Confront at The Level of the Attack

Karen said this:

….[What] is up with these bratty egotistical kids that think they know how to teach a language better than a language teacher?…

The obvious answers are parents and TV shows – the kids often grow up with those kinds of images of what a teacher is. But, as per the prayer of our brother Saint Francis, we can’t change those things, but we can change how we react.

I think that most teachers are afraid to meet an attack with a counterattack, especially when those attacks come around a crowded desks with lots of kids around, or right in the middle of class.

The misinformed, rude, ill-raised and just basically ignorant kids, who, as Karen implies, actually speak as if they were aware of the research and standards, rarely choose to confront us alone. That is the M.O. of a bully, to get an audience first, and then tell lies.

No, it is our own failure that is the real answer to Karen’s question. We must react with force to each comment. It took me until this year to get that. Here is an example:

Ariel is the cheerleader memorizer who is in a third year class because she learned her métier of memorizing and her command of worksheets by copying them from other cheerleaders in middle school. It worked for her because she has confidence in her social skills. Her teachers think she is great. Until she walks into a TPRS/CI classroom.

In that one moment, everything that ever worked for her in a classroom, all those skills so carefully developed in the sham intellectual environment that secondary schools have become, are useless. Now, Ariel must develop social skills that are genunine. She must listen for an A, and not memorize and copy.

Ariel can no longer braid the hair of the cheerleader in front of her, who has been moved away from her. She is suddenly vulnerable. And what do bullies do when they feel vulnerable? They attack. And that is what she did with me in the first weeks of this year.

One attack came in a classroom next door, the room of the yearbook teacher, after school. Ariel had two other cheerleaders with her, but one was not of her ilk – her parents had taught her – Mariah – to respect adults. Mariah also takes French, but is a great student and gets jGR.

So it was two against one when I walked in and I said, in a very lighthearted way:

Me: “Ariel, your grade needs some help…what can we do to learn those skill on that [jGR] poster better?” (Ariel’s current jGR grade is 2.)

Ariel: “Now I’m doing better. I hated your class at first!”

Me: “Oh! You hated my class!”

Ariel: “Yes, I thought it was stupid. My old teacher gave me work!”

Me: “You mean work sheets, right? You learned a lot from them?”

Ariel: “Yes, and it was more fun in that class. We played games. We need to play more games.”

Me: “Ariel, I have sensed that you feel this way and I am so happy we can have this conversation.  I want you to leave my class. You are not happy in it. I am going to your counselor right now. And what is your phone number?”

Ariel: “Oh, I like the class now. I acted, remember?”

Me: “Yes, I do remember that you acted. But as I was grading you during that class, I saw that you were braiding Sugely’s hair and not listening to the story.”

Ariel: “But I like the class now! I even don’t skip classes anymore.”

Me: “Ariel, until I see a 100% turnaround in how you listen in class, I am going to keep the emails going with your counselor and your parents. Your grade will continue to be low. I am going to ask them for a meeting. You can’t come to my class and braid hair…”.

This is just a sample of the way I work with Ariel. It is very difficult to describe in words. It has to do with a core strength that is verbally conveyed.

There is something I have seen in over 90% of teachers including me and it is some kind of desire to be nice which actually trumps our own authority in the classroom. We trump ourselves, we trump our own authority, by trying to be nice!

I use this core strength constantly now. I am always on my guard for the People Pleasing Ben in my teaching and in my interactions with kids. Certain kids like Ariel have, almost unbelieveably, learned – in our current blown system – to find and wrestle down the people pleasing side of teachers.

I honestly feel that that is one of the causes of the Columbine massacre, which, living one block away from, I have come to study closely over the years and since I have a student there now. When I go into the building, I see clearly that the culture, with the same principal, is still the same.

There are all kinds of cheerleaders walking around – cheerleaders walking around everywhere! But they are 37 year old cheerleaders who now delivers of instructional services, worksheets and such, in foreign languages. No wonder Ariel wants that world back.

