Through Teach for America (TFA), as well as the world of education, I have been introduced a ton of new acronyms that have become a common part of my everday vocabulary. One of the most used and most important is SWBAT- students will be able to. This is at the beginning of ever daily objective on my lesson plan and it is written on my whiteboard every day so that students, supposedly, know what their goal or purpose is in my class. I refer to SWBAT about 50% of the time because the chaos of 7th and 8th graders entering my room usually takes up the “Introduction of New Material” (INM) part of my agenda. But, in any case, it is always up…and for the most part, students know what it means.
Anyone who knows me knows that I am not a yeller. Yes, I AM a crier, but definitely not a yeller. I do not like confrontation and I especially do not like anger. I cry when I am feeling conflict and I hate fighting with others. My voice doesn’t even sound right as a yell. But now I teach middle school. I have yelled more in the last 5 months than I have in my life. For all different reasons: to get my students’ attention, out of frustration and out of anger. I have sometimes yelled so loud that the class next door can hear. All day I feel like I am yelling.
Yelling is exhausting. On Fridays I fall asleep before 11pm consistently because I am so physically and emotionally exhausted. I was talking to one of the other TFA middle school teachers at my school about this and he explained it well– we are constantly making fight or flight decisions. We are constantly stressed and on edge. And, we are constantly yelling. We both made a pact to stop yelling. Easier said than done. When you are trying to teach a lesson that you spent the entire night before planning and 30 thirteen year olds (who are on 5th grade reading levels) are completely ignoring you, it is hard not to yell. When Wayne comes running into my classroom knocking over everything in his path, it is hard not to yell. When I find two eighth grade boys in the back of the room rolling my sticky notes into fake joints…well I yell.
So the other morning, as I was writing the SWBAT on the board, I decided to write an objective for myself…TWBAT…teacher will be able to.
I made it my objective to not yell and remain calm in my classroom. I introduced it to my students and they were thrilled. I was admitting to something that I had done wrong. (They love that.) Then, we began to track my mastery. My students became incredibly invested in MY objective. Each day we decided on a percentage of mastery for the class. It was, unintentionally, a great way of building relationships.
It also held me accountable for my actions. One day I had to write 0% mastery on the board after throwing (and consequently breaking) my clipboard against the wall. Having to write 0% on the board made me feel…well…stupid. As I wrote the big goose egg on the board some students were laughing, but others were disappointed. Then I explained, just as they come to school every day and work their hardest to achieve mastery (in theory), I will return tomorrow and do better. I was showing my students a life lesson: sometimes SWNBT- students will NOT be able to. Sometimes we do not achieve our objectives on the first time or every single day. The important part is having those objectives and reaching for them each and every day.