I believe that children have special brain powers - that they most certainly DON'T lose after the toddler years. They may not understand how to subtract with regrouping, or know how to spell certain words - but they hold a special ability to read people, test the waters of what boundaries they can push, and determine what they can and can't get away with.
It truly is a wonderful thing to witness. Watching them think they are being sneaky. Observing how they can transform any rule or procedure and mangle it up. And each time they are caught, looking at you with those puppy dog eyes and say "I didn't know we weren't supposed to do that". And honestly? It's one of my favorite parts of teaching. I don't just get my kicks out of teaching kids how to read and do math, but also molding the minds of the "boundary pushers".
I'm a new teacher. My students know that. I'm also new to the school. Some kids consider these things as winning the jackpot of teacher selection. Fresh meat. The new teacher doesn't know the rules of the school yet. The new teacher doesn't have the background information on how the kids were in years before. It's a new beginning, a fresh start for some. And the opportunity of a lifetime in rule breaking for others.
Unfortunately for them, they underestimated me just a little.
I'm all for the boundary pushing. I expect it and welcome it. In my mind, the only way for the kids to really understand and learn is by pushing to see if I'm a woman of my word - or someone that says one thing but means something totally different. If I say that an amount of recess will be spent walking laps for breaking certain rules - they have to really make sure that I mean it. If I say that an activity will be missed for not following procedures - they want to make sure that's really true. I get it.
But, in order to make them understand that I absolutely mean what I say - I have to pull my go-to trick out of the bag.. Enter: Mean Teacher Mode.
When I was in college, several of my professors would talk about a classroom management style that was used "back in the day" called No Smiling Till Christmas. They explained how teachers would put on this mean demeanor for the first half of the year in order to set in stone the expectations and procedures of the classroom. There was no fun, no joking - strictly business. Then, after Christmas break, they would come back to the classroom all lovey-dovey.. and the rest of the year would be wonderful.
I guess, in a way, I'm an old-school teacher. A little. While I don't believe in the mentality of not smiling or having any fun for the first half of the year - I do believe that unless I make sure the kids understand that I absolutely mean what I say and show the kids that I have a strict side... I'll end up with a classroom of kids that run me ragged and never listen to a word I or anyone else has to say.
So, that's why I'm not the slightest bit shocked that I had to pull out my mean side yesterday.
The first few days of school are called "The honeymoon period". That can last anywhere from one day to a week. All of the kids follow the rules, they listen, they follow directions precisely and perfectly. That's a ploy to throw me off my game. The mini geniuses know that if they act perfectly the first few days, I'll let my guard down - start to ease up on some of the boundaries. Then, once they believe that I'm fooled - they move in to boundary testing mode. That would be my last two days.
How can you not be impressed with this kind of mind work? They will never lose this special power, either.
Think about the last time you started a new job. For the first few days, you probably did everything perfectly. You probably showed up early, came back from lunch or break a minute or two early, double and triple checked paperwork before submitting it. You were the poster child of what a perfect employee should be. Then, after a few days, you realized that you probably didn't have to work so hard. No one would notice if you took a few extra minutes on your break. No one would really care if you made a mistake here or there on the work you submitted. You noticed that everyone else took sick days when they weren't sick, left early, and had no strict guidelines to how much work they had to do... so you just followed suit.
Now the end result went in one of two ways. You were either overlooked, and found out that you indeed could get away with all those minor infractions OR you had a boss that jumped on you the minute you decided to slack off - and then you remained the perfect employee from then on or knew that you'd be fired - and quickly.
The classroom works the same way.
Monday, a few of my boundary testing lovelies came out of their shell. Yesterday, it was boundary testing palooza. So, I had to bring out my mean side. I had to raise my voice. I had to enforce harsh consequences. I know that several of my students went home, yesterday, not liking me very much. I'm quite sure that several of my kiddos greeted their parents after school with "My teacher hates me" or "My teacher is mean" or "My teacher yelled at us".
While it makes me sad that some of my kids will feel this way about me for the first few days, or maybe weeks - I do know from experience that it will be these kids that love me the most by the end of the year. It will be these kids that excel more than they probably ever had before. It will be these kids that bask in their successes, realize their potentials, and move on from my classroom with a clean slate - no bad reputations leaving my classroom.
And every minute of it excites me more than I've ever known...
Man, I love my job!
Till next time. ;)
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