My third grade class is not allowed back into my art room until every one of them has given me a handwritten apology note. I spent much of Friday, April 5th, calling student homes to request that parents discuss proper classroom behavior with their child/children. I really shouldn't have to explain that art class is not recess time. In my calls, I explained that proper art room behavior involves all the same rules as in their regular class and includes staying in their seats unless directed otherwise, listening actively(not talking while the teacher talks), Respecting selves, others, teacher and the art materials, being kind and doing their best work.
I am part time, so I only see this class once every 2 weeks. It is a class of 32 + 4 when the special education students arrive. Anyone who says that it does not matter how many are in a class, that a good teacher will be able to succeed with them no matter the size is just WRONG. The third graders arrived Friday morning at 11am and sat where ever they wanted even after I greeted them in the hallway and told them to go to their assigned seats. I pulled out my seating chart, started calling names and putting children in their assigned seats. This took 15 minutes because the class was so loud that most had to be called 3 or 4 times before they heard me. At least at this point in the year I know how to pronounce their names. When I didn't know the difference between LatAsha and Latasha it was even more rough. Yes, I tried to quiet them while I was getting them to go to their assigned seats. I tried everything I know how, to no avail.
So, they were finally all sitting and I began my lesson. I was able to get their attention and it was silent for a half second. I jumped on that time and began speaking in an average volume level. Within my first 4 words, several students had turned away and started talking to others. There was no single specific child to address about the behavior. I tried raising my voice. They became quiet for another second. I started again. Stopped. Silence. Started. Stopped. Silence. I tried to be animated to get attention...no help. I tried to talk quietly...no help. I tried blowing my whistle...no help. It went on like this for a bit until I finally lowered my voice and quietly said, I am not being allowed to teach. I referenced the time wasted already, 30 minutes of our 60 minute class was already gone. I explained that I was going to give the directions and demonstrate for those paying attention. Anyone not paying attention? Well, too bad for them, because I would not go over the directions again. Directions were written on the board, the step by step artwork process was in visual form on the bulletin board and they would have to reference those things or ask someone who was listening. I gave my demo and directions, passed out the paper and materials and let what happened happen. It was basically awful. Only 5 or 6 out of 36 actually knew what to do. I could not help those students much because I was trying hard to keep 2 students from fighting. One girl with very low self esteem really needed my attention, but I couldn't take time for her. At one point I turned to see a student chasing another around the tables. I somehow managed to get them into their seats without any injuries or major spills.
They had a total of 15 minutes to work before I called for clean up. CLEAN UP TIME...another nightmare. They will not stop once they have materials in their hands. Ok, I exaggerate. One table did clean up quickly. They heard me say, "First table cleaned up to my expectation gets a reward". The yellow table was on top of things. It seems they had miraculously paid attention each time I had covered the cleanup expectations in the past. They had their table completely cleared with all things correctly organized in the center table bin within 3 minutes and they each received a pencil from The Art Institute of Chicago. Bribery...yes! One of the few ways to get cooperation with my kids. The rest of the class????? I had to literally pull brushes and pencils out of hands, grab paintings out from under them and try to not freak out as they yelled at me for doing these things. As I lined up each table group to exit my classroom, I seriously heard kids ask me, "Where is my special pencil?". To which I replied, "Ask the yellow table what they did to get the pencils.".
When their teacher arrived I announced to him that I would be calling the guardian of every single child and would not allow them back into my room without a written apology note from each student. He agreed, and understood. I was nearly brought to tears and still feel like a failure. The parent support has been wonderful. I've had students come apologize in person and a few have brought me their written apology notes. There are still a handful of parents with whom I need to connect before this Friday and there is a very flat folder waiting to be filled with apology notes. If the folder remains thin, Friday's 3rd grade class may be the best group of 6 students I have ever had in my classroom.