consequences. People should not be sleeping in class. It is disrespectful and it lowers class morale among all students. (And yes, as a student I used to fall asleep in my morning classes. That doesn’t make it right.)

      We were more critical of professors before we started teaching. The majority of students ARE NOT LIKE WE WERE. Teaching is also much harder than it appears. Students are very diverse. What works for one student makes other students think you’re terrible. It is impossible to please everyone. With the increased emphasis on rote memorization in K-12, it is more and more difficult to teach critical thinking skills without student push-back. If students are going to complain about being made to think, then it’s easier to give them what they want. We resist because we have beliefs in what they need to know to be representatives of our program, but that hurts us in teaching evaluations. This class was hard. There was too much work. She didn’t just tell us the answers etc. In my program we actually have a section in the syllabi in all the initial core classes explaining how undergrad is different from high school and how they’re going to feel this cognitive dissonance and it has helped immensely. They get the same message from four professors and are prepared that they’re going to feel dumb until it clicks. But before that it was a fight. Students think they know what they need, but they are often wrong. Telling them what they really need is one of those tactics that helps. Tell them four times in one week, and they actually believe it.

      • Zee Says:

        OMG can I possibly have that section in the syllabi shared with me, that sounds like a fantastic idea, I totally want to steal it!

      • First Gen American Says:

        I think I admitted that sleeping in class was bad didn’t i? Sleeping is bad, but that confrontation was a turning point for me and I’m glad we had it. Incidentally that guy is now one of the department heads at my school. He even tried to get me to switch majors to his discipline after I got to know him better. What started bad ended up with a happy ending. I really like your husband. We see eye to eye on a lot of things it seems.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        Yes. At least you weren’t doing crossword puzzles! I swore at some kid who was playing hearts during one of my husband’s lectures when I was observing. Luckily he had no idea who I was…

        I really like my husband too. :)

  7. Rebecca Weinberg Says:

    I’m beginning to think you need an “unintentionally controversial” tag for all education related posts.

    94% of college professors believe they have above-average teaching skills. While there are ways you could torture that statistic to make it say something that isn’t laughable, I humbly submit that not all professors have optimal insight into their own strengths and weaknesses.

    I could believe that oft repeated line about students not knowing what they need… but I’d think it would apply equally well to professors. You seem to think you need tactics to manage a classroom or control behaviors… but maybe what you really need are ways to relate to students better, to understand what they are motivated by.

    Have you ever read John Holt? What if all students START OUT like you (or at least like your idealized remembered self)? What if humans are all innately excited about learning, believe they can handle challenges, comfortable devoting massive time/energy to what they want to study? And what if schooling beats that out of them?

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Yes, the semester I read John Holt was the one semester in which I got bad teaching evaluations and had students fail the class. I used to be much more idealistic. Sometimes bad behavior needs to be recognized and shut down. Going back I see all the little idealistic things I did that I should not have allowed. Now I require and take attendance. I don’t allow laptops or cellphones open. If people send me inappropriate emails, instead of pretending that they’re not inappropriate and answering them anyway, I let them know that they’re inappropriate and tell them I will answer them once they have talked with the writing center about how to send a professional communication. I used to treat them more like adults, which worked for the ones who behaved like adults, but no amount of idealism will force entitled immature people to behave like adults. And those folks disrupt the rest of the class, even if it is 1 out of every 30 students. Many of the tactics I learned from my DC’s preschool teachers work great on adults too. White males automatically get respect that small females do not, so tactics are even more necessary.

      I suggest reading the book we linked to. You will see that idealism is not enough and that in order for idealism to work, tactics are necessary as well. Here’s an article discussing the book and explaining:

      And am I a good teacher? My students (with a few exceptions who skip class or don’t do the homework) consistently do well in both my core classes and in the classes for which my classes are a prerequisite. Professors in later sections rave about how they can tell who had my section. I get high teaching evaluations even though I teach a required core class that has math in it, not that that is any measure of learning. I get lots of cards and emails from students who have graduated that say things like, “Dr. #1, I was so frustrated in your class when I took it, but I now realized how much I learned and how important what you taught me is to my current job, especially the parts that were frustrating.” “Dr. #1, the job recruiter asked me if I could do this thing you taught us and I totally knew what he was talking about and nailed the interview.” and my favorite: “Dr. #1, I used to think I couldn’t do math, but I got an A in your class and it all seems so easy now.” I had a returning student who said the latter to me this past year– she got the highest grade in my class… looking into her admissions file she had never gotten above a C in a math class before. Now she’s doing the data evaluation at her job and all of her colleagues are overawed because they she can do things they have no idea how to do.

