On my way to school last week, I got stuck behind a little sedan driving about 20 miles per hour. Their hazard lights were flashing and I noticed that one of their tires was completely flat. There was nowhere for me to get around this car, I just had to drive 20 miles per hour, too. All of us in that lane, going in that direction, on that little highway, had no choice but to slow down behind the little disabled car. In the classroom, we can only go as fast as the slowest student, too, whether that means there are learning roadblocks or behavioral. As much as we would like to just travel at a normal pace, we have to slow down, and the weeks leading up to Spring Break can be excruciatingly slow if you are a middle school teacher! The behaviors can range from extreme apathy to downright defiance ... kids will push and push and push boundaries this time of year! 

Some folks I've talked to don't do anything different, their lesson plans stay on course and there are no extra measures in place for dealing with behavior. At my school, however, I usually need to make some kind of survival plan! I am writing this post for future reference, a "note to self," and I would LOVE to know how other teachers deal with the increase in misbehavior right before a holiday! What are your tips and tricks?

Here is an article I wrote in 2015 - you would think I should have this classroom management thing down by now, wouldn't you? ... Surviving Middle School Until Spring Break

This year was tough, and I mean REALLY difficult. I learned several lessons in classroom management, and was reminded of a few things that slipped by the wayside in my personal classroom management plan. 

I thought I had a pretty good survival plan in place. We were doing fun art projects, so I knew the kids were motivated to stay on task. I was consistently holding kids accountable, not ignoring misbehavior but dealing with it when it came up. I was following my classroom management plan and we even reviewed the rules and expectations, line by line. I had the alternative assignment out in plain sight to remind kids to behave. I was bound and determined to have fun, to be patient with my students, to keep a positive attitude, and to smile! 

However, In the last several weeks before Spring Break, there were daily incidents that I had to deal with - some days I felt like I was living in the book, The Lord of the Flies! A few students were defiant. I had to break up fights in the hallways. I had to repeat instructions endlessly because kids were inattentive. One afternoon, a student repeatedly defied my instructions to remain seated. When I handed him the discipline form at the end of class, he loudly stated, "I ain't signing that! I TOLD you why I got up!" I didn't say a word, I just wrote, "refused to sign" on the form and contacted the parent later that afternoon. 

I once found an old newspaper comic about a scene in hell (the art teacher preceding me had it taped to the back of a bookshelf...hmmm!) In the drawing, an elderly lady walks by, contentedly whistling, while two horned devils watch her. One says, "We'll never get to her - she was a middle school teacher!"

I did a decent job of remaining calm all the way up until the very last day before Spring Break. That day, a few students pretty much lost their minds! I can deal with misbehavior, with backtalk, with emotional kids, but when they are absolutely defiant and refuse to accept accountability, I have a hard time with that! 

The VERY FIRST CLASS of 7th graders proved that they couldn't be trusted to control themselves and I wound up dealing with an "almost" fight. This was normally a responsible, mature group, and I told them that I didn't just let any old class use printing supplies the day before Spring Break. I thought I could trust them! At the end of class, during clean-up, one student got mad at a friend and forcefully threw a wadded up, wet paper towel, smacking the other student in the neck. At that point, I knew I had to change my plans. For the rest of the day, there were zero art supplies available except pencils and paper! Luckily, I had a series of printmaking videos I collected last year for students to view and write responses to. 

The last day before Spring Break there are certain middle school students who believe they can pretty much do what they want and say what they want, and the school can't really do anything about it! Therefore, I had some major discipline problems on my hands due to two 7th grade boys who acted up, then walked away from me when I tried to hold them accountable, and basically laughed in my face. 

I had to ask administration for back-up that day because of extreme defiance! 

Here are the top 3 strategies on my survival list for next year, along with "warnings to self!"

1. Mindset, mindset, mindset! "DECIDE FIRST" 

My thought patterns fell into a trap this year, one of complaining about student behavior. I KNOW what a mistake it is to complain out loud, but I was doing it silently, which is just as bad...

