I am currently in California for my oldest son’s college graduation. This means I’ve left my class in the hands of a substitute for three days. I can’t help but wonder – how will they behave in my absence?
When I’m there, things are pretty much under control; my students know what I expect of them, and they usually rise to my expectations. But that’s not all I want from them. My goal is that they would practice the same amount of self-control whether they’re in my presence or not.
Parents should have the same goal: to raise kids who are SELF-regulating and SELF-controlling. At some point they have to break away from their parents, and their parents have to let them go.
But how do you get teens to take charge of their own behavior? One important step is to praise it when you see it. On Wednesday I stepped into the 7th grade class across the hall because I knew the teacher was delayed. I found all but one student seated and chatting quietly. A quick glance showed me there was no teacher in the room.
“Excuse me?” I asked. “Are you all sitting in your seats and behaving appropriately and there’s no teacher watching you??”
“Yep,” came the answer, “we’re just mature like that.”
“Wow,” I replied. “I can’t wait to have you as 8th graders next year!”
And they all sat up a little straighter and smiled at me.
I also vocalize my disappointment when I walk into the room and find someone misbehaving. “Integrity is doing the right thing regardless of who’s watching,” I’ll say. And, “I expect you to be able to control yourself when I’m out of the room.” I never assume teens know what I want; I make sure I’ve clearly stated my expectations.
One more important point: I let teens suffer the consequences of bad choices. If playful shoving leads to angry hitting, a suspension may be in order. There’s no excusing losing one’s temper. If someone gets a little too wild and someone else complains, I remove the offender and tell him that everyone should feel safe in my classroom. I invite him to return to class when he feels he has regained his self-control (students are seldom gone for more than a few minutes).
I reminded my students before I left that I WILL return on Tuesday, and if need be, I will deal with them then.
But I’m really hoping there won’t be any need for me to do so.