So now I attack. I do not in any way doubt that jGR is freaking out Ariel’s bot side, and I will not let her bot side attack me. I will not let a child who got an A in a class where worksheets dominated tell me what to do and I will not mince my words when any volley is made in my direction.

I have the standards and I represent what will one day be commonly accepted practice – 90% use of the TL in the classroom – and I have a good way of meeting that  standard, and nobody will tell me otherwise.

Just yesterday, we did some Word Chunking as a reward for a great story this past week in my 3/4 traditionally trained class – unfortunately using French 1 vocabulary that is up on the wall because it is the only vocabulary that those 3/4 traditional kids know. It was a big success and I want to address that in an article here sometime because I don’t think WCT is used properly to greatest effect in many classrooms.

Ariel, who keeps score (get it?), blurted out, “We need to play more games!” I stopped everything and turned away from the big group, which was all smiles and loving the game, and pointedly told Ariel in a serious way never to tell me what to do in my class again.

Many would call that an overeaction to an innocent fun suggestion from a kid, but it was not, given Ariel’s background. This is the point I am trying to make here. For some odd reason, no one has ever suggested to many of us that we ever needed to grow a spine as a teacher and be able to know when a child crosses a line.

Perhaps because we spend so much time in front of people and we don’t want to offend the poor darlings, we fail to confront, because we don’t want to hurt the child or embarass them. But, when people are watching and the child – who is really a bully – cover their lies and attack us with smiles very often, that is the moment to calmly inform the bully in no uncertain terms that we get what they are doing and we will not accept it.



9 thoughts on “Confront at The Level of the Attack”

  1. Great post, Ben. It has also taken me a while to draw the line and take the stand. My response uses different words but delivers the same message. When a student says something like “We need to play a game/watch a film/do a worksheet”, I reply, “We need to speak German in this class. We need to communicate as human beings, and you [pointing with laser pointer to “Interpersonal Communication Rubric”, i.e. Classroom rules] need to be meeting these standards.”

    I will be posting progress report grades this weekend, and I can tell already that “Mr. Nice Guy” will need a bit of slapping around. Deep down inside I know that the long-term good of my students is best served by holding them to the standards, but it can be tough to fight against years of “don’t rock the boat” and “don’t bruise their psyches” training and modeling. What brings me back every time is the reminder that God destroyed Pharaoh by letting him have his own way. (Can you tell that I was an Old Testament major in seminary?)

    On the other hand, as CS Lewis puts it, “All that are in Hell, choose it.” By analogy, Ben, you are showing that those of us who wind up in “classroom hell” ultimately have chosen it.

  2. …it can be tough to fight against years of “don’t rock the boat” and “don’t bruise their psyches” training and modeling….

    Yes, but just saying it that way and getting to read it so expressed is so healing for me. I’ve always wanted my students to like me and so feared them on some level. That model of the nice teacher may have worked in…. oh hell, it never worked.

    The model of the mean teacher is on the other end of the scale, but, for some reason, that model has been absent from our schools.

    And so the pendulum swings, while we in our group try to keep it from swinging by finding that balance of kindness and firmness that you describe above.

    Of course, the new twist in classroom hell choice is that before we were at such a distinct disadvantage – we didn’t have a way of teaching that required kids to behave. And that applies to TPRS before jGR in my opinion.

    Now we finally can say that we can require a certain behavior from kids and they have no choice but to do it or fail or get out or crawl under a desk where in the past they would stand on the desk figuratively and have their way with us.

    And, for me, it goes back to May of 2011 when you made the historically important (this may be just my opinion but for me it is what started the trip out of my own classroom hell) connection between observable behaviors in the classroom and the standards.

    That was a great moment in the history of what we have all been developing in the past years together here. Every time there was confusion about that thread, you came in with some research and commentary that kept us on task. It culminated in jGR for me.

    And now we have this odd combination of a hammer for both classroom discipline and for leading our kids effectively and in a very fast way – compared to before light years faster – to real acquisition of the language.

