how to get middle schoolers to be quiet
September 22, 2011 11:49 AM   Subscribe

[TeacherFilter] Advice needed on getting these inner city middle schoolers to be quiet.

So after being out of work for two years, my SO finally got a public school teaching job. Yay! While he's not a new teacher he's only taught high school in the past -- this is a middle school assignment (6-7-8). Okay, fine. Inner city. Okay, fine. He's done that before at the high school level. He has had excellent reviews before - he was only out of work due to budget cuts. His new district was very slow in hiring, so his classes had a rotating list of subs for the first two weeks of school. Now he's there and his classes are out of control.

Two of his classes have over 30 students in a classroom with only 20-some desks, so some kids are sharing tables and some are sitting at his desk. Extra desks are "on order."

The students talk and yell the entire class period. Even if the lights are flickered. Even if he falls silent and waits for them to be quiet. Even if he yells. The principal and assistant principal have been hiding in their offices and are unresponsive to requests for help/guidance. The security officers don't do anything unless there is an incident report. Which he doesn't have time to fill out during class because it's a zoo. Fellow teachers laugh and say the kids are horrible this year.

Today's incident of note:
Him: Please take your seat.
Student: F**k you!

He's in a bad place right now -- three days after the thrill of finally getting back in the classroom, he's fearing that he'll be let go in June (or before) because these kids don't listen and all of his usual tactics to their attention have fallen flat. And we don't want to walk the unemployment path again anytime soon.

He wants to teach these kids. He does not want to quit. But first he needs them to be quiet.

(we are in the USA, previous questions I found were about teaching abroad)

If you've taught in an overcrowded inner city classroom, how did you get control of the class so that you could engage them? Throwaway email:

Anonymous because if you know who I am it's easy to figure out who he is.
posted by anonymous to Education (36 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
My ex teaches in the inner city. I think the best option here is to start to engage those who are interested in learning first. Move them up to the front rows. Then, do something that engages the kids even if it is off topic or off subject. Maybe a game or something. The kids that are not behaving should be shown the door. Slowly, you will see a metamorphosis if your husband is engaging in his teaching style.

If there are no consequences to improper behavior, that behavior will not stop. Send them out of the room, send an email to parents, call home. Also, give an incentive to those who do act properly. Give out grades for behavior or something similar.

The best way to engage the class is to do something that entertains them. Silent classrooms of 5 rows 5 deep is not going to happen any more. Have them put on a play or act out the information. Even in technical classes like math or science, there are ways to engage the students that will involve more of them.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 11:59 AM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Can he kick kids out of class to the AP's office, effectively making it their [the principal's and assistant principal's] problem? This was standard in my (admittedly whitebread suburban) schools.
posted by deludingmyself at 12:00 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

The one piece of advice I can remember from my teacher friend (a deputy head of her dept at a secondary school and a pretty good teacher by all accounts) is: threaten a punishment (whatever your school allows - taken out of the class, detention, etc), then carry out the punishment if they don't heed your warning. This is the vital thing - you must carry out the punishments every time, otherwise they are useless because kids won't listen to your threats.

The security officers don't do anything unless there is an incident report. Which he doesn't have time to fill out during class because it's a zoo.

If he can't carry out the most effective way to deal with disruptive kids (get them out the class), then he needs to talk to management and tell them why their processes are useless. Maybe he can come up with an easy fix, like making forms more streamlined, or setting them up so only minimal info needs to filled in during class, and the rest can be completed later?
posted by EndsOfInvention at 12:01 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Inner-city 12th-grade teacher here. I wouldn't kick them out of class--if he wants to keep teaching there, don't make the problem someone else's or they'll be loathe to rehire him. Only refer the worst of the worst that way they're dealt with severely and taken seriously when you do refer one.
posted by resurrexit at 12:02 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

As an educator myself, I know that classroom management is your job; teaching is just an after-thought/bonus to the job (makes me sick, but makes successful teachers, too). I am sure he knows this already, but have him remind himself this and seek out as many resources as he can regarding classroom management, although inner city stuff is a whole 'nother animal, admittedly.

My co-worker does an amazing job with tough middle schoolers. He just acts like an ass back at them, he isn't there to be their friends with the students or the administration, and the kids respect him for it while the other teacher's can't figure out his secrets.
posted by TinWhistle at 12:02 PM on September 22, 2011

(Oh, and if you must refer them, I always had referral forms filled out already and just needed to put the kid's name and what he did. And they were sitting on top of my desk for the kids to see.)
posted by resurrexit at 12:03 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

Even though it sounds dorky, behavioral narration worked really/surprisingly well for me with inner-city middle schoolers: "I like the way X has her pencil ready." or "Y opened the pages of his book to the correct page, thank you Y."

I was also ridiculously structured; middle schoolers still need that. There was always a Do Now on the board so students had an immediate task as they walked in the door and a full agenda following. Students who could not succeed in walking in quietly and beginning their task got to try it again with a matter of fact redirection from me (no anger, no drama- if you raise your voice or seem tense you just lost).

