Teaching, Imagination, Discipline

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I'm a mother, a teacher, a playwright, a former academic. I've spent most of my life in and around schools and universities all over the world. Nowadays, among other things, I teach in a high poverty elementary school in Los Angeles.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The first month of school is a crucial time in the life of a classroom. Don't meld them into a working group, and you pay for it for the rest of the year. Classroom life is chaos. Teaching and learning are repeatedly interrupted by stretches of wildness. Days are exhausting. Your Friday martini becomes a daily temptation.

BUT, if you find and effectively deploy your inner Darth Vader those first few weeks, you may, by late September even, be able to let your little ewoks in on the secret that it's all an act. You may allow a twinkle to dance in your eye as you pick up your yardstick in lightsaberly glee. The creatures will know that Darth Teacher is an act that pops out in reaction to their actions, and both parties will modify behaviors accordingly to GET BACK TO WORK! They will smile indulgently and knowingly at the appearance of Darth Teacher even while getting back to work. This is known as a happy classroom.

But we are so not there yet.

There are three main weapons in the Darth Teacher Arsenal: Darth Proximity, The Death Stare, and The Death Voice.

On Monday I used Darth Proximity many, many times. I stood ominously behind two (or more) misbehavers without saying a word until the entire rest of the class saw what I was doing and fell silent, causing the misbehavers eventually to notice that they were the only ones still wadding paper/throwing erasers/yanking books.

I used The Death Stare at least that often. The Death Stare instantly transports you to an ice planet without the help of airconditioning. There is no exit.

And I used The Death Voice SIX times.

The Death Voice. The Death Voice is a terrible, terrible thing. If you didn't know better, you'd think I was angry and yelling. Except that I'm not angry (okay, maybe a little bit frustrated).

The Death Voice is one that brings children to order instantly (though they may well forget it within 2-10 minutes).

The Death Voice has traction locking. A child's mouth automatically closes, and his head swivels in the direction of The Voice. If your car had The Death Voice you could part the Seas of Traffic and glide home with ease. Mothers and fathers know it well. But, of course, if you overuse it, it loses all power.

Monday, I got three new students, all boys--14 boys now!--and that little disruption created all kinds of new chaos. Hence the reversion to full Darth Teacher mode.

Though I have to admit, I did take out my yardstick lightsaber during spelling time, complete with a twinkle in one eye.

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