  3. For me it all seems to go back to the false hope that if we ramp up the content busywork (that is, hide behind it), we won’t have to interact and respond at that real level, to go to the mat over those key interactions, at the non-verbal level, which lie behind the smile of the overachiever student who wrestles us so effectively, never to play offence but be reacting and putting out fires all year. Teachers are so afraid to call something for what it really is, because it not seen as a core component of their standards (this is where we are lucky as language teachers), or they see it as a waste of time, because it gets in the way of their learning goals.

    Like Robert, I think it makes all the difference to have rules on the wall, and in our gradebook as behaviors that support language learning. This brings all the undercurrent to the surface, where we can have some control over it, rather than letting the students control that world, which is what they’re used to. My rule #7, which I borrowed from Bob Patrick, is “good will attitude.” What I love about this rule, is that it overrides any possible exception to any of my rules that students can think up, because it goes straight to their intent: If their intent is to harm or distract, then they are out of line, period.

    Just the other day, I heard one too many tiny but potentially destructive comments directed toward a student whom I know has been teased a lot. I looked straight at the offender (who thought his comment would, as usual, go unacknowledged by a teacher), pointed my laser at those words “good will attitude,” and said “If you can’t be nice to your classmates, I will throw you out of my class, do you understand?” He didn’t try for one second to worm his way out of it. He and the class knew that I had his number, and all he could say was “Yes. I’m sorry.” We must take command of the non-verbal communication in the room, and until we do, students will be having their own compelling conversations in class, and paying no attention to us.

    1. …we must take command of the non-verbal communication in the room….

      So, this example of confronting this kid is what we need to do. It is so easy to blow off confronting those small insults that we hear sometimes throughout the day, but it is exactly the little insults throughout the day that lead to teen suicide and such. Can you imagine going through school with no one to defend you?

  4. I wish I had started the year out like this. I have always been easily bullied and I won’t continue that behavior. jGR is coming into place monday and parents are going to be getting called. Thanks for that post.

    1. The beauty of bringing jGR in with parents, and I know I’ve said this a hundred times in the past month but I’m all for repetition, is that we get to say things like, “I am calling because of a shift in the standards that I must follow since it is my professional responsibility to do so. So your child has been blurting too much in class and doing so goes against not only my classroom rules but the national standards. I would love to discuss this with you, as it will effect your child’s grade – I really want you to see the connection between the standards and your child’s behavior in my class. We use a rubric that is based on 5 points and your child has a 2, which is __% of his grade and so no matter what he gets on quizzes it is going to pull his grade way down. Currently your child has a __. Let me just read this to you over the phone if you don’t have the time to meet with me just so you know what a 2 is.” (And then you can have the text below in front of you to pull sentences from while you explain to the parent why the kid’s grade is in such serious jeapordy unless they especially make the change in bold below):

      2 (C/D) ATTENTIVE BUT DOESN’T RESPOND; DOESN’T USE “STOP” SIGNAL – this is the kid who may get a good grade on a quiz but makes me work way too hard. They just aren’t involved. They don’t get how to play the game yet. They occasionally blurt out words in English or talk to their neighbor in English, both of which destroy the goal of the class, to stay in the target language as per the 90% Use Position Statement of the American Council of Teachers of Foreign Languages, which is the national parent organization for foreign language teachers in the United States. But usually they just stare at me in spite of my being practically on my knees begging them for a more creative and energetic response to all the hard work I am doing. These are not co-creators of stories.*

      1 (D/F) NOT ATTENTIVE: NO EYE CONTACT OR EFFORT – these are not creators at all of anything. They suck air out of the room. They do poorly on tests. They give nothing to the story. Their chances of failing the course are high.

      (*You may want to play this card with certain parents as well: “One might object that that is just the way some kids are, and are that way through no fault of their own. Fine, but my job, the main clause of my school’s mission statement in fact, includes how my job, my mission, is to “build productive citizens” ready for work in the 21st century workplace. I take that seriously. So if I let those same kids’ stonefaced behavior or blurting go, thus not aligning my assessment with the national standards, I am not properly doing my job for my employer and I should be fired.”

