Stink-Eyes, Hairy Eyebrows, and Reboots
Middle grades students look to others—including their teachers—for help navigating the challenges of life. If we handle life's interruptions with humor instead of frustration, perhaps they will do the same.
That's what I try to model in the classroom. For me, humor is the best form of discipline. You can be a firm disciplinarian and have fun at the same time. When you treat discipline with humor, you create more opportunities to connect with students.
The Stink-Eye Stare
In the Peabody Award-winning PBS documentary Good Morning Mrs. Toliver! teacher Kay Toliver uses her theatrical charm to get students back on track. Students who interrupt get a 5- or 10-second, open-eyeballed stare—no threat implied—followed by the most beautiful smile. Then Kay goes right back to teaching as if nothing ever happened.
The students know she is going to smile, but when? She doesn't have to yell. The off-track student is re-engaged without being belittled in any way.
Try it! The other students actually are often the ones who discipline for you. "SHHHH! He's staring at you!" You and the offender lock eyes for a long moment and then you smile.
The Hairy Eyebrow
The power of proximity is golden. Simply stand close to the off-track student and look at that student with a raised eyebrow. You don't have to stop your lesson; you can re-engage the student just by standing there with that quirky face.
I sometimes look at my disorderly class and say, "Uh-oh, this behavior isn't gonna' fly. I'm going out in the hall and get my head right. When I come back in, we're going to get some work done!" I go out into the hall and come back inside almost immediately, smiling as though I hadn't seen the class yet that day. "Well hi, everyone," I say dramatically, and we pick up where we left off.
Sometimes I ask a disruptive student to go into the hall for a head check. "Ahhh Fred, this isn't gonna' fly. I need you to focus on your work. Why don't you go out in the hall, chill a bit, and come back when you're ready to work." Usually the student is in the hall for mere moments before coming back in and buckling down.
This quick loop may be an opportunity for students to wake up and stretch their legs during a long block. They come back in with a smile and are greeted by smiles.
You Get What You Give: So Give!
If you focus on behavior issues, guess what? You get more behavior issues. By using humor in your discipline, you create connections to students. Use those connections to foster their love of learning and empower young adolescents to succeed.
Geoff Warren is a teacher in North Carolina who is enrolled in the middle grades master's program at Appalachian State University. E-mail email@example.com
Copyright © 2012 Association for Middle Level Education