Posted in Elementary Education Preparation

Well…. It depends.

Dedicated to the BYU Professors and mentors who have shaped me into the teacher I am.

As I near the end of my BYU experience, I have taken a lot of time to reflect on what I’ve learned. It is incredible how unprepared I was for my own classroom, even after three years of schooling. Now with that being said, that doesn’t mean I didn’t richly benefit from my education here at BYU. Looking back, I wish I would have engaged more in my classes and realized my professors actually knew what they were talking about. 😉

Over and over in class after class at BYU, one of my classmates or I would present a situation and our teacher would always respond with a sort of “heh” sounding chuckle, a slight smile, and say, “Well… it depends.” How could it depend?! Why couldn’t they just tell me “If [fill in the blank] happens in your classroom, you should [fill in the blank]”? But it NEVER happened. My cohort (group of students that attend the same classes) used to joke that we should make t-shirts that said “Well… it depends.” I couldn’t begin to count how many times I heard that phrase. I thought once I started teaching I would be able to fill in those blanks for my fellow teacher candidates. And here I am saying that the answer to everything in the classroom is… “Well… it depends.”

How could any of my professors have prepared me for the twenty-eight unique children that walked through my doorway on the first day of school? They couldn’t have. No one could have. Each child not only had successes and struggles prior to coming into my classroom, but also had a story behind it all.

How could my professors have prepped me for a child that walks in with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) that receives Special Education services but is also a ward of the state with no home support and is struggling to learn English? You’re right, they couldn’t have.

Back in my classes at BYU I would ask, “What is the best way to deal with misbehavior in the classroom?” Time after time I’d hear, “Well… it depends.” My teachers taught me that misbehavior in the classroom is never because the child is inherently bad. It always has a reason. In my five weeks of teaching, here are some experiences I’ve had with misbehavior.

One student was throwing pencils at another student. When I asked the poor child that was being attacked by a barrage of pencils to come talk to me, he became belligerent and argumentative. The perpetrator had no problem coming to talk to me. Why? After many tears and much confusion and frustration, I figured out it was all because the student who was being attacked thought I was going to get upset and punish him. His misbehavior was an attempt to avoid punishment. Not very logical, but to a 3rd grader, it was the best option he thought he had. So he misbehaved.

The other day, a little girl in my class told me to straight out “stop it” and started to yell at me when I took her out in the hallway to sort out an issue. Why in the world would she think that was appropriate? Turns out she figured out in prior classes or through home life that when she argues with an adult, she gets attention. Negative attention mind you—but attention nonetheless. In her mind, misbehaving is her way of fulfilling her need for attention.

A boy in my class called out constantly, refused to take his reading test, and continually argued with me. I could not figure it out, so I called him out in the hallway. As I talked with him, I felt prompted to ask him if he had been called a “bad student” in the past. The big, tough, tackle-football-playing third grader teared up and nodded. He could barely get his words out. He was acting up because he was already labeled as a trouble maker. Simple as that.

Now what do all these experiences have in common? All the students were argumentative and didn’t listen to me. Imagine if my professors had said “When a student gets argumentative, you need to…” and gave me a formula for stopping the behavior. In three similar situations, one I simply had to take the student aside and explain I wasn’t mad. Another one I needed to ignore her until she behaved, then give her attention and praise once she complied. My last one is still a work in progress, but he just needs a reminder to behave and be given constant positive reinforcement.

The best advice I ever received was from Jerrie Reader, a first grade teacher (my first mentor teacher) at Westridge Elementary. One day she turned to me and said, “You know, as a teacher you never really get there. As soon as you stop learning as a teacher, it is time to retire.” I’m here to tell you, NOTHING stays the same in my classroom every day. Nothing. Not even me. And that is how it should be. So when it comes to anything in my classroom, “well… it depends.”

I have learned so much the past few weeks. But with that being said, my BYU experience has completely shaped my responses to all that happens in my classroom. When a student misbehaves, I can hear Sister Jill Shumway (my classroom management professor) calmly saying, “Now why is this behavior happening?”

How grateful I am that they told me in my classes that when it comes to all things in the classroom, “well… it depends.” Because truly. It does. I am glad they challenged my thinking and forced me to answer my own questions. That has made me the teacher I am today.

So to my fellow BYU students, don’t tune out, don’t disengage, and from the wise words of one of my 3rd graders: when you get bored in class, remember “boredom is a mental thing. You can make yourself not bored.”

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