Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Besides Cake, What Gets Kids to Listen?

When I sub, it doesn't matter how amazing a teacher's "positive reinforcement" system is, I dread classroom management. That is, keeping a roomful of kids under control. (It also doesn't matter how much I've prepared the night before, I still scramble around each morning like a meth addict trying to find my keys. But that's for another day.)

Let me clarify: I love a well-managed classroom as much as the next person. I just hate being the person responsible for the well-managing. I'm horrible at it. I teeter on condescension and sass the second a student resists my authority. I imagine myself one day declaring, "It really is true: I AM a lovely person, but you... you all make me hideous!"

However, there are days - dreamy days - when young minds are ready for me, ready for my genius. Days when third graders honestly need help carrying-the-one. And days when 11th graders raise hands to ask, "What does it mean to empathize with someone?" or "What does it mean to do something 'in solidarity?'"

Give me a thousand days like that, and I'll be set! You could also give me a cake mix, and I'll whip up something so spectacular, peoples' heads fall off. Or give me a poorly-worded sentence, and I'll reword it just for fun. Or forget about things I like, give me a jar of black widow spiders. I won't complain!

But don't give me, the sub with a lisp and sensible shoes, a classroom of 36 ninth graders and a vague lesson plan that says, "Have kids work silently in groups of three. They know what to do."

Oh, mwah-ha-ha-haaa, they know what to do alright. Little Johnny will write "weed" on the board and call me something I cannot repeat before running out the door. And Katie, Kayla, Keely, and Kylie will face-time strange men they meet online during class. Make that try face-timing strange men. I'm quick to put my stink on that type of funny business - my condescending, sassy, hideous stink. 


Speaking of cake - (Did your cake senses go off several sentences ago?) - I had the privilege of watching a teacher effectively herd three fifth grade classrooms toward plated and waiting cake slices. It was an end-of-day celebration of sorts, and clearly this wasn't her first round-up at the cake rodeo. Or something like that.

Not only was she NOT grinding her teeth, she seemed to actually like the kids - especially her own 5th grade class. And her wrangling "method" involved kindness and math, for she said, "Hello, friends. If your student number is a prime number - remember, a prime number can only be divided evenly by one and itself - you may quietly stand up and walk to the cake tables."

My go-to would've been: "Stand up if you like hot dogs!" But this teacher made lining up for cake educational. And she was kind. Other than that (and completely off topic), her delivery was a tad robotic and she needed a little color. Perhaps some tinted lip gloss? Just an observation.

But I suppose if I were to ask, "How'd you get the kids to obey?" She'd say what I've heard other full-time teachers say before: "When you know the kids - when they are your own - you're invested in them, and they know it. So they listen."

Got it. Kind of like with my own kids. I really love my own kids. And because they know I love them, they listen more-ish. (That's a big "ish," especially when they're age two, three, or 15. Throw in 18, too.) 

And it's like that with God. Only the "kid" is me, and I am his own. John 10:27 says, "My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me." Or more personally-put: "My Molly listens to my voice; I know her and she follows me."

I must say, nothing speaks louder than being called "My Molly" by the Creator of the universe. And to also be known by him, hideousness and all? I'm all ears, God!

So it makes sense in the classroom, too. The key to effective "well-managing" is knowing and loving your kids and calling them your own. But, to be honest, if there were any little Mollies in that 5th grade class, the second motivator behind quietly getting in line would undeniably be... the promise of cake.

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