He may need to spend a day or two having the kids practice walking in the class, getting out books quietly and performing other procedures right now- all that Harry Wong First Day of School stuff. That's fine, since no one is learning with the current set-up anyway.
posted by charmedimsure at 12:11 PM on September 22, 2011 [6 favorites]

Also, is he warning the kids that if they don't X, then he will Y? That needs to stop, now. Keep teaching, quietly write a name in the board as a warning while you keep teaching (no drama!), and when you put a check (or whatever), that means the next step in the consequence tree is going to happen. And then for pete's sakes, follow through.

Things also went a lot better for me once I realized that the great thing about middle schoolers is that once they're on your side, they are YOURS. Start building relationships with students by greeting them at the door *by name* and asking them how their day is going or how their cross-country was yesterday- anything that shows an interest. If there are other things to do between periods, too bad- be in the hallway, be present, show an interest, care. Forget what happened yesterday and give students a fresh start daily. This makes a huge difference in my own teaching.
posted by charmedimsure at 12:20 PM on September 22, 2011 [9 favorites]

I loved teaching middle school in Japan (I loved it so much my wife and I ran a busy tutoring service after school with at total of 70 students) in a very blue-collar town where it was not unusual to get married at 18 and have kids by 19.

I really, really, really dislike taking a hardline approach with middle schoolers. It's such a waste of energy that could be better spent actually teaching.

Good classroom management skills are the answer.

First of all, the kids are showing up for class, so, at some level, they are there because they want to achieve success.

So, help them achieve success. Start the class off with something easy easy easy that helps them focus.

In my case, this was always a worksheet. If you hand out a worksheet at the beginning of class, your students will know they are supposed to be doing it. So, no talking.

Make the worksheet extremely easy (it could also be copying notes from the blackboard or something) so that the students can achieve and enjoy success, even the "dumber" ones.

If the quicker students finish the worksheet early, give them another one. And then another. Ideally you will have projects the "smarter", faster students can work on when they have finished this focusing work.

The other rule is, keep your talking as teacher to a minimum. It is hard for middle school students to process a lot of talking. They will get bored.

Keep activities to 20 minutes max.

Try to introduce some physical action into at least one of your activities each class - kids at this age like to move.

Do not talk about behaviour - talk about what the student is supposed to be doing (schoolwork). Talking about behaviour is contentious, and you will end up with hurt feelings and soap box lawyers.

If you have to talk about behaviour, address the class as a whole, not individual students.

Try to be friendly. You can still be the boss and you can still kid around with these guys.

It's a wonderful, goofy age (although I cannot recommend going back in time and being a middle schooler again - it's much more fun to teach them).

But if the kids are too loud or are misbehaving, change your classroom management so they can achieve success.

Only time to draw battle lines and call in the principal are if the kids are doing something illegal.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:28 PM on September 22, 2011 [15 favorites]

Start building relationships with students by greeting them at the door *by name* and asking them how their day is going or how their cross-country was yesterday- anything that shows an interest. If there are other things to do between periods, too bad- be in the hallway, be present, show an interest, care. Forget what happened yesterday and give students a fresh start daily. This makes a huge difference in my own teaching.

This is great advice. Call me crazy, but I would much rather teach middle school than anything else.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:29 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I was a substitute in middle school for years so I feel the pain. Here is an idea that might combined a few of the great suggestions already made. Have them all stand at their desks and march. Start out with a simple cadence (left, right, left) and then as time goes by and they start succeeding at it make it more difficult but not until everyone is on board. Next make up simple lyrics to go with the cadence. Not only are they begining to focus, they are expending some of their energy. The satisfaction of marching together and creating their only patterns and lyrics can be thrilling to kids this age. and it will be unique to your class. Imagine "Drum Line" but just the marching. If they start behaving maybe you can reward them with adding some drumming or clapping.
posted by JXBeach at 12:38 PM on September 22, 2011

Yep, I teach at an inner-city school- 9th grade. The students are yours- you can't kick them out, there is nowhere for them to go, no one wants to remove them and no one else wants to babysit them for the remainder of the class. Calling home CAN be effective but if doesn't work the first time (lack of parental interest, control and/or working phone, or other complicating family dynamics) then you're out of luck there as well.

There are only two real options I see- either the students have to be slightly afraid of you (of the consequences you have access to) or they have to like you, ideally both.

I'm not physically imposing therefore you (I) have to spend a lot of time winning them over. Joking with them, remembering what team they're on, if they said they have a dog, if their sibling went to your school, if they have a nice notebook, crazy hairstyle whatever. They want you to notice them, know their name and talk to them. It is seriously exhausting and some seriously aren't that interested in learning. But many are, most people want to be liked and do well in general.

Sounds like your SO is SOL administratively. And the students don't repect him as an authority figure. And all their other teachers left for whatever reason. So now he has a BIG job to do to win them over and he has to make them realize he cares and he's not going to leave.

An actual hollywood style ending is unlikely (standing ovations, 100percent passing exams scores etc) but he may be able to keep his job and the students can have a much better year than they might have had otherwise.

