Friday, May 7, 2010

The Not-So-Magnificent Seven

My new points system is working out pretty much the way I thought it would (although not necessarily the way I hoped it would): my most fantastic, excellent, never-ever-misbehaved students have hit 30 points and above, my good students have between 20 and 30 points, a large chunk of the class has between 10 and 20 points, and then I have seven students -- the Not-So-Magnificent Seven, let's call them -- who have yet to reach 10 points for their first "reward" and usually hover dangerously around zero.

What I like about my new system is that it allows me to hone in on the kids who are doing the right thing, rather than going right to the kids who aren't; when I stand there with my points clipboard, I'm looking for the kids who are doing what they're supposed to be doing. It's allowed me to recognize those quiet kids who always slip under the radar because they never cause problems. It's also allowed me to recognize exactly who's in that troublemaking category, that core group of seven kids who can't manage to hang on to their points long enough to earn a chintzy eraser from the small prize bin. 75% of my class makes an effort and strives to do right most of the time. But it's the Not-So-Magnificent Seven, the other 25%, that cause 90% of the problems. They are the kids most likely to call out, to interrupt, to be unprepared, to lose their books and papers and folders and pencils, to use unkind language and violent behavior. Together, they present such a broad spectrum of capital-I Issues that, for those of you who have never had the chance to observe the Not-So-Magnificent Seven in their natural habitat, I thought it would be useful to present a guide to their actions and behaviors should you recognize one of the Seven in your own classroom.

1. The Sneak
The Sneak gets away with a lot because he, unlike many difficult students, is not loud and obnoxious. It's only by making careful study of his actions that a teacher begins to realize that the Sneak is not actually working, as he appears to be, but rather is crashing colored pencils together under his desk, or thumbing through Pokemon cards, or drawing crude pictures of gangster-looking dudes with giant sunglasses and weapons. The Sneak is frequently discovered to have items that don't belong to him in his possession, but when confronted with the evidence, the Sneak goes completely blind, deaf and mute, all "Who, me?" and "I don't know how that got there" and "Someone must have put it in my desk!"
Most common form of communication: Shrugging and blank stares.
Most recent offense: Getting up in the middle of Read Aloud to pass a notebook to another member of the Not-So-Magnificent Seven. When I confiscated the notebook, I found that it was filled with inappropriate language and drawings. The Sneak, of course, could not explain how any of it appeared in his notebook or why he was getting up in the middle of a lesson to pass it on.

2. The Baby
The Baby mistakenly believes that he can get his way in the classroom simply by pouting and whining, even though he is neither cute nor persuasive. When others are being rewarded for good behavior, the Baby is frequently heard to exclaim, "I want that!" or "I wish I could get that!" without acknowledging the unfortunate truth that one needs to behave in order to earn rewards. When threatened, the Baby reacts by pulling his sweatshirt or schoolbag over his face, avoiding eye contact, refusing to explain himself. The Baby is unhealthily stubborn and reserves the right to stew in his own bad attitude even in the face of others enjoying themselves. Although he clearly finds the thought of negative behavior intoxicating, the Baby doesn't have it in himself to cultivate that devil-may-care attitude, so his forays into genuine troublemaking usually result in him bursting into tears and begging for a second chance.
Most common form of communication: Whining "Aw, man!" when he gets in trouble.
Most recent offense: Refusing, for an entire afternoon, to do any work. When I whipped out my cell phone to call his mother (I have threatened to do this many times, but this was the first time I actually went for it), he flipped out.

