. Regurgitated Alpha Bits: The Value of Common Sense

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Value of Common Sense

So I have a student teacher right now, and I have to say she is doing a bang-up job with this little class of misfits.

Those of you who have had student teachers know, you never can anticipate what you're gonna get when you agree to this little bargain of "master teachership."

Bargain, you ask?

Yes, the actual deal (at a minimum) is that I sacrifice at least 8 weeks of my before and after-school prep time to preview, review, teach, model, advise, guide and direct a student teacher and in return I get (drumroll, please)


that the university from which my student teacher came from pays out after I hound them for many months because they ALWAYS neglect to send it.

But there is more to that bargain than what we see on the surface, though. Isn't there always?

The other benefit for me depends wholly on the student teacher.

Common sense, and if they lack common sense, I don't get my extra "bonus."

But before I describe my bonus, I must admit student teachers have a difficult job.

Teachers, including student teachers, must possess the skills to multi-task, and that is not an understatement. They must teach highly engaging and interesting lessons while simultaneously scanning the room for students who look confused, lost, or who were never with you in the first place, and mentally target them for future help. Meanwhile, they must also be on the lookout for students off task, playing around, chatting, and generally not following the rules, and utilize a variety of techniques to alter their behavior without interrupting the flow of the lesson and sacrificing precious instructional minutes. Speaking of instructional minutes, teachers must also fit lessons into the appropriate amounts of allotted minutes while remembering to send child X to speech therapy, children A, B, and C to the resource teacher, and child F to counseling (which is one we NEVER forget to send) at their scheduled times. During this time, teachers are constantly checking for understanding, adjusting the lessons on-the-fly to meet the unique needs of a particular group, moving around the room to maintain proximity with every child all the time (a physical impossibility yet still expected), noting what's working and not working for future use, and developing ways to get the objective across to every child in the class in a meaningful way.

And student teachers have to do all that while having their every move evaluated by a master teacher.

And if they can do all those things, it's due almost entirely to their finely developed use of common sense. Then, we master teachers get many hours to prep and plan that vastly make up for the sacrificed time before and after school and the paltry stipend. Bonus!

I have had several student teachers who could do all those things listed above, including the young lady I have now, and they make my job as a master teacher a joy. After all, we are here to teach, right? Be it children learning their basics or adults beginning a new career, we love to see when people "get it." We also love more prep time, which I for one desperately need.

But not every student teacher is cut from the same cloth…

Let's face it; either student teachers have common sense or they don't. If they don't, I can't teach it to them because it's "common" sense, meaning something everyone should have if they were not raised by wolves. In my experience, the lack of common sense is what does-in most failed student teachers.

Take "Tanya" for example. Like all student teachers in my state, she completed 90 hours of observation in a classroom and her requisite classes before darkening my door. Unlike all student teachers, I made her observe me for weeks before taking the reins in any subjects because she did not seem to possess much common sense.

In my room, when it comes to student discipline, I focus on positive behaviors before I slam kids for the negative. If I see kids fooling around in their desks, I reward kids who are not and the others usually get the message. If they continue, I issue consequences. We are all happier, myself included, if issues can be handled through positive reinforcement.

In Tanya's eighth week of her eight week student teaching stint, and after many long hours of discussion and direction about how things needed be done in my classroom, I gave over my students to her for a day of teaching. (I had a feeling she would not last out the week.) Her idea of positive reinforcement was to put a kid in time-out in the front of the room with a rolling pocket chart hiding him because, as she told the class, "A naughty boy like him is not worthy of being seen by others."

What was his offense? Not knowing the answer to a question when she called on him, and it was his first offense of the day.

How was this positive? In her mind, the other students were being rewarded by NOT having to stand in time-out.

She did not last out the week. Bye, Bye, Tanya.

You can't teach common sense.

My favorite disastrous student teacher was "Marge."

Although I did not want to give Marge my class for a week, her student teaching supervisor begged me to give this woman a chance. After all, she's a single mom raising 2 kids on her own after a messy divorce and really needs this teaching career.

But I kept saying…

You can't teach common sense.

Turns out, you REALLY can't. What adult with any common sense would think of leaving 30 children unattended in a classroom, especially after a student uprising?

Uummmm, that would be Marge.

Day one of her independent week, while I was working in the teacher's lounge to give her the space her supervisor asked me to give her, Marge decided to take away PE as a class consequence for poor behavior…by 8:30 in the morning.

What on God's green earth could they possibly have done in the 45 minutes school had been in session to warrant, what is to them, the most severe consequence possible?

More importantly, now that you've taken away their most prized subject, what are you going to use to manage their behavior for the rest of the day?

(But what about the uprising you mentioned, Edna?)