And next year when he starts from the beginning with his own class, the behavior will not be AS bad! It's a tough job!!
posted by bquarters at 12:48 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Today's incident of note:
Him: Please take your seat.
Student: F**k you!

Hmmm, this is a pretty serious challenge that would have resulted in a slap across the mouth 50 years ago, and the prinicipal would have supported you.

There is no way to deal with this sort of challenge. The tactic is to avoid giving the kids the opportunity to do this sort of thing. Is sitting down really so important when a large number of the kids don't even have their own desks? Sure, it's something you want the kids to do, somehow, but at this stage of the game, given the lack of desks, it just seems absurd from the students' point of view.

My tactic to regain control of the class would be to introduce TEST WEEK or something.

The word "test", especially spelled in CAPS, will get their attention (even if the tests are just worksheets). The rules ought to be simple: do the fucking worksheet. Let them use their books. Let them talk to each other. Just get them to do nothing but "tests" for an entire week.

Reward 30% of the class with candy. Do not let them get the candy - these guys sound like they are quite willing to thrust their hands into your pockets to grab it. If they do, yell "Get your goddamn hands off me NOW." Something like that.

But give 'em tests, and reward a significant minority. Make sure all the kids have received candy by the end of the week.

After establishing a beachhead, work on the next objective the following week. Recognize that relapses may happen.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:51 PM on September 22, 2011

(My experience with kids this age is that a lot of them - even when they're frustrating and angry and make you want to rip your hair out - actually really WANT a positive relationship with an adult. It can be hard to establish that relationship, but I've found that remembering this helps me to grit my teeth through some difficult situations - helps me to feel less like the kids are my adversaries and more like we're in a struggle toward a mutual goal.)
posted by Frowner at 1:03 PM on September 22, 2011

My brother spent a couple of years teaching math to inner-city high school freshmen with all sorts of learning problems and absent parents and a crappy administration. His experience was that his kids were afraid of doing anything that didn't look like their idea of school: rigid and boring. If he tried to make the material entertaining, the kids would mostly balk and give him all sorts of shit, but worksheets and tests and rote learning got them to shut up and do the work. It's counterintuitive, but suggests a solution like KokuRyu's might be good.
posted by clavicle at 1:26 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've taught in 'Fuck you, Miss' schools. The first thing I'd do is set up a seating plan, alphabetical order is fine and easy to make sure they're not swapping. Tell them that you're doing this so that you can quickly learn their names. (Not about 'discipline') Removing their usual seating amongst friends and allies reduces off-task behavior. Names are also, as mentioned above, a great shortcut to minimizing drama.
posted by honey-barbara at 1:36 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is tough. If I were to go back in time to when this was my classroom (and we've ALL had this classroom), here's how I would handle it. N.B. It is a buttload of work:

(1) Try to arrange the desks in a not-exactly-a-grid pattern. Don't do clusters and co-operative learning groups yet. One that helped me a lot in Year One was when I kept an open lane down the center of the room with five rows of three desks deep, facing the aisle. If I was standing in the aisle, I could see all the students' faces and I was never more than two desks away from approaching a student to help/talk to him or her.

(2) Worksheets up the wazoo. But not crap from a book. Teacher-made 4-page packets every day with a reading on the first page or two, followed by a variety of activities that range from writing a paragraph to drawing a picture to making predictions to whatever. But all pen-to-paper stuff. Everything with VERY easy to follow instructions written ON THE PAGE. Make it so the students who most want to work have no hindrance even if other kids are bouncing off the walls and you're never able to actually get one word in with that student. Do this every day for a month--where you never really have to talk (so don't)--and first one, then another student, then another will prove that they'd rather work than waste time. [That's important, right now all these students are certain that their time is being wasted and they are correct. Unfortunately, they are now contributing to to the problem that they didn't cause.] Give back the grades for the worksheets THE NEXT DAY. But KEEP the worksheets--no matter how incomplete, even blank copies for chronically absent students--organized in folders for each student. Show these to parents on Open School Night, or whatever you call parent-teacher conferences in your district.

(3) Kids who finish the worksheets on a given day can choose an independent reading book, or journaling activity. Something consistent that they can do every day. Give them some choice in the matter. Whatever it is for each kid, set a goal--20 pages of writing, 1 book read, 50 poems--and make a chart for the back wall that records this progress. Kids who complete their goal get invited to your Term End pizza party.

(4) Go to CostCo. Buy a shitload of junkfood.

(5) Go to Kinkos. Make 2000 copies of play money that you design yourself, preferably that also make fun of your physical appearance in some way. Make them on green paper.

(6) Make a poster of redemption values: 2 "dollars" for a Twizzler. 5 "dollars" for a Twinkie, 10 "dollars" for a free homework pass, etc.

(7) Whenever kids do good things. Whenever they work to completion--no matter the quality--give them a "dollar." Even if the kid is a jerk. Be consistent in doling them out. Don't play favorites. Let them keep them wherever they want. If that happens to be in a folder in your classroom, help keep them safeguarded.

(8) Let them buy stuff from you.

(9) The first two years are brutal. But there's no better job anywhere. Good luck.
posted by etc. at 2:01 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

Your S.O. has a challenge ahead of him but all middle school teaching is challenging and it's important not to get into a mindset that these kids are impossible only because they're "inner city" while other middle schoolers are invariably a piece of cake. I know that isn't what you're saying and that this school poses unique issues, but remember: these are young adolescents. I LOVE middle schoolers and taught in a private expensive one in NYC. Just to keep some perspective, here are some of the things my students said to me and/or my colleagues in the course of one semester:
"I pay your salary. Don't tell me what to do."
"Only a loser would be a teacher -- my dad said. You make zero money."
I remember seeing a little seventh grade girl snap her fingers at a Cafeteria Worker and yell, "MISS!" as if at a restaurant, then roll her eyes at the woman for not moving fast enough to the table.
A child found my phone number and called me at home at 10 pm demanding "How dare you give me a B?"
So no one actually said "F - you," but...well, I guess they did. And their parents did not want them disciplined AT ALL.
But I really I love this age -- they are demanding and unbelievably full of energy but they're still really, really kids.
posted by Tylwyth Teg at 2:04 PM on September 22, 2011 [1 favorite]

The best advice I can give is the following:

Yes, it is absolutely awesome reading books about classroom management and everything else. However, and I never thought I would say this, the best bang for my buck I've ever gotten is by actually getting to know my students as well as humanly possible.

What this means is giving out sheets at the beginning where they describe things such as:

1. Songs they're into
2. Stuff they've done that was interesting
3. Fears about the future
4. What's getting them down
5. Favourite foods
6. Pets/plants
7. Shows they like/don't like and why

There are a tonne of questions along this line he could ask them. The key is to focus on specifics. If they like a sport, which sport and what team? Who's their favourite player? Are they watching him play tonight? When, what time? DETAILS. Once you get this questionnaire filled out focus on a few kids who he thinks he could create a bond with. Essentially, what will end up happening is these few students will start to really respect your SO, because he truly knows who they are and what their siblings names are and everything else. It will be impossible for them NOT to respect him. Once he has a few under his belt, they will begin to exact peer pressure on the others in the class. It may take a few months, but they absolutely will grow to respect him as a teacher if he goes out of his way to know who they are.

Think of it this way (and I'm taking this one idea from Manager's Tools): There is in the classroom the following: Role Power, Experience Power, and Relationship Power.

I would say your SO has minimal Role Power because the kids don't respect a teacher as a teacher as they might at some other schools or grades or whatever. So, this leaves him Experience Power and Relationship Power. He has great experience power, and there are probably some in the classroom who already respect him for that. But maybe some of the kids aren't into learning (at least not yet) and so his experience power is not enough to help him here. This leaves ONLY Relationship power as the admin will not back his role power.

I used to think that I cared about the students and who they were, but I realize now that I wasn't truly investing in who they genuinely were as people. It's hard to explain, and I absolutely wouldn't want to suggest your husband isn't doing this, but I only that he doesn't forget to focus on this even while implementing a new style of class management.

The one other upside to this is that he will start feeling better about his days pretty soon because the relationships with the kids he has developed will make him feel better about what he's doing.
posted by fantasticninety at 2:07 PM on September 22, 2011 [5 favorites]

I teach public school kids in NYC (all boroughs and mostly in deprived economic areas.) I teach in at least 15-20 schools within a year and remain in a school anywhere from one day to 30 weeks. I especially like middle school students. Here are some tricks I use:

Consistency: If your SO uses the tactic of waiting until they settle down before speaking/teaching...etc, he should use it all the time until the dynamic changes. He can't expect that using it for one day will work, it won't. (this is a great tactic btw. It establishes that how they respond/react to whatever you introduce into the classroom environment has a place)

Agenda: Put up on the board what you will do during your 40/45 minutes together. Make sure they see it and can keep track with you.

Icebreakers: These are great. They can help break tension, get them to know each other in different ways and help to do a diagnostic as to how willing they are at any given time.

Consequences: this one's hard especially in his situation. I struggle with this too as I'm in so many different schools. The admin needs to help/back you up on this.

One on ones: I try to start this with kids I sense will be open/down to do what I want them to do. I speak to them privately once they walk in and give that particular person a task to assist me. i often pick someone to write the agenda. I will do this every week until it is routine. I also 2nd engaging students who seem to want to learn and be there. They can help turn the tides of the classroom dynamic.

Do Now: I love this. It's an assignment that has to be done as soon as they walk in the room. I had a group of buck-wild students who I could barely get to sit (they were rude, cursed at each other, cursed at me...etc) but you best believe that after 2 months of doing this, they all wanted the DO NOW! The assignments could be anything from reading to drawing, to remembering a (clean) joke to tell the entire class. It's great when you give them an assignment that gives the freedom to express who they are but it works for required stuff too.

Family time!: I've called it many different things but basically it's a time for everyone to sit around and just shoot the shit for 10 minutes about whatever. The rule whoever is "One Mic"-only one person talking at a time. I sometimes have to spend quite a number of classes reintroducing this concept but they eventually get it.

