Monday, February 19, 2007


Schools need rules. I am a big believer in them. I believe rules should be enforced and there should be consequences when they are not followed. NYC has a rule that cell phones are not allowed in the building. I don't necessarily agree with the rule, but then again, I am only a lowly teacher, so what do I know? If my chairman or the principal happens to walk by my room and notices a cell phone on a desk, they get all out of shape. And there are consequences. Unfortunately, the consequences are only for the teacher who did not do anything about the phone. Now, what is a teacher to do? A colleague of mine regularly calls homes when she sees these devices out. She is now being brought up on charges of abusing a poor kid whose home she called. The parent claims she was picking on him. Another teacher confiscated a cell phone. The kid promptly walked out of the room and into the Principal's office. Suit walked the kid back to class and had the teacher return the phone. I personally have called the deans to take phones away when the kids won't put them away only to see the kids and phones back in class the next day.

Last Wednesday, all the trailer classes plus all the classes of absentee teachers were in the auditorium. It was bedlam. I gave my kids a worksheet, with answers on the back, and walked around helping as best as I could. At first I made them put every cell phone away. That is, until I noticed the other couple of hundred kids sitting with cell phones and no one bothering to tell them to put them away. Security guards and deans stood at the back of the auditorium, never bothering to walk around and see what was going on. It would have been easy to have a massive sweep and collect all these phones.

Now, in reality, I don't believe the kids were doing anything wrong. What is wrong is a rule that is only enforced sometimes, when it is convenient for the administration. Since my school is so large, and it is impossible to enforce the cell phone ban as it is written, the rule needs to be changed.

Last year I taught a difficult class of repeaters. I knew I would be fighting with them constantly if I enforced the hat rule, i-pod rule and all the other stupid rules that have nothing to do with education. But, I needed rules so I came up with ones that I could enforce. The first one was that hats were allowed as long as they quickly came off if the door opened. We had a signal. Once the outsider left, I would signal again, and the hats could go back on. I-pods could be listened to when the kids were working on practice sheets, not during the lesson. The same rule for outsiders applied. I told Principal Suit about my rules. I was afraid he would discover them on his own. He said if he came in the room, he would pretend to be blind. He was happy that these kids were coming to class and going to pass. They were the ones that could make him look bad by not graduating.

I never give my kids long lists of rules and regulations. My rules are simple. Come to class on time. Do your work and homework. Don't talk unless answering or asking a question. Go to tutoring if you need help. Pass exams and you will pass the class. I make the rules that can be enforced.


NYC Educator said...

I only have one rule--"We will treat one another with respect." Because it's an ESL class, I added the sub-clause, "We will use English exclusively in the classroom."

It's kind of creepy to use a language half the class can't understand.

It's plainly idiotic to have rules that aren't enforced. Every competent parent knows that, and it's remarkable that administrators can't figure it out.

ms. whatsit said...

Rules ought to be simple, practical, and --as you suggest -- made only if the rule-maker is serious about enforcing them.

My classroom rules: Be prompt, prepared and polite.

Anonymous said...

"This classroom is governed by the general principles of courtesy and respect."
I add that I am covered no less than they are. And that all other school rules apply.

One of the things that helped make my first year miserable was being asked to list lots and lots of rules, more than I could remember, far more than I could enforce. And failing to enforce some rules makes it harder to enforce any rules. Especially for a miserable 1st year teacher. After a few years I figured out how to survive with 3 rules. And they morphed into just the one.

We do spend some time talking about what the application of the rule should look like.

We also (new this year) play a counting game, without hands, but with turn-taking, to get them used to trying not to interrupt one another. Jury's still out on that.

IMC Guy said...

You are absolutely correct about the consistent enforcement of rules. At my school, many rules are not enforced on a regular basis, some by the principal, some by me. The unfortunate part is that the students know it and take advantage of it.

Shefi said...

What a great graphic! Is it yours? I want to steal it!

I recently happened upon John Reed's website, and bookmarked it after reading this page on coaching. Altho I don't coach sports, I feel there's something for me to learn from what he says about coaching: teaching is a part of parenting, but only a small part. What parents do, or should do, and coaches should emulate, is setting appropriate goals, showing how to meet them, and insisting that they be met. (my emphasis). Pop on over and read it; it's short and to the point.

CaliforniaTeacherGuy said...

Simple rules that can be enforced are the best rules of all, as you so wisely point out--and practice in your classroom.

Here's what drives me crazy at my school: The principal told the staff at the beginning of the year that gum chewing was not allowed on campus. After all, we're a brand new school and who wants clumps of gum under foot or under desks? Yet I see TEACHERS chewing gum all the time--even in class! Insanity!

Anonymous said...

My classroom rules were not called rules- I called them Pre-K XXX Reminders and explained to the little babies that sometimes we all forget things and needed to be reminded every now and then.
Classroom Reminders were also simple (which included pictures so they can read).
1. Listen with your ears and see with your eyes.
2. Raise your hand.
3. Hands and feet to yourself.
4. Speak softly.
5. Use your words (which a lot of people do not understand which is the reason why little children hit, kick, pull, so I teach them to use their words and explain why they are upset, happy, angry, sad, etc).

It is a shame that a certain principal was not able to see the progress in social and emotional development after my very short-lived second year in the school. All that hard work eventually went out the door- and I found out what really happened after I left just a few weeks ago.