Monday, October 29, 2007

Second grade can stuff it

My second graders are out of control.

They're more violent than my fourth graders, ruder than my third graders, more immature than my first graders and have shorter attention spans than my kindergarteners. They tear up paper instead of writing on it. They flick pencils across the room. They tease each other, get in each other's personal space and just generally get on each other's nerves. They make obnoxious noises during mini-lessons: farting, humming, clicking, tapping.

Some of them echo what I say in a sarcastic tone of voice. Some of them flat-out refuse to do anything, choosing instead to spend their time spinning in circles or walking around the room on their knees. One of them once threw a full-out, kicking-and-screaming tantrum, fists and feet smacking against the floor.

Of my six second grade classes, I would say I'm making fair to decent headway with three of them. 50%? That's an awful lot of children left behind.

Last week, when my laryngitis was in full bloom, the teacher of my most challenging second grade told me I had to work harder at raising my voice. It's true -- I am not a yeller. I had always hoped to be the kind of teacher who understands that fear is not the same as respect, the kind of teacher who saves the yelling for really serious infractions. But also, when I raise my voice, there's something dishonest about the quality of it -- it doesn't quiver the way it used to, but it also still sounds like I'm faking it.

The truth is that my most challenging second grades have found a way to get under my skin. I can handle kids who call out, kids who bug other kids, and kids who are slow to follow directions. I have reserves of patience for kids who keep asking to use the bathroom, kids who are surreptitiously playing with toys at the meeting area and kids who stare vacantly into space instead of writing their names. But what gets to me the most is blatant, flagrant disrespect, because it means the way I typically discipline -- the calm, rational voice, the "I'm disappointed in you," the "I am so sad that you can't behave," the "I know you can do so much better" -- is completely ineffective.

My challenging second graders don't care about earning rewards. They don't care about letters going home to their parents. They don't care that I'm disappointed in them and sad that they can't behave and know they can do so much better, because they don't care about me. I'm just some lady who comes to the room for an hour a week and the more time they can waste by acting ridiculous, the better.

I won over my other second grades with fun, engaging lessons that got them really jazzed up for the first time. I acted like nouns and adjectives were the coolest thing in the world and for a brief period of time, they believed it too! But my challenging second graders were having none of it. They're already jaded, already desensitized and already too cool for grammar.

Second grade, you'll be the death of me.

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