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The Honeymoon Is Over!

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Kimberly Johnson, a graduate of the University of North Dakota, is a first-year English teacher at Valley Middle School in Grand Forks, North Dakota.


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The honeymoon is over, as the saying goes. I can even pinpoint the day it ended. Since last Tuesday's senseless acts of terrorism, I've felt bombarded by problems.

It began on Wednesday with five boys talking during a test. The behavior of those particular boys had been disintegrating since the first day of school. Their talking during the test was the last straw for me.

The rest of my team and the administration were very supportive. Together, we created a solution to the behavior problems that included detention, a letter home, a talk with the boys during team meeting time, and a zero as a test grade. One angry parent came to school as a result of those actions, but we were able to talk out the problems and create solutions. Since then, I've since seen much better behavior among the five boys.

As soon as that problem was solved, another erupted with a different class. This particular class had been a challenge from the beginning, but by early last week, the behavior problems had escalated, creating an almost intolerable classroom environment.

Laurie gave me some suggestions for handling the situation. I tried a few of her ideas, beginning with asking the students to write a brief explanation of what they thought was going wrong in the class. They had some good ideas, and we discussed those ideas on Thursday, when I also reiterated my expectations for their behavior and implemented the three-strikes plan. In the three-strikes plan, whenever a student does not meet classroom expectations, he or she receives a strike. The first strike results in a half-hour detention; the consequences escalate with each succeeding strike. Friday's class went much better; most students were fearful of receiving a strike. I hope we can continue to maintain a high level of respectable behavior in that class after the weekend break.

In addition to the discipline problems, I became frustrated this past week while correcting some grammar exercises I had assigned. We'd been studying nouns, but I could tell from the work turned in that many of my students did not understand the material. I don't know if they hadn't put enough effort into the learning process or if I hadn't done a good job explaining the material.

Laurie and I talked over the problem, and she helped me come up with a great review activity for Friday. I won't know until next week whether the activity helped the kids understand nouns any better, but at least we were able to clear up some problems together in class.

This week at least ended well -- a far cry from the way it began. Now I have the energy to re-enter the classroom on Monday. I guess this is what the first year is all about: experimentation, frustration, and hope!

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