3. The Drama King
With an attitude usually assumed to be more native to females, the Drama King insists that it's not his fault he can't get any work done -- everyone has it in for him! Someone was making fun of him! Someone didn't want to share! Someone snatched something away from him! Someone won't leave him alone! No one wants to be his friend! The Drama King is so wrapped up in his woe-is-me lifestyle that he often isolates himself in a corner of the room for no apparent reason. Should something unfortunate happen to him -- such as a broken pencil or a dropped book -- everyone in the room must experience his inappropriately loud cry of distress. When caught red-handed in the act of wrongdoing, the Drama King's rebuttal emerges in a rambling flood of mumbled excuses that typically have nothing to do with the crime at hand, usually something like: "It's because, at lunch no one wanted to sit next to me, and I was trying to get the pencil but she just snatched it away from me, and everyone was just telling me to stop for no reason, and my head hurts because I'm so thirsty because I didn't eat breakfast this morning because my stomach was hurting."
Most common form of communication: All misery, all the time.
Most recent offense: According to the Sneak, the Drama King is allegedly the author of many of the inappropriate sections of the confiscated notebook.

4. The Antagonist
Unlike the Drama King, who mistakenly believes that he is always the target of some imagined offense, the Antagonist is spoiling for a fight. A bright and creative thinker, he believes all of his classmates are far less intelligent than he is and never passes up the opportunity to let them know it; a loud "Duh" or an exasperated "Noooo!" to a classmate's wrong answer is the Antagonist's favorite weapon in his arsenal against second grade stupidity. The Antagonist, unlike the Baby, actually is cute enough to get away with some degree of wrongdoing, but his taunting of his classmates and his aggressive behavior leave other students begging to be separated from him.
Most common form of communication: Name-calling and the occasional punch in the arm.
Most recent offense: A sad-eyed student approached me in the lunchroom today and said, "I don't feel comfortable with the Antagonist at my table because he called me a poopie girl and took my pencil away from me." (Side note: Don't you just love that she phrased her complaint by saying, "I don't feel comfortable"? I changed his seat pronto because that girl worked it.)

5. The Class Clown
Hyper-energetic, frenetic and occasionally entertaining, the Class Clown loves to sacrifice a serious mood in the classroom for the sake of a good joke. He wants all the attention, all the time, even if it makes him the target of what he believes to be unfair punishment. Despite his obvious intelligence, the Class Clown is so focused on pretending he's the star of his own one-man show that he is often lost when it comes to independent work. While others listen to directions, the Class Clown calls out to ask what he's supposed to do because he wasn't listening the first time the instructions were given; while others raise their hands and wait for help, the Class Clown hollers across the room that he doesn't understand, or needs help, or doesn't get it. The Class Clown just can't seem to stop himself from jumping out of his seat and interrupting constantly. Believing himself to be adorable and funny, he is deliberate in his attempts to get away with everything from extra sips of water from the fountain to drawing pictures during work time. While his behavior may seem harmless and cute in small doses, his overbearing personality and refusal to admit any wrongdoing will wear thin by May.
Most common form of communication: Sly (although toothless) grin.
Most recent offense: While making a card for his first-grade teacher for Teacher Apprecation Day, he commented that he loved her because she gave the class ice cream a lot, whereas I have only held one ice cream party this year. "So, you like her better than me because she gave you more ice cream?" I joked. He replied, "No, I like her better because she's nicer than you." Ba-dum-ching!

6. The Mean Girl
Interestingly the only female of the group, the Mean Girl is all attitude, all the time. Her responses to simple requests ("Please take out your math journal") consist of dramatic sighs, elaborate eye rolls and often the phrase "Oh my Gawd." A resentful teenager trapped in the body of an eight-year-old, the Mean Girl spends every waking second of the school day chatting, gossipping and making excuses, all the while managing to act incredibly put out that she's being expected to do any work.
Most common form of communication: Besides all the dramatic body language, the Mean Girl is cursed with a loud, piercing voice that somehow always manages to sound like a whine.
Most recent offense: While sitting right in front of me during one of my many lectures about not speaking when a teacher is speaking, she attempted to whisper to someone at the next table.

