Third Saturday in Advent: Words

Even before a word is on my tongue, lo, O LORD, thou knowest it altogether.
Psalm 139: 4

The last few days before the two-week winter break are always difficult, because students are restless, they don’t want to work, and they act out in strange and not-so-wonderful ways. Most of my students have learning disabilities, which makes academic work much more painful for them than for students who can read and write with ease. Sitting at their desks and staying on task is sheer torture for my students. Many of them jump out of their seats frequently and find it almost impossible not to chatter, even when I am talking.

Thursday was an especially torturous day. Within minutes of the start of my third-period language arts class, the jumping began. Four boys danced around the room, aiming paper balls at the trashcan, pretending they were shooting baskets. I asked them politely a couple of times to get back in their seats. They ignored me.

“Get back in your seats right now!” I bellowed. My raised voice got their attention, they knew I meant business, and they sat down.

To reinforce my bellowing, I shook my finger at each of the offenders in turn and said, “You will stay where you are until the bells rings, you will do your work, and you will not get out of your seats. Do you understand?”

At that moment, the acting principal walked into my classroom. “Are you having trouble with students not doing their work?” he asked.

“Did you hear me yelling at them out in the hall?” I asked.

“I didn’t hear a thing,” he said. “We’ve had some issues in other classes this morning, and I just wanted to make sure everything is all right in here.”

“It is now,” I said.

Satisfied that everything was under control, the acting principal left. In retrospect, I’m positive that he heard every word I yelled, but because he knows that I work with some challenging students, he chose to ignore my raised voice. Yet even before the words were on my tongue, says the psalmist, God knew what was coming.

During these last few days before Christmas, as I ponder what God knows about me—including what I’m going to say and how I’m going to say it before I open my mouth—I am grateful that God’s knowledge is tempered with love. God doesn’t hold my bellowing against me, but teaches me new and better ways to use my tongue. After all, “a soft answer turns away wrath” (Proverbs 15:01).

Posted on December 19, 2009, in Advent, classroom management. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Yeah, I made the mistake of subbing this week. One day for K. Aren’t they supposed to think I”m a goddess and hang on my every word? apparently not. On Thurs. it was 8th grade block. I nearly said swears several times. I was so angry and frustrated. sigh.

  2. “A soft answer turns away wrath,” but only if that answer is HEARD. Sometimes (often, depending on the audience) there must be forcefulness and volume to establish the boundaries so that we can all live within them. Don’t beat yourself up about yelling; as long as you’re striking a balance (and I KNOW you are), you’re fine.

  3. A soft answer does indeed turn away wrath. I often speak softly when I’m truly upset. While I do that, I’m usually calculating exactly how I’m going to sneak up on the offender–usually by calling the home the day before a long break so as to cause maximal inconvenience. Raising your voice is OK as long as you don’t lose your temper, though, and you know exactly what you’re doing and what you wish to accomplish.

    This job is a lot more complicated than most people think it is.

  4. We’re totally avoiding all the “heebie jeebies” that come with the last couple of days before break. My district just cancelled school for Monday-Wednesday because of snow. So the kids will have to hold the ants in the pants ’til we go back on January 4th!

  5. I agree with NYC Educator… as long as it’s controlled “yelling”, it’s OK. Most teachers know that yelling in anger does not work…just like the Bible says!

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