Category Archives: civility

Kick in the Pants or Second Chance?

F-Boy is a handful. He bounces off the walls of my classroom and can’t seem to control his mouth. He’s always chattering—and most of the words that tumble from his mouth are of the four-letter variety. He’s been suspended for inappropriate classroom behavior more than once this year.

Today we were playing a word game that used plastic tokens. After we finished playing and the tokens and cards were put away, F-Boy walked over to my desk with a handful of tokens that he had secreted away. He opened his hand, revealing a half-dozen little red disks.

“Please give them to me,” I said.

“No,” he said.

“Please give them to me,” I said again.

F-Boy stubbornly held on to the tokens.

“If you don’t hand them over to me right now,” I said, “I’ll call security.”

“Fine, be that way, butthead,” he said, as he put the tokens on my desk.

I said nothing, but sat down immediately and began filling out a referral form. F-Boy, still standing beside my desk, saw his name on the form.

“I’m sorry,” he pleaded.

“So am I,” I said. “You crossed the line. You don’t talk to me that way.”

“I said I was sorry.”

I kept filling out the form as F-Boy walked back to his desk, muttering, “I said I was sorry.”

He seemed at least semi-remorseful, so I decided to take a chance.

“F-Boy, step outside,” I said. We walked into the hall. “What you said was completely out of line. I should send you to the office. No student should ever speak to a teacher or any adult like that.”

“It just slipped out.”

“Precisely! It just slipped out—but you didn’t have to let it slip out. You are in control of your mouth. You have the power to keep things like that from slipping out.”

“I said I was sorry.”

“I’m trying to believe you. In the meantime, this is what I know: If I send you to the office, you’re going to be suspended again. You were suspended just a couple of weeks ago. I don’t want to see that happen. You need to be here, not sitting at home, so here’s what I’m going to do: I’m going to hold on to that referral. If you can make it through the rest of the period without shooting off your mouth, I’ll tear it up. But if you say anything out of line, I’m sending you to the office. Is that clear?”

“Yes,” mumbled F-Boy.

We walked back into the classroom, and he was almost a model student for the rest of the period.

Sometimes a kid needs a figurative kick in the pants—and sometimes he needs a second chance.

First Tuesday in Advent: Thankfulness

How can we thank God enough for you…?
1 Thessalonians 3:9

Paul, the writer of the letter to the Thessalonians, is addressing people he loves. Even though he has never met these people face to face, he and they share a common faith, so he finds it easy to be profoundly thankful.

But what if you don’t have much in common with the people you work with every day? What if you are a teacher and your students seem to go out of their way to be rude, rowdy and rebellious?

Today was a difficult day for me to be thankful for the kids I have in my classes.

As I was taking attendance, F-Boy and T-Boy jumped out of their seats and began racing around the classroom, ignoring my command to stop. When T-Boy crashed into the wall moments later, grimacing in pain, the “fun” stopped abruptly. (Later in the day, a very contrite F-Boy came back to my room and apologized to me, promising never to cause such a disturbance again.)

C-Girl and J-Boy got into an argument after J-Boy called C-Girl a certain farm animal. C-Girl, outraged by J-Boy’s name-calling, dismissed him with an icy “F**k you!”

Despite their learning contract with me, which includes coming to class with their tools (pencils, paper, books) prepared to learn, at least three students begged to borrow pencils from me.

How can I thank God for the nonsense that interrupts precious instructional time? The truth is, I can’t—and I shouldn’t.

But what would happen if I looked beyond the veneer of nonsense that many of my students present to me, and see the precious human beings beneath? What would happen if I started practicing thankfulness, even if I don’t feel particularly thankful?

How can I thank God enough for you, F-Boy, and for your apology after you disrupted my class?

How can I thank God enough for you, C-Girl, and for your willingness to work even when nobody else in the class wants to?

How can I thank God enough for you, T-Boy, and for your invitation for me to come watch you play basketball?

Advent is not only the season of waiting, but also the season of change. I may not be able to change my students, but I can change the way I think about them by thanking God for them every day.

Book Shot

Testosterone flows in my seventh-grade class like whisky at an Irish wedding—or wake.

Today as we were reading aloud from Sing Down the Moon, F-Boy and J-Boy arose from their seats almost simultaneously and headed for each other. A shoving match ensued, replete with a string of expletives.

Always the paragon of politeness, I asked them please to stop.

They ignored me.

I slammed my book down on the table so hard it sounded like the crack of a rifle shot. “Stop it!” I bellowed.

The startled combatants froze in their tracks.

“Now back to your seats! And stay after class! We have some talking to do.”

Somewhat sheepishly—and reluctantly—F-Boy and J-Boy returned to their desks.

I really don’t like treating books the way I treated that hapless copy of Sing Down the Moon, but if it prevents bloodshed in my classroom, then I’m willing to make the sacrifice. A book can be replaced.

A tooth or an eye? Probably not.

Whatever Happened to Civility?

After escorting my students to the bus Monday, I walked back into the building just in time to see one of the football players run down the hall and practically tackle another of the players and put him in a headlock.

“B-Boy,” I said, “get your hands off him.”

“We’re just playing,” B-Boy said.

“I don’t care. You keep your hands to yourself.”

Grudgingly B-Boy released his erstwhile prisoner, and the two of them walked back up the hall, where the rest of the team was waiting for their coach.

I went to my classroom picked up a few things and locked the door. As I approached the still-waiting football team, I saw that B-Boy had yet another student in a headlock.

“B-Boy,” I said, “for the second time, keep your hands to yourself.”

“This is my turf,” B-Boy retorted, “and here’s the line.” He drew an imaginary line on the floor with his foot and dared me to cross it.

“That’s it,” I said, “you’re not going to talk to me or any other adult like that. We’re going to the office.”

Fortunately, the acting principal was available, and I filed a discipline referral. After he read the report, he assured me that the principal would take care of the matter in the morning. To B-Boy he said, “You’re to report here to the office at 7:30 tomorrow, with your parents.”

This morning I learned that B-Boy has been suspended for the rest of the week; he won’t return to school until Monday. Along with the suspension, I think that B-Boy should write me a letter of apology.

You think that’ll happen?

Nah, I don’t either.

Whatever happened to consequences that fit the crime—and civility?