Oh, well, after the consequence was issued to the class, little Ralphie began pounding his fists on his desk and chanting "NO PE, NO WORK! NO PE, NO WORK!" Soon the entire class was pounding and chanting, and Marge had officially lost all control of the class by 8:32 in the morning.

So Marge approached Ralphie's desk and attempted to silence him, but he got up and ran away from her...

so she chased him…

and she has a limp from some old injury so she kinda runs like Igor…

and he ran (because children are like puppies. If you run, they run)

So Ralphie is running in a big circle around the room and she is fast in pursuit Hunchback-style and the kids are in hysterics.

Eventually, she catches him by the arm and immediately begins to drag him up to the office, leaving my hysterical class unattended.

And I see her, Ralphie in tow, marching by the window of the teacher's lounge and immediately wonder, "If she is up here by the office, who is with my class?"

Turns out, no one! When I raced down there, I found chaos. Chaos that immediately folded its hands and sat up straight when it saw me in the doorway.

She did not last out the week. Bye bye, Marge.

Of course the kids were wrong for what they did, but a modicum of common sense on the teacher's part would have avoided the whole episode, and unfortunately…

You can't teach common sense.

And, therefore, I don't get my prep time!


Angela Watson said...

Hilarious. Thanks for sharing. My own experience with student teaching has been similar: either they get it, and my life is beautiful, or they don't, and my life is hell. The ratio so far seems to be, sadly, 50-50.

The scary part is, some of these student teachers STILL manage to get their teaching degree and classroom jobs. I can only imagine what happened to the d-i-s-a-s-t-e-r I mentored a few years ago who had the nerve to ASK ME OUT after I had chastised him nonstop for the entire semester. (I clearly had an engagement ring on my hand, by the way.) Yep, that one was truly clueless.

Glad you've got a good one this time around! :-)

The Bus Driver said...

HA!!! That reminds me of the time I was subbing in a 3rd grade class. I had a couple students stand up and chant "no work no work no work" (their teacher had left nothing but busy work. ie worksheets and the like) Well.. everyone in the class joined in and chaos was seemingly imminent. The sub across the hall stuck her head out of her classroom door and looked at me bewildered.

I smiled, walked over to the Class Discipline board. Each student had a color coded discipline card. Everyone started on green at the beginning of the day. Behavior infractions resulted in "card pulling" It went Green, Yellow, Red, and Blue with each stage having different consequences with the final one being sent to the office, and an immediate phonecall home etc. The consequences varied from a phonecall home to losing 10 mins of recess to losing ALL of recess/lunch detention, etc. Anyhow, this board had a "CLASS" Card set. I simply pulled the class card and the kids saw it go from green to yellow. Their mouthes dropped, they sat in their seats and continued their work. It was about an hr later, their teacher returned from a workshop, saw the yellow card and looked to me. The class went beet red and I related the story. The teacher loved me from then on out since I could control her "hooligans" LOL

Ashley Anderson said...

Thanks for the laugh this morning! haha! You just told me some of the things that I DO NOT need to do when I do my Internship! I will remember this article as I take on the class for the first time. Thank you for the insight, I hope that I have more common sense than your two examples!

Anonymous said...

I am currently an education student and I appreciate you and all the other teachers who take the time to mentor us student teachers. I have done a lot of substitute teaching, and I think that has really helped me with the management part of the classroom. However, I am one of few students who does that, so many of my peers struggle. Unfortunately many people lack common sense and have trouble when placed in the classroom. When I was at an after school program last week I had a fourth grader raise his hand to ask me a question. I came over to him and instead of asking me about his math or spelling he said, "Are people born with common sense?" I paused for a moment because I was not prepared for this question, then I answered, "Well, no, I guess they're not. That is something you have to learn." Obviously you have encountered some people who have just not quite grasped that skill.

Anonymous said...

I am getting a student teacher on Monday and I hope it all goes well. I have been blessed with great student teachers so far.

My friend has a student teacher now and she is having a hard time with her. She uses inappropriate words when she talks. Words that should not be used at all, but especially around children. It makes it hard because she seems to really love the children.She gets her certificate in about 30 days.

We don't get paid for our student teachers. We just get the extra help in our classroom. I have used the time in the past to work with small groups and focus on students who needed extra help. I plan on doing that this time around.

Melissa said...

I know the feeling...my last student teacher was teaching a lesson on rhyming words, but one minor detail...he couldn't rhyme! Then, he tried one on contractions and was asking ME what two words made up common contractions like "didn't" and "can't"! Agh! So, needless to say, I could never leave him alone with my class.

The sad part is that when I voiced my concerns with his supervisor, she totally down-played them and assured me that they would give him "extra help" at the college! Yea, right!