When I moved this blog to WordPress some posts did not survive, so in an effort to move some of my favorite posts with me, I will be republishing them here. This one was first written in April, 2011.
“Joe, you need to pay attention!”
“Sit up, Peter!”
“Lisa, what happened there?”
All day and every day, we use our students names when they are off task, when they are fiddling, sleeping, or simply not performing to the high standard we have set for them. We see something out of sorts, judge their action, find them guilty, and deliver the verdict all within a few seconds. As our lesson continues, we don’t always have the time to dig deep so we assume instead that we know why they are fiddling, why they are not paying attention, and so we correct, coerce, call out their names until they are with us again.
Their names. Something that is so intricately linked with who they are as a budding person. Their names so linked with their identities. And yet we use them to our advantage, without a second thought as a way to maintain control, as a way to punish.
This week I asked my students to finish the sentence: “Being a good teacher means…” and what Nathan wrote really made me think: “Don’t yell out the kids name that does something wrong.” At first, I scoffed at this notion, after all, what else are we supposed to do as teachers when our students are off task? Calling out their names is one of the most efficient ways to re-direct them quickly. And yet, as I thought about it more, I understood his thoughts. Calling out a student’s name in front of the whole class means that the whole class knows that the student is not doing what they ought to. Some teachers use it specifically for that purpose; the public enforcement of expectations. And yet, calling out a name means that what one student is doing (or not doing) becomes the focus of the entire class. Yes, you achieve your goal of attention redirection, but you are directing everyone elses’ attention to that child without fully knowing what is going on. So I make it my mission to reduce the public negative call out.
So what can I do instead, because we all know, there are times when even the most attentive student gets off-track and I would otherwise use their name to re-direct right away,
I could take a breath, hesitate, and see if another strategy can grant the same outcome. Can I redirect them silently? Can I signal them? Can I tap them on their shoulder, or pass by their work area? Do I need to shout out their name?
I could also re-evaluate, do a quick scan of the room, is this the only child off-task? Is the whole class really not interested anymore? Did I speak too long, do we need a break or to do something student-directed or hands-on?
Yet, sometimes, it is not me or the students that are the problem. I am reminded that my students live full lives that sometimes interfere with our school day. This is when I take the time to stop and talk and ask if everything is alright, is there anything I need to know? Sometimes they are just so excited about something happening that they cannot focus, other times it is lack of sleep, of food, or they are distracted by life situations. Sometimes, they will just tell you they are having an off day. That is alright too, after all, we all have off days.
This isn’t a perfect system, nor is it intended to be. It is rather one more step in learning how to be a better teacher, one that doesn’t cause embarrassment for the students because I don’t need to embarrass them into behaving. One that takes the time to figure out the real reason behind distractions and then works with the student rather than just dolling out punishment.
So once again, my students teach me how to be a better teacher. I should be using their names wisely, reserving the public call out for when it is truly necessary. Nathan taught me that and for that I am thankful. He had enough courage to tell his teacher the wrong of her ways, and lead me to deeper reflection. When we ask our students questions, we may not like the answer, but there is always a great reason for that answer. A reason that should not be taken lightly, but rather explored, reflected upon and then acted upon.
I am a passionate teacher in Wisconsin, USA, who has taught 4, 5th, and 7th grade. Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day. First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press. Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” can be pre-ordered from Corwin Press now. Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.