Space: This is easy for me because I teach dance/theater/yoga/writing/arts HMMV but considering the space constraints of his classroom, he might want to seriously consider changing the set up of his room (does he have his own room? Is he sharing it with another class?) Ideas of things I've tried:

Reorienting the desks/seating space (maybe don't use desks but tables and when you need them to write, they go to a table. Otherwise they sit in a circle)

Decorate the room with their work, art, expressions...etc Make it feel like this is their space. Actually, make that a class project.

Shift the orientation of how they are in the space through the class. Ex. first 15 minutes is a check in so everyone is in a circle. Next 15 minutes is a work period so everyone in chairs at a table. Next 20 minutes is....etc You get the idea.

At the end of the day, it's gonna be tough. There will be days where he feels he is making strides and days when he feels he's gone back five paces. Goes with the territory I'm afriad. There are so many elements in play (outside of the ones you mention in your post) that you just have no way of combating them and can only do so much. The best bet is to help them feel like they are heard, be consistent, and ride the wave. The fact that he WANTS to teach these kids is a great starting place. He's in a shitty situation, for sure.

I wish him the best of luck. He's doing God's work, he is....
posted by Hydrofiend at 2:13 PM on September 22, 2011 [4 favorites]

Speak quietly, almost in a whisper, when giving instructions or setting up a task.

Suddenly there's something only half the class can hear, and the power dynamics of what you say becomes a lot different. You being loud? That's them winning - they're setting the volume, and they're controlling you. You being quiet and unperturbed? You set the tone. They'll be outrageous, until they get shushed from another student who can't hear. (Note: Usually the shusher is someone you won't expect!)

You think: "They'll call for an uprising! They'll launch an insurgency! Getting you to yell will be THE ONLY THING the recidivists will be motivated by." Yes. Exactly. But slowly, you win, because you being quiet lets you divide and conquer by isolating the truly bad ones for their behavior while rewarding the good and the nearly-good (thin edge of the wedge!) and watching as more and more of the class turns toward the light.

The academic consequences of not listening to instructions bear themselves out pretty quickly - incomplete tests, failed discussions, undone homework - but getting more and more of them listening to you is the key to winning this.

You have to work in rewards for good work and interest in them a bit, but you're not their friend and you're never going to be. Let them act hurt and upset as you fill out the incident report, and then continue treating them with respect and reincorporate them into class when they're ready to participate again. This is the age where they learn about their own power as individuals, and for most kids, a time to start to push boundaries.

After all, at 12, 13, or 14, teenagers simply do not understand what is socially acceptable, and being loud and obnoxious in class is one of the ways they test the waters to see how much power, influence and agency they have. It isn't about you or your lessons, but about them and their social development.

So showing your recidivists that their outrageous behavior has the dual, and sole, consequences of getting them in trouble (fill out those incident reports!) while leaving you completely calm (as you return to teaching class after adding their name to an incident report and calmly explaining that you'll be passing it on to whoever the powers that be are) will show them the value of listening to you: less hassle from school, less hassle from parents, better grades, and maybe a bit of respect from the students who previously shunned them for being badly behaved.
posted by mdonley at 2:19 PM on September 22, 2011

The desk thing is ridiculous though. He needs to hound union rep, supervisor, custodial staff, principal, anyone who can help him out with that. That needs to be fixed before anything else.
posted by bquarters at 2:31 PM on September 22, 2011

Things that are helping with my little hellions:

Behavior cards: They engage in disruptive behavior, card gets signed, three signatures equals a lunch detention and a call home. This is a joint effort between all of the middle school teachers; the sooner you can get everyone on board, the better. Having no, or few signatures on the card earns them a positive award each two week period, and at the end of the quarter.

Don’t argue with them or get sucked in. If they argue about the signature, give another. If it continues, keep signing until it stops. The most I’ve done is three, and the behavior stopped. I told my students at the beginning that if they had an issue, to see me after class or at lunch. Walk over, sign the card and move on. I’m not going to stop what I’m doing to discuss it. We’re supposed to give one warning, but I don’t bother if the student is a repeat offender, or if it’s a certain offense. Lose their card? Automatic lunch detention.

Seconding the positive praise for what seems like little behavior. Some of my “toughest” kids want praise so badly; if I tell them they’ve done something right, their whole demeanor changes. It’s both sad and wonderful at the same time.

It amazes me how much my kiddos want to help: passing out papers, emptying trash cans, cleaning the boards. Sometimes it’s work avoidance, but if it’s at the right time, it can be very motivating to put trust in them as a reward.

I got a timer, and it changed my seventh graders’ behavior almost immediately. 10 minutes for bellwork, that’s it, and the timer is a concrete reminder. There’s no time to fool around, no extending the time, no exceptions. After they are done with bellwork, for example, I go around and put stickers on the ones who put in full effort for two points, nothing if they worked, but didn’t put in full effort, an x if they did nothing.

Buddy rooms: Students who are completely disruptive leave. They go to another room, and do their work. Time they waste is made up at lunch.