      Note: As usual I am being overly verbose here. Perhaps I should restate the above more simply, since the points I am trying to make here are nothing short of seismic in their importance in my own mind for classroom discipline:

      1. It needs to be made expressly clear to the parent that this is not something you want to randomly impose on their child, but what the standards demand. Making this point with parents and administrators* is removes the possibility of opposition, the Me vs. Them factor, in parent meetings. The child HAS to change not because I am being a jerk teacher, but because my hands are tied by standards.

      2. I must not inflate a 2. This cannot be said enough. I would bet that some of us have inflated a 2 already. We cannot. It is much better to lower the weight of jGR than inflate a 2. (I posted grades in the class last week and gave yet another lecture on what a 2 was, explained how I lowered the weight from 50% to 30% so that I wouldn’t end up with over half my kids failing the class and having to make all those phone calls, and when the kids went up row by row to look at their grades posted by student i.d. # on the wall, not one kids confronted me. Those who were cardboard cutout students and who blurted too often had their nice tasty D sandwich, and I made my point.

      So sticking to jGR is part and parcel of enforcing the Classroom Rules (resources page of this website/posters) and the two now function trio-ifically with my Three and Done Policy (see categories) to create an unheard of level of discipline in my classroom. Tying grades to standards and focusing on “observable behaviors” and the students’ ability to negotiate meaning in the TL has been the game changer, and I again thank Le Chevalier de l’Ouest for his leadership on that. When something big like this happens here, and I am eternally grateful like the three martians green guys in Toy Story, I will say it over and over – that’s just how I am, so Robert and jen, you rock the house. My weeks are now about 80% less stressful because of you. Oh, and I wanted to say one more thing to both of you and any and all others who helped drive the discussion to the final product of jGR, if I haven’t made it perfectly clear already – THANK YOU!

      *only 27.65% of administrators are half wits, according to a study published in 2011 by the Society for Ferreting Out Idiots in American Education (SFOIE).

  5. I am feeling confident now as I am entering grades for progress reports, that if I give them a low grade on interpersonal communication (based on jGR and Participation Grade form – John? Chris? who posted that? – I LOVE it!) I have my ass covered. BECAUSE I took a week to PRACTICE it, then I had the kids grade THEMSELVES, then bring home the Classroom RUles and the Part. grade form and discuss with parents and have parents sign it. – I am giving the first week’s grade as the one the kids gave themselves and the parents signed (which, kudos to the kids!, was low!!) but this past week was the second week, and they improved! So, they will see the low grade, and an improved grade! (except for the senior who walked to the front of the room to get a tissue and “crop-dusted” his friend in the front seat – while I was writing on the board!!! <for those who don't know that term it means to fart as you walk by someone – intentionally!! ….they were surprised that I knew the term! –points for ME that day! but BOY! that one senior is always trying to "get one past me"

    1. I would say you should penalize students for TRYING to get one past you. For me, that kind of behavior is covered under “good will attitude” and “eye contact” at minimum. One of my students doesn’t look at me during class, he WATCHES me for the moment I am not looking at him, at which point he tries to get away with something. I simply called him on it outside of class, told him his grade is in the dumps because of it, and will continue to be so as long as I think he is playing games with me. I’m not trying to toot my own horn here–I have plenty of issues that I have not taken care of yet. But I think it is helpful for us to see very specific examples of how we are dealing with these student behaviors. We have to have action plans for every kind of violation.

  6. (ok…still giggling over the crop-dusting)

    mb…this part is BRILLIANT…and I think that it could be key to introducing this type of rubric to students.

    “BECAUSE I took a week to PRACTICE it, then I had the kids grade THEMSELVES, then bring home the Classroom RUles and the Part. grade form and discuss with parents and have parents sign it. – I am giving the first week’s grade as the one the kids gave themselves and the parents signed (which, kudos to the kids!, was low!!) but this past week was the second week, and they improved! So, they will see the low grade, and an improved grade! ”

    with love,

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