"Why can't kids just act right?"
"I can't BELIEVE the stupid things these kids do. What are they THINKING?" 
"You little .....! Now I have to deal with (fill in the blank)."

Because of this negative mindset, I wound up making classroom management mistake #1: NEVER LOSE YOUR TEMPER. (Upset = weakness, calm = strength!) It was really making me mad to have to deal with all the extra misbehavior. I had a "Why, me?" mindset and didn't even realize it. 

Next time, I plan to practice thinking positive thoughts each morning before school starts. Michael Linsin recommends that teachers do what Olympic athletes do, "Decide First," which means that you decide ahead of time that no matter what happens, you will remain calm.

2. Choose the lesson plan wisely. For some unknown reason, the last day before Spring Break I planned on having students finish up art projects, which involved printing ink, brayers, lots of newspaper and old magazines, paper towels, paints, aluminum foil, metallic markers, glue, etc. Ummm, nope! What was I thinking? This was an utter failure and I realized it a little too late for that first class of students! 

From now on, the last day or two before this particular holiday I plan on having zero art supplies out except pencil and paper. The less supplies there are available, the fewer opportunities to throw, vandalize, or destroy! I love my students, don't get me wrong! However, they don't make very good decisions sometimes, especially right before Spring Break. I simply don't want to make things harder for them and for me. Hopefully, next year will prove to be a better year. 

3. Rewards "work" better than punishments this time of year.

Part of my survival plan before Spring Break is to have a discipline assignment out in plain sight, with a note on the board that says, "Any student who is disrespectful or irresponsible will work on the discipline assignment instead of painting or printing." It usually works like a charm, because the majority of the kids are pretty motivated to make art! However, there are still a few kids who could care less about art and refuse to comply, no matter what I do. For these students, rewards can help motivate them to behave. Getting to sit with their friends, Tootsie Rolls (no chocolate or nuts for allergy sensitive kids), and small prizes are golden! (For those of you who are philosophically opposed to extrinsic motivators, what do you recommend as alternatives?)

Further Online Resources:

What is your survival plan for Spring Break? Are there any strategies you only use during this unique time of year, to help the kids keep up the pace in their learning?  

Classroom management, is after all simply what we do to create an environment conducive to student success. How can we help them succeed, even when they have abandoned all sense of self control? 

Update (March 28, 2017)

I asked this question in the Art Teachers Facebook group, creating a poll in order to glean some answers. I strongly believe in "group wisdom!" Around 70 art teachers responded with the strategies they found most important. Surprisingly, 21 teachers said they don't do anything different right before Spring Break, that it is unnecessary! Other teachers recommended various strategies from getting out calming materials (weaving/fiber arts), or stepping up the positive reinforcements:

Which is the most important strategy you have found for surviving all that spring chaos? At my middle school, there was a surprising upsurge in defiance and mayhem in the weeks before Spring Break this year and I am looking for answers!

Wise advice from an anonymous high school teacher: 

"I sit with them, ask about how they are dealing with the stress of the last 9 weeks, make sure they've eaten, and smile. A lot. When kids DO have a hard time paying attention, I ignore it and come back to them later. Did they get the big points that we covered? Are they preoccupied with something bigger than my class? Accusations and my frustration with them never helps. But talking with them the way I'd talk to a peer usually helps a lot. I also teach high school, but the sap is rising. We just had prom and they are ready to graduate or start summer break, or just be out of the classroom."

More wise advice from elementary art teacher, Amanda Miller:

"Be clear and positively reinforce good behavior. That could be as simple as calling by name the students who are working quietly or who are actually cleaning up when you ask them to start cleaning. I find the more positive I am towards the students the better behaved they are..... mostly. Also maybe change up your reward system. I've started giving kids glitter hand sanitizer on the way out the door. It doesn't leave glitter on the floor, the kids think it's cool and it's something that's just a little different from anything else they get at school. I usually pick two of my four and they get to pick which one they want. I'm in elementary but I swear that glitter is universal for kids. I also scented these with essential oils so it's a multi sensory experience." Amanda Miller

article by Mrs. Anna Nichols

No comments: