When I was a 5th grade teacher, my classroom was the very last one before the buses. Every day, all of the school’s students would pass by and inevitably some of those students and I would strike up a conversation. Day after day, a little kindergartener would tell me about his day, his shoes, his new fish, or whatever else popped into his mind. One day, he saw me and beamed,”Guess what, Mrs. Ripp!” “What?” I asked. “Peter was on yellow today!” He told this news as if it was the biggest gift, excitement spilling from his little body. Momentarily confused, because wasn’t this child’s name distinctly not Peter, it finally dawned on me; he was talking about another student. “Oh yeah?” I said. “Yes, Mrs. Ripp, it’s exciting, he hasn’t been on yellow all year…” It was November. My heart dropped.
Here was a kindergarten student who every single day so far of the year had been on red. Who every day had their behavior dissected in front of the rest of the class. Whose classroom identity was being distinctly shaped by poor decisions and whose biggest identifier was his behavior. I can only imagine what my kindergarten friend would tell his parent every day about Peter.
And that is the thing. As a parent, as another teacher, as someone who is outside of your classroom community, I should not be able to see which child is having a bad day. I should not be able to walk into your room and see the aftermath of something that did not happen in front of me. That is a personal matter between the child, the teacher, and that child’s parents. Why do we seem to forget that every time we hang a behavior chart, display our cups, or even use Class Dojo publicly?
Why do we make our classrooms that are supposed to function on trust and support and turn them into halls of public shame for some kids? Where is the outrage? Or do parents not even know?
I get that there are kids that need behavior system, I have some of those kids too, but those behavior systems should center on privacy. Should center on knowing the child. Should center on the fact that we are dealing with another human being, that yes, may make poor decisions upon poor decisions, but they are still somebody’s child. If we are looking for long-term change then that will never start with public shame, but it certainly ends there.
When we use public behavior management systems, we tell those children that school will never be a place where they will succeed. We put them under an unattainable microscope and then wonder why they rebel. We watch for the smallest infraction and then come down hard, making sure that they know who is in control, who holds the power, but did they really ever forget that? And sure, for some kids it will make a change, for some kids it will take one down clip, one stick moved, one lost point and they will never do that behavior again because they have been embarrassed sufficiently. Is that what we want to shape the behavior of our children? But if we already know by the start of a day, which children will probably be on red or yellow, which child will already have a bad day, then why do we need to make it public? Why make that a self-fulfilling prophecy? Instead, we should be wondering how our school seems to not be working, and what do we need to change?
Today I was asked what I would use instead of a classroom behavior system or Class Dojo? My answer; common sense and kindness. Patience, communication, and yes, even private plans. No child deserves to be publicly humiliated day upon day, they deserve better than this. We can do better.
PS: Here is a link to all of my posts talking about what you can do instead.