Have sports? Extracurricular clubs or activities? Good behavior is a requirement for participation.

Have work for them to do every minute. Write an agenda on the board with times for each item. Set the timer, make sure you have the next thing laid out and ready to go, so there’s no down time.

Showing them that I am receptive to forming relationships, but not forcing the issue. Greeting them at the door by name. Accepting that other teachers are going to have better relationships with certain students.

Proximity: I have "seat syndrome" and I'm trying to fix it. Moving around them room seems to keep my students quiet in a way nothing else does, like they are nervous about talking if I am standing near them.

Parent contact: Most of my parents are Spanish speaking, (I, unfortunately, am not) but I have someone in the office call. Calling parents is scary, but I had a brutal meeting with a kid whose mom defended her kid and made accusations toward me, but the kid cried because, as mom said, "he knows he's being grounded when he gets home." Mom was a PITA, but there will still be consequences.

That's all I can think of, sorry if some are repeats of things other people said.
posted by lemonwheel at 3:36 PM on September 22, 2011

charmedimsure has got it. It's all about relationships with inner city kids. Take and interest in their life and activities. Are they on the volley ball team? How did practice go, did they win their game? Every Monday I ask my students who did something really fun or unusual this weekend and a few people share before we get started with the day. Be in the hallway, greet them at the door. Stay up beat, smile lots, even if you have a splitting headache and are ready to throw the kids out the window.

If you need to talk to a student privately I find walking and talking works best. Just stroll down the hall as you talk to them about what ever issue has come up. Also, every day is a new day, do not hold a grudge. A kid may tell you fuck off today, you still cheerfully greet them at the door tomorrow

I recommend readying Ruby Payne's work. It made me see things from a different perspective and once I made the appropriate changes the dynamic in my classroom is totally different (in a super positive way!)
posted by sadtomato at 3:58 PM on September 22, 2011

Oh, I thought of one more thing: if you haven't already, draw up a list of rules and a list of expectations. Print them, have a big copy of each made at Staples or wherever, and put them up at the front of your room. Go over them, and then refer back to them when students break the rules.
posted by lemonwheel at 4:22 PM on September 22, 2011

Oh, I thought of one more thing: if you haven't already, draw up a list of rules and a list of expectations.

I tried this on my first day of teaching. It didn't work - rules are meant to be broken, and a list of rules provided a point-by-point guide for breaking the rules and testing to see if there were consequences.

The only way an effective teacher can manage and lead a class is to never attempt to enforce consequences for discipline problems (consequences for not completing work are easier and more logical to enforce).

The rules are pretty goddamn straightforward, anyway, and the kids, having spent 7 or 8 years at school (or more than 3/4 of their life) will know them very well by now.

And what would a list of rules be anyway?

No talking? That will get broken in about 30 seconds.

Sit down at your desk? Another rule that will get broken.

Be on time? Some kids are going to be late, no matter what, so why make an issue of it? Instead, give out candy or something to kids who arrive on time. Something fun.

The rules are no-brainers, and can be enforced in a non-confrontational (and also more flexible) way.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:45 PM on September 22, 2011

Middle school inner city special ed teacher here.

First, yikes.

Here's the deal your husband needs to know:

* middle school kids are this insane hybrid of hormones, bizarre growth spurts, weirdness, sudden erections, etc. I mean, they're a whole different animal than high school kids. A lot of them have teddy bears; a lot of them have sex and some middle school girls have both;
* the kids who act out are almost always misbehaving because they have a track record of academic failure; so they're going to shut him down first;
* many if not most of them still want to please adults but because peer pressure is a strong pull at this age, they're following the lead of the alpha kids. The alphas are disrespectful, the rest will rarely risk positive behavior; so...
* he needs to get the alpha kids on his side asap; and
* forget about admin; he's not going to get any help. The office doesn't want kids who act out; they want teachers who can handle those kids. Obviously, there are exceptions. The kid who violates school rules gets thrown out, period.

So, how to handle them. Lots of good advice previously, I want to add:

* stand at the door, greet each kid, make a personal connection, tell them what the "do now" is, ensure the "do now" is a manageable piece of work (something like a word search, a puzzle, something relatively light but engaging), have a seating chart, after all the kids are in he says, "You have one minute to finish your do now and then it's quiet and eyes on me," he then gives them a 10 second countdown and it's "eyes on me," and he begins the lesson.

Kids are talking? He keeps teaching to the kids who are listening. I've seen so many stupid power struggles when a teacher is waiting for total silence. It rarely happens and it makes the teacher look like they enjoy the back and forth nonsense.

Just start teaching.

Last, have a realistic sense that for many students, school is completely nonessential in their lives. They're going to hate school and hate your husband. Teachers can't reach every kid and good teachers have to be okay with that.
posted by kinetic at 4:53 PM on September 22, 2011

Oh, and here's my best cheat to get the worst kids on your side:

you ask them for help.

So when there's time, I pull the argh kid out in the hall and ask if they can come in during lunch (or before or after school) and help me with hanging posters, with making a seating chart, with organizing books. I tell them I really need their help.