7. The One Who Completely Loses His $#!@
This is, of course, Julio, about whom no further explanation is really necessary; what other kid would deliberately squeak his sneakers across the floor so often and so loudly during today's Read Aloud that I interrupted it to call my assistant principal, feign normal behavior while she was watching him and then begin throwing things across the table and finish it off by barricading himself under his sweatshirt inside the closet? This after a morning in which he, for no apparent reason, cocooned himself inside his sweatshirt and crawled underneath a table from which he would occasionally emit a loud groan, squeak or meow. (Yes, a meow.) Evidently this didn't garner the desired attention, because he emerged only to fake hitting his head on the table and collapse on the floor again. He topped off the afternoon by randomly spinning in circles. A telling anecdote: During Read Aloud, we were discussing what it means when someone can't be trusted, and Julio stood up and yelled, "Like me, when I tell lies!" After school, when I personally delivered him to his mother to tell her what a terrible day he'd had, what did Julio do? He lied.


HS Teacher said...


Yes, I recognize many of these from my own classes--unfortunately, the one that is THE MOST dead on for one or two of my students is "The Baby"--which, if it's not cute in an 8-year-old, you can imagine from a student twice that old.

I am definitely not one of the people who labors under the delusion that younger grades are easier because "Oh, they're so cute" or anything, but I do think about going back for my Childhood Ed license because my own patience reserves are much greater for that behavior from wee ones than from my current great galoots.

I really enjoy the blog, btw--it reminds me of what I loved and...didn't love...about my student teaching and years of camp working with elementary. You rock--keep it up!

Dee Alpert said...

Your behavior modification system may feel good, but there's no really any research showing that this kind of system is effective.

The NYCDOE is doing what is called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports, PBIS, which is a simplified version of successful, validated behavior mod. systems developed by behavioral psychologists two decades ago. It takes a bit of training, but research in schools shows it is highly effective.

Call your CSE and ask them to sign you up for PBIS training. It started in the NYCDOE w/kids classified as having disabilities, but since research shows it is effective for all students, it's spread.

Good luck.

Dee Alpert

joycemocha said...

Dee Alpert--PBS is not a cure-all, especially if it's not backed up by disciplinary supports. BTDT in real life, big time.

Miss Brave--you're describing my middle school classes! Except that gender of the offenders various, and this year I don't have a Julio.

Anonymous said...

Miss Brave you must a have hidden camera in my classroom :) Over the past 20 years of teaching I've had several different configurations of the characters you've done such a great job of describing.
As for PBIS; I know several teacher friends who have this program in place at their schools and none of them are big fans...especially in the upper elementary grades. I do not think it is realistic to only have positive rewards. How does this truly relate to the real world that we are trying so hard to prepare our students for? Does the power company say OK, we'll wait another week for the money?? I am only hearing this through other trusted teaching friends but I have a feel PBIS is the new cure all discipline system that is all the rage to market to school systems at the moment....
Getting off my soapbox now...
5th grade Frog Teacher in SC

miss brave said...

I just knew my Not-So-Magnificent Seven would strike a chord :)

I have to admit, I'm not familiar with PBIS. From what I understand from looking it up, it sounds like a program that's implemented schoolwide, which isn't something I think my school would go for.

mcaitlin said...

this is my favorite entry so far :)

Marcia said...

I love this. I'm thinking of showing it to my fifth grade ELL students and then asking them to make up a few more categories of their own.

jwg said...

Does everyone have to earn the same number of points to reach a goal or are they adjusted to make the goals within reach? What is success for Julio might be half of what is success for someone else. On the other hand, for a kid whose thinking is irrational I doubt anything that isn't an immediate reward would work.

miss brave said...

jwg -- everyone has to earn the same number of points. What I usually do for Julio is not take points away from him, whereas the other kids will lose points for certain infractions...if I took points away from him, he would never have any!

institutrice said...

I LOVE this!!! You hit them all right on the head. ;-) The ones who sit and do nothing get under my skin the most. And The Baby's "charms" don't work on me because I'm an oldest. LOL

My district uses a program similar to PBIS. The theory is great, but when kids get to fifth grade and refuse to work or behave unless they're going to get a ticket, that's a problem. Alfie Kohn calls it Punished by Rewards.