I learned during my students teaching at Norton High School that boys are obsessed with throwing paper balls into the trash can. At any given moment during instruction I would see something fly across the room out of the corner of my eye. The only time it bothered me was when the students would miss a shot and I, being an OCD neat freak, would have to walk over and pick it up. God forbid my boys picked it up themselves.
When I was outlining the rules and procedures for my classroom this year I thought of the inevitable basketball shots into my trash can. Rather than prohibit my 7th and 8th graders from shooting those god damn paper balls I decided to think outside the box. Once you tell a preteen not to do something, they are going to do it just in spite of you. (Little did I know my students simply just wouldn’t listen. It’s not so much that they want to spite me as they just don’t care.) Putting best practices, high expectations and order in the classroom aside I came up with a clear rule for my NOLA students: you can shoot things into the trash can from across the room as long as you make it into the trash can. My middle schoolers were amazed with this rule. Surely, their teacher hadn’t just told them it was OK for them to throw things, or had she? As I presented this rule to them I realized there then had to be a consequence for when students missed. One that was bad enough to stop students from making shots that they would not make. I then put myself in their minds. When I was 13, 14, 15 (or …16) what would have been the worst thing. Humiliation from my peers. Wait…before you get angry and think I am cruel…just keep reading!
So, I decided that if you make a great paper ball shot…you will get the reward of a quick cheer or smile. These students need all the positive reinforcement they can get and for some of them, those amazing paper ball shots are all they have. BUT…if you miss…the class will boo you. Yup, 30 of your peers AND your English teacher will boo your horrible shot. (That’s what will happen in the NBA if you miss a shot, ya know.) Little did I know…something so strange and borderline inappropriate would have such a positive impact on the culture of my classroom. It became a normal routine. A student would miss a shot and all I would have to say is, “Well, you know the rule.” And the class would erupt into boo-ing. The amazing thing though, is that this boo-ing would stop when I said stop AND it never caused the student being boo-ed to have an angry fit (an unpredictable yet consistent daily occurrence). When a student is boo-ed he simply shrugs and smiles because, well, he knows the rule.
If someone from the state, from TFA, from my school or the President walks into my classroom and a student throws something across the room to the trash can, this rule will remain. My TFA mentor has seen it and it made her smile. How can it not? When my students follow directions, even if to boo another student, it is a positive thing. My students are learning to take a shot. Take it and the world won’t end if you miss. But, you know the rule…