      But my students complain that the class is too hard. There’s too much work. Too much homework. I don’t give them enough straight answers. I force them to think instead of to regurgitate. Of course, they’ve been taught that all learning is measurable by scan-tron and it really hurts their minds when they have a math class where there aren’t right and wrong answers. That not everything is in black and white. That there are questions we don’t know the answers too, or that different experts disagree on. (I think this process is also discussed in Holt– if not Holt then one of the other books on teaching I read in the bathroom that same year.) It is much easier in later classes when they’ve gotten over that.

      • nicoleandmaggie Says:

        I used to believe that too. But then I had the class from hell. And the class from heck. And the class from apathy-land. And the class from a different hell. And a great class. And three classes from mediocre. And so on.

  8. Rumpus Says:

    Teaching is like a second job for me. I have a primary job that determines whether I get raises, whether I get paid over the summer or not, whether I get new assistants or equipment, and even whether I get to keep my job after the first few years. Then I have this other thing I am required to do. This “second job” does not affect my salary, does not provide me with kudos around the office, and as long as I show up and don’t do anything illegal it won’t affect my employment. It must be a labor of love.

  9. Rebecca Weinberg Says:

    That’s an interesting article, but I am not sold on the premise that having an orderly classroom or good standardized tests are appropriate measurements of learning.
    Even if you grant that we should at least look at those outcomes (file it under “it’s a start!”), the lack of a demonstration that teachers adopting these tactics has any effect on student outcomes is troubling. The whole fact that “M.K.T.” was correlated with good performance, but so was selectivity of undergrad institution of the teacher, raises a pretty huge “correlation != causation” and “these measures are good proxies for the factors we really care about” warning signs to me.

    As far as the philosophical aspect… everything you are saying sounds to me like “teaching is hard because students don’t know how to approach it”. Which would be entirely consistent with schooling ruining innate drive. I think you see at least some of that, or at least that’s how this sounds to me: “Of course, they’ve been taught that all learning is measurable by scan-tron and it really hurts their minds when they have a math class where there aren’t right and wrong answers”

    “no amount of idealism will force entitled immature people to behave like adults”
    Exactly- but then, what can *force* people to behave “like adults”?
    Enough idealism *and time* does generally result in entitled immature people growing into mature adults of their own accord. I’ve seen it work in unschooling too many times to dismiss it entirely. Of course, you have to treat them like adults. Which is rarely allowed in formal schooling, even at the college level.

    • nicoleandmaggie Says:

      Read the book. And do some teaching in a poverty-stricken inner city K-12 district.

      The parents who do unschooling are a very selected group, with very selected kids. Also very small adult-kid ratios.

      We used to talk like you. Then we got experience teaching large sections of required and 101 classes.

      • Rebecca Weinberg Says:

        First off, I’m not blaming you, or anyone, for teaching the students they have as best as they can given the framework they are in. I’m also not suggesting the tactics don’t help- many of them seem great (it’s just, I’m a ‘show me the data’ kind of person, what can I say?).
        What I am saying is, simplifying your students down to “they don’t want to work” is a sign there’s a larger problem than your teaching tactics. A big part of that is structural. There is minimal pedagological justification for large sections of 101 classes.

        You don’t have to teach in poverty-stricken inner city K-12 districts to know that there are huge challenges such students and teachers face. (out of curiosity, do you have a ballpark estimate as to what % of your college students came from poor homes in such districts?)

        Unschoolers are a selected group, but they are much more diverse than many people who have never spent any time around unschoolers imagine. It works for a wide variety of kids, many of whom are distinctly problematic in standard classrooms.
        My first impression of homeschoolers was “The smart kids seem smarter, and all the kids seem happier”. It’s subjective, but so are the outcomes you cited for your own classes.

        As a side note, I’ve come to believe that the appropriate pedagological approaches to poverty-stricken inner city K-12 districts are…. secondary, and perhaps distantly so, to fixing poverty. And also implementing sound pre-K education, which is devilishly hard to define, although it seems like some good work is being done there.

  10. So… a hypothetical behavior problem | Grumpy rumblings of the (formerly!) untenured Says:

    […] list, and asking to be notified as soon as any future disruption occurred.  Also we sent a book on classroom management that we’d both found helpful.  A smaller apology about class disruptions went to the other […]

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