When I began teaching at Hershey High School back in the fall of 2004, I was not entirely your usual neophyte teacher. Sure, I only had a half-year long-term substitute teaching position under my belt for teaching experience. But I wasn’t straight out of college. I had some five years of distance from those wide-eyed and idealistic days. Our current understanding of “brain science” and development indicates that the brain(especially the male brain) isn’t fully developed and mature until we are into our mid-20s. So on day one when I stepped to the front of the room, I had a plan. And I had a handful of simple and straightforward rules.
These rules are posted at the back of my classroom so that they will always be “in the back” of the kids minds. Plus they are handy to point to…
My 4 Classroom Rules
Rule #1 Respect
I love this one because it is a catch-all rule. Did you say something mean to a peer? You violated rule #1. Talking when I am talking? Rule #1. Took a peer’s pencil, paper, whatever? Rule #1. This rule also covers basic civility and etiquette as well. Saying please and thank you. Raising your hand before speaking. This is high school, and I find the students want to be treated like they are adults. So I use this rule as both the carrot and the stick. Give respect. Get respect.
#2 Be Prepared #2a Stay Organized
Rule 2 and 2a began life in my classroom as separate rules, but they touch on the same kinds of skills. Often students who are poor at staying organized are not prepared for class. You lost that handout I gave you just yesterday? Rule #2a. “I found it!” Great, but three minutes ago I asked you to get it out. It shouldn’t take that long. That’s Rule #2a. Forgot your homework? Rule 2.
#3 Be On Time Every Time
This covers two huge areas for teachers. First, students arriving to class after the bell is infuriating for a teacher. There are a number of things I have planned today and arriving late throws off my finely tuned plans, disrupts the learning of your peers, and touches on Rule #1… it’s a sign of disrespect. Second, students turning in assignments on time is a non-negotiable for most teachers. Where in the student’s future in the “working world” will accomplishing some task after the deadline be acceptable to his/her employer? Absences and illness aside… late work is something that drives me mad.
#4 Be an Active Learner
This is my touchy-feely idealistic teacher rule. Being on task. Paying attention. Asking questions(even seemingly foolish questions). Following directions. Being invested in the learning. Putting forth both effort and a willingness to improve. (I hate when a student complains about a grade by stating, “But I worked for “X number” of hours on it!” Effort does not necessarily equal quality.)
I remember taking a biology class my last summer in college. I was a senior by then and just finishing out my general education requirements. It would have been understandable to “phone it in” and coast as much as possible. The course was a 3-week condensed version of the class. We were in the classroom for four hours for four days each week. The course was not in my major so I easily could have scrapped by with a “Gentleman’s” C. However, I paid attention, took notes, joined a study group, and did all of the things an active and engaged learner should. This biology course was going to have zero bearing on my career as an English teacher. Why did I work so hard? I think of active learning as a skill and a habit. Once picked up such habits should not be put down.
3 Rules I Loathe
#1 Keep Your Teacher Happy
Some days I am not happy. There’s nothing for it. I’m sick, I’m angry at a colleague(or administrator), I’m just not having it. It’s not the class’ fault nor is it their responsibility to make me happy. You know what would make me happy every day? Lots of things. Food. Money. A really good back massage. A new car. Peace of mind. Peace on Earth. Love and hope for the future. Tenderness. Should my students provide any of those things? Simply put: no.
#2 Make Smart Choices
According to whom? Who is the arbiter of the line dividing smart and not-smart choices? And what school-age child (without some training/support) can be expected naturally to be mindful? This feels like preaching rather than boundary setting.
#3 Rules That Read Like Something A Lawyer Composed
“It shall be known that hereafter that students photographing peers without their consent or knowledge with especial note taken to the locale the image was taken as non-public areas–defined in par. 2, sub. 125 as ‘restrooms, locker rooms, changing rooms, or other areas where an expectation of privacy may be said to exist’–shall in this document be known as a ‘offenders.'”
What? Think about the tax code for a moment. I don’t really want to pay taxes, but I do because I follow the rules. However, if I cannot understand the rules–like many that exist in the US tax code–I may break the rules and not even realize it. We are told “ignorance of the law is no defense,” but in the classroom it may be a valid defense.