You give the kid some responsibility and some ownership of the classroom and they start to see it as their place, not just yours.

Works wonders.
posted by kinetic at 5:03 PM on September 22, 2011

Your husband is in a brutal position and has my sympathy.

He might find some ideas in this book--the teacher began her teaching career in a school very much like the one you're describing.

Author's blog.

Radiolab audio featuring Esme.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 5:39 PM on September 22, 2011

There is an obvious psychological aspect to this that should be addressed if it hasn't already. Kids, for the most part, see school as something that is safe and predictable. Considering your description, that environment is anything but that.

Kids respond to chaos with nervousness and curiosity...they want to know what the heck is going on and why. I would start with a good group discussion about what is going on with their school environment and what is expected from the students to overcome it and be successful with their educational goals. This is a great time for team building and could possibly be seen as an opportunity instead of a detriment.

Give the kids an opportunity to speak up about it. Help them become grounded and comfortable with the situation. Use the chaos as a reason to build unity and cohesion. Rally the troops!

Aside from that I agree with all of the classroom management tip provided above.

Good Luck to your SO!
posted by snsranch at 6:12 PM on September 22, 2011

I tried this on my first day of teaching. It didn't work - rules are meant to be broken, and a list of rules provided a point-by-point guide for breaking the rules and testing to see if there were consequences.

The only way an effective teacher can manage and lead a class is to never attempt to enforce consequences for discipline problems (consequences for not completing work are easier and more logical to enforce).

Never enforce rules? So, by your logic, give the kids candy, say pretty please, and hope they behave? What kind of schools have you taught in? It's hard to rein it in after being lax, that's for sure, but the kids have to know there are consequences for their actions. For my kids, losing their lunch break is the worst consequence, because they lose their socialization time. All the middle school kids acted like jerks in the cafeteria, so my homeroom spent their lunch cleaning up my classroom-- and then promptly went on to their next class bitching about how much the punishment sucked. Obviously, it hit home, they didn't like cleaning up a mess the other three classes helped make. I got permission from the vice principal to send kids out to the field with a garbage bag and an orange vest to pick up trash, what kid would want that?

There's relationship building, there's joking around and flexibility, but there's also consequences and boundaries, which are things most kids are looking for.
posted by lemonwheel at 6:18 PM on September 22, 2011

One last thing, less about the kids than about your husband's long-term mental health and success- does his school or district have a formal mentoring program for new teachers (or new-to-district/new to grade level/new to subject) teachers? If so, he should look into that right away. If not, can he ask another teacher (or teachers) at his school to be his informal mentor and come in during his/her planning time occasionally to see what's going on with his teaching, or go out to coffee with him and hear what's going on in his classroom and offer some perspective? It is sometimes scary to admit that things are not going well and that you need help, but having someone to bounce ideas off of and step into your classroom occasionally and tell you what's *really* going on can be enormously helpful.

I might very well have quit teaching after my first year (I was awful! The students were basically rioting! You cannot imagine the horrors that occurred in my inner-city middle school classroom!) had I not had a mentor to help me out and sort out which of my problems were fixable and normal (most of them) and what problems were particular to the miserable school I was at (a handful of big ones, enough that I switched to a different inner-city district after my second year, where I was much happier). At the time, I was pretty much convinced that I sucked, the kids sucked, the administration sucked and that those were unchangeable facts. My mentor provided a small but valuable ray of hope that things might eventually get better. I'm glad I stuck it out; I can't imagine doing anything else now.

I work as a mentor now in my third, likely final, district and get paid a small stipend each semester to work with new teachers in addition to my regular job. The district program is non-evaluative and I am paid simply to meet regularly with new teachers and help them be successful. That's it. I check in with my mentees each week and meet physically with them at least twice monthly. I get to burn a couple sub half-days in their classrooms seeing what is working for them and what is not, and they get a couple to come visit my classroom or the classroom of a teacher I suggest who is great. I don't talk to their principals or supervisors unless they want me to. For new teachers who are receptive to assistance and self-reflection, the program is a pretty awesome thing. If something similar exists in your husband's district, he should give it a try. If not, a more informal thing could work just as well if he can find an experienced ally on the staff.
posted by charmedimsure at 6:20 PM on September 22, 2011

Doug Lemov--Teach Like a Champion. Many of the techniques people have mentioned in this thread are collected in this book. It surpasses Wong and Wong. NYT article. Lemov worked in and consults for schools and districts with similar issues.
posted by oflinkey at 6:35 PM on September 22, 2011

I taught pretty much exactly this class.

I was originally assigned to teach a very different group of students in a very different school, and then due to a huge budget crisis in my original placement city, wound up taking a job in a second city and was hired the day before school started. I taught middle school students in an inner-city middle school where students were sent when they were expelled from other schools, so I had 18 year-old eighth graders sitting next to their pre-pubescent coevals.

And I had the best two years of teaching them.

