Thursday, September 19, 2013
Remaining Cool and Unruffled
Constitution Day was this week. In honor of the writing of this document, I'd like to do a little writing of my own, based on a quote from one of the architects of our great nation. This quote also happens to speak directly to the the kind of advice I needed someone to give me this week.
“Nothing gives one person so much advantage over another as to remain always cool and unruffled under all circumstances.” ― Thomas Jefferson
What a smart guy. If only I could follow this advice every day and never find myself frustrated by a particular group of seventh graders whose chattiness at the end of the day borders on disrespect... If only I could remain calm, cool, and collected every time the copier breaks (again) or a child asks me a question I literally. just. answered. By Thursday, all of the patience and peace that was accumulated over the previous weekend has typically worn down to a more emotional response to said roadblocks in the day. I feel like no matter what your profession, this pattern can be seen. When the pace of work is more frenetic, when the people with whom we are interacting make what we feel like are unfair demands that make our lives harder, then it also gets a lot tougher to "remain always cool and unruffled."
Yesterday, during the last class of the day. I did not manage to stay cool and unruffled. My class could not stop talking. This class is made up of a group of kids who, for the most part, have been friends since elementary school. I felt like I set a strong precedent for behavior during the first two weeks of school, but we've been in a downhill descent for the last week and a half. Yesterday, they won. I busted out my "real teacher voice" and told them exactly who was in charge. This particular approach, one I like to call "yelling," is obviously the least effective of the classroom management tools in my toolbox, but I was frustrated. By allowing myself to get emotional, I gave them the advantage, and they took it. Now, they didn't do this on purpose. This is a sweet, well-meaning, smart group of seventh graders. But putting all their redeeming qualities aside, they are still 12-year-olds who are trying to sit still and focus for the final hour of an eight hour stretch of sitting still and focusing. It's a tough life.
Anyway, the bell rang at the end of the day yesterday, and I knew I needed a new approach to make this work. Preferably, I needed a "calm and unruffled" approach. I looked at the seating chart to see who I could switch around. Nothing. When a class of twenty-eight children are almost all buddies, and you have thirty chairs, there's not a whole lot that shuffling the seating chart can really do. But then I realized (lightbulb moment!) that they didn't know that. All they knew was that I allowed them to pick their seats during the first week of school, and they were really enjoying their personal seating choices.
So here's what I did today. The bell rang, and I said in a calm and unruffled voice," The first time I ask you to stop talking today, I will change the seating chart. The second time I ask you to stop talking, the whole class will have lunch detention Monday. The third time I ask you to stop talking, I will start giving individual, after school detentions. Now please get out your bellringers, so we can go over the directions." The rest of that fifty minutes was glorious! Not a single child spoke one word without raising his or her hand. Thomas Jefferson turned out to be right.
My goal for the coming week is to maintain the upper hand by remaining calm and unruffled. I have to remind myself that things outside my sphere of influence just have to be faced. Complaining about them isn't going to change them or make them go away. I'm going to focus this week on finding some inner peace and keeping it, even when it's tough. Even in the presence of the chaos that is seventh grade.
Posted by Jessica Herring Watson at 7:43 PM