Saturday, August 30, 2014

Time Vampires and Siberia: Another Middle School Art Behavior Management Method

I’m at a new school this year, and I’ve been busy learning the new ways of this new place. I’ve also been extremely aware of my classroom and behavior management, as I want to ensure the groundwork for long-term student success in the Art room is laid down properly. It’s been going pretty well. My school uses the PBIS system (I’m gonna blog about this later; I love it), and it works beautifully within this school environment.

Overall, things have been good. . .Except for one period. And, even that is not too bad.

It has been a bit frustrating for everyone involved.  I call students who demand large amounts of my one-on-one time in class due to a choice of poor behavior “time vampires.” A time vampire is that person who refuses to work, refuses to listen, is often argumentative, and doesn’t want to be involved in the academic setting. S/he’s the kind of student that, at the end of the day, you realize you’ve spent nearly the entire period “helping” (cajoling) with little success. The student has sucked away your classroom time. You realize that time would have been better spent trying to help everyone else in the classroom.  . . See? TIME VAMPIRE.

I’m a teacher, a public school teacher, because I believe in equitable education for all people. I want to teach every kid in my school including the time vampires. At the same time, I’ve come to the realization I spend huge amounts of one-on-one time in my classroom on the kids for whom school is little more than a nuisance. I don’t want to give up on those kids; I refuse to do that. But, at the same time, I have to come up with a better way; a better system of providing education to EVERYONE in my classroom setting.

I think, in this age of testing accountability, teachers are actively encouraged to spend the most amount of time and focus on the students whom need the most amount of aid to get a specific passing score on a standardized assessment. Often times, these students are time vampires. They’ve been time vampires (for whatever reason, and it may be a really sad one) for ages, and they’re really behind in their learning. So, us teachers spend the lion’s share of classroom time on time vampires and it is to the exclusion of the kids whom have some level of self-efficacy. What message are we sending to our students who are complicit in education? How much are we impeding the success of students for whom there is no ceiling when it comes to learning? What impact does such an emphasis have on the future of our workforce and economy?

Time vampires. It sounds silly, but our actions in these situations have major ramifications for the learning of all students.

The time vampires have been nearly running one of my classes. And, I can’t have that.

I thought about new seating charts, silent Art, book-work, simplified projects, not doing clay etc. etc. . . But, I didn’t want to punish everyone in the class. After all, 30 of the kids in the class are, at the very least, complicit in the learning. I needed to do something that would help get the time vampires on track, still include everyone in learning, and not cause a secondary management situation for me. 

I decided to sit all of the time vampires together in a seating arrangement off to the side of my classroom. I named the area, “Siberia.” I told the students that they had been banished to Siberia, and that they must labor to get out of it. They could earn their seat back with the rest of class, by demonstrating five days of good behavior. If they continued to disrupt the class while in Siberia, they would not be allowed to participate in Art and would have to copy my behavior essay (a five page essay about the privilege of free education that is already legendary in my new school; one kid said, "Naw bruh. Just do what she says. That essay long.").

The students were shocked and giggled a little bit. They made comments like, “it ain’t even cold over here!” etc. in an attempt to show the rest of the class they didn’t care about the new arrangement. I just shrugged and said, “the cold is burn of being banished from sitting with the rest of the class.” To which, there were lots of “oohs” and “aahs” and laughter. The residents of Siberia (which is what I call them in class), still get to participate in class. I call on them when they raise their hand, etc. But, I make sure to frequently identify the area as Siberia and as an unwanted place. The portfolio they store their artwork in is even labeled, “Siberia.” It is something the residents of Siberia, me, and the rest of the class giggle about. I make no bones about the fact that it is okay to laugh and giggle about it; it’s funny.

And, in reality. . .Just about everybody in Siberia is friends with one another. If they took a minute to reflect, they would realize that they are sitting with their friends! The funny thing is that they don’t care; they really don’t like the stigma of being in Siberia, of being removed from the rest of the class.  . . And, part of this is the fact that the kids who aren’t in Siberia make comments like, “Dude. I’m so glad I’m not in Siberia!” and “How many days fore you get out of Siberia, bro?”  Also, I’ve noticed my little Siberians are working much harder while in Siberia. They actually want to be welcomed back into the rest of the class and they know part of this is doing the classwork. It is a double win.

My colleagues are loving the Siberia idea; it has become a bit of a thing we laugh about. One of them suggested hitting Target this weekend and purchasing some “Frozen” decorations for Siberia.

I really like that I’ve found a way that works –for me- to manage the time vampires that both communicates a message to them, keeps the class on-track, and is funny. I don’t want to neglect these students or humiliate them. . .Siberia seems to be a nice middle ground.

What about you? Do you have a method that works for your time vampires?