I’ve Got the Power (But I Don’t Use It)

Effective classroom management is not about moving your troops to different countries (or even classrooms).

Before I became a teacher, I thought the coolest thing would be having the power to send kids out of the room to do my royal bidding. “Sammy, bring this down to Mrs. So-and-So,” “Sally, take this to the office.” How cool I would suddenly be, directing my troops like soldiers in a game of Risk!

Even greater, though, would be the ability to EXPEL children from my room when they acted in ways that didn’t suit me. Oh yes, evil laugh, the POWER! The POWER!

There were a couple of times in my early years when I became so incensed at the unforgivable offenses of 10-year olds that I would dispatch them across the hall or threaten them with a visit to a lower grade.

Perhaps this was spurred by how many times I was the recipient of children who were sent to my room for a variety of reasons by a variety of people. Some were banished to my kingdom because they were serving suspensions. Others because they needed to finish work. Still others because they had a rapport with me and needed some time away from something in their own room.

That I was expected to deliver a message of negativity consistent with the person who sent the child to me never really sat well with me. I never felt it was right. And it forced me to reconsider my thinking on what I had once looked forward to: the power.

I am proud to say I have not removed a student from my room in the last two years. I don’t see the point. Yes, some kids do need a break from the room, and I allow that, but it’s never a punishment and it usually involves just a walk in the halls.

But other reasons, like misbehavior or failure to do work in a timely manner, just don’t warrant the ultimate shame of being removed from what should be the safest place in the school – and in some cases is the safest place in a student’s life.

One of my best students two years ago was the same student who must have found himself expelled to my room 10 times the year prior. There were times when he was a handful and times when he definitely pushed me to my limit, but I never sent him out.

We have a lot of power in our classrooms, including the power to welcome and banish children at our will without their dissent. But why would we ever want to do that? What kind of message does that deliver?

“I do not want you here.”

That’s not a message we should be sending to children.


7 responses to “I’ve Got the Power (But I Don’t Use It)

  1. Hi Mr Foteah,
    Great post… important read. Another one of the changes we see in schools – finally – recognition that for many students, school has to be a safe and supportive environment because it is the only one they are offered in their lives. Lots of issues here and questions to be answered by schools – at the top of the list for me at the moment is “How do we foster a sense of community in our schools and get students to participate?” and one of the big answers is about how we treat each other in the classroom and in the corridors.
    Thanks for raising these issues of power… much to consider.
    Deb (Sydney, Australia)

  2. Thanks for your honesty. I’ve been guilty of this and I’ve been reading several things lately convicting me of this practice. I need to find another procedure to give my students a break when something gets heated,which often occurs between the students. I might say, go take 5 and teach them what that means as a class. There are times when you just reach your limit, and I need to be a better model with a procedure in place when that happens. Oh, the things I would sell to go back in time.

  3. Hi Matt,
    As I think about what you have written, i realise that I’ve changed in how I approach kids and addressing behavior, particularly as I’ve become a parent.
    I spend more time listening to kids, directing rather than telling them how to behave.
    A well timed positive comment is so much more effective than punishment.
    Kids need to know that they are safe in our classrooms. It’s so important. How can they possibly learn in constant conflict?
    Thanks for your post. It’s always great to be able to get an insight into the way other teachers work in their classroom and what their thoughts are.
    Kate Todd

    • I am not a parent but have had the benefit of surrounding myself with people (including on Twitter) who know what is best for kids and thankfully they have been kind enough to impart that wisdom to me. But there is one thing I have always believed, and it came about from one child’s major meltdown at camp over something seemingly minor. It taught me that in a child’s world, what we think is minor is often very significant. We need to respect children as human beings above anything else.

  4. Thank you for such honesty and transparency with this post. It is so easy to become a power-hungry teacher, lording authority over students. Sure, I’ve been guilty of it before. But I have realized in a big way that the classroom is not about me, it’s about students and learning. Stepping back from an egocentric teaching focused role is kind of feels like crossing a rickety bridge over a very, very deep ravine. I’m changing my thinking and ultimately my philosophy of what I believe about teaching and learning.
    I currently have a student teacher and this idea has been a constant discussion and struggle. I wonder about pre-service teacher education and if or how these ideals are being presented or discussed.
    I appreciate your boldness to address the power/control struggle we all face, and hopefully overcome by letting go.

  5. Love, love, love your analogy. it is perfect. Ultimately, though, we must have faith in the strength of the bridge (or at least the relative lack of height of the ravine!)

    You raise an interesting point about student teachers. My student teachers have only been in my room once a week and at sporadic intervals, so I can’t speak from that. I can speak from my own ST experiences. I think it is important to begin to carve out an approach based on your own philosophies. In the ensuing years, though, my philosophies have changed pretty drastically. I think STs also begin to take on some of the best traits of their cooperating teacher (so let’s hope the cooperating teachers are super awesome at what they do). So, of course, your modeling of this philosophy should, in some ways, rub off. Just keep preaching it.

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