But it was absolutely not easy. There are some great pieces of advice in this thread that I would have given you--the greeting students at the door and giving them a clear task is a Harry Wong strategy. It's brilliant and it works. There are also some horrifyingly terrible suggestions in this thread, many of which are oriented in the direction of treating symptoms and holding low expectations for students. That's unacceptable.

What works is a clear system of expectations and in-class behavior. One that takes students from the second they arrive at the door to the second they leave the classroom. When students have engaging work and are clear about what they should be doing and when the teacher is circulating and watching, helping people to stay focused and to improve their learning (not just babysitting or putting check-marks on the chalkboard), students will generally do what they have been assigned to do.

I developed a pretty tightly organized system for doing this that I taught to Teach For America corps members for the better part of a decade, and I'm more than willing to share everything I can.

I would love to chat with your SO on the phone. If he's nearby, I am also willing to come out to his school to observe, make suggestions, help re-orient him to teaching this particular group of middle school students. Memail me. I'll also send this to your throwaway address to be sure you get it.
posted by yellowcandy at 10:05 PM on September 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

There's some awesome advice on here, and some *not* such awesome advice. Here are my must-do's for new teachers (it was easier to address it straight to your husband, so that's how I did it):

1. Routine - start class the same way. Break up time the same way (10 min warmup, 15 min activity, 15 min activity, assign homework, start homework).

2. Seating chart - use the students who are the nicest as buffer students to surround the troublemakers. Until you have desks, you're kinda SOL. Can you arrange to have your class in another room until you have more desks? Or can you at least get chairs?

3. Move to an A/F scheme for every day. Set up a few enforceable rules (be in your seat, do your work, try your best, be respectful) and tell them that you will give them an A every day that they follow the rules. It doesn't matter if they get every single answer wrong, so long as they tried and followed the rules, they get an A. Follow through, but before you take the points, give each individual student a warning that is phrased like this: "John, I don't see you doing x. I need you to start doing x right now or you will earn an F today." Then take the points if they do it again. Don't tell them during class - pull them aside after class and tell them, but stress that they get to start again tomorrow. Keep a seating chart on a clipboard and mark every day that you give them a warning and then when they lose the points. As they start to get in line, move up the expectations so that it's harder to get the A each day.

4. ABSOLUTELY DO NOT get into arguments with students in class. If they get confrontational, ask them to step outside. Leave them there. When you can, step out and assess - if they are ready to have a discussion, use the same line (I didn't see you doing x, and I need to. Are you ready to do that?) and refuse to engage them, unless they say yes. Keep repeating the question if necessary.

5. Set up a reward system and reinforce the behaviour you want to see. I use little paper cards that say "This." on them. My 10th graders TOTALLY love them, and the behaviour in my room is nearly always under control, just from using the cards consistently. I also do the super cheesy LOUD acknowledgment - "I see that Natalie has her notebook out and so SHEEEEE gets a This! Good job Natalie for having your notebook out!" Continue until you have rewarded about 80%. The bottom 20% gets told, "Next time, I want you to get one too!" Without bordering too much into dehumanising students, remember that we all operate from classical conditioning, and it's a powerful tool to manage a class. Watch what behaviours you're reinforcing - if you're always telling students to shut up, you're rewarding their talking with attention. If a student steals a pencil from another and you make a big deal about it, you're rewarding that behaviour with attention. 90% of classroom problems can be described as attention-seeking behaviour.

6. My most powerful line to get attention is: "Show me you're ready to learn/listen." You may have to model what "ready to learn" looks like, but most students understand this. I will sometimes say it 10 times, but what it communicates is that there is a task to complete, and there is an expected behaviour they need to exhibit. Reward students who consistently show you they are ready to listen.

7. For students are not handled by the previous advice, you may need to do some compliance training. When someone gets really argumentative, try telling them to stand up. If they don't, tell them again. When they do, say thank you, and ask them to sit again. It sounds insane, but it actually works, and you're getting them used to following instructions.

8. Meet your students at the door every day. You can head off potential problems by spotting trouble, and by building community by remembering names/events/important information and asking them about it.

9. Write down what happens every. single. day. What worked, what didn't, how you felt, what you want to try tomorrow, what students you learned something about, etc.

10. Make your students feel successful. If they believe they can pass, they will try harder. That first A on the report card can be a powerful symbol for students who may never have seen one before in their life.

You didn't say what subject, but you also may be dealing with students who are functionally illiterate. Look into Corrective Reading: Thinking Basics (published by Glencoe/SRA) if you're English/Humanities or the Corrective Mathematics if you're teaching math. It's highly scripted, but it has been proven to move students quickly and effectively towards literacy. Low skills can create behaviour problems on their own.

Please tell your husband that I would happily exchange emails, memails or phone calls to talk through this. I do a lot of new teacher mentoring, and sometimes a sympathetic voice is the best kind of support.

He's doing a good thing that most people won't/can't understand. Teaching is the hardest thing I've ever done, but it's worth it. And he's already half-way there - he WANTS to succeed. Good luck to him, and to you (and cheers for being so supportive of him - that makes the world of difference!).
posted by guster4lovers at 4:53 PM on October 2, 2011 [1 favorite]

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