Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How to flush out an anonymous disruptor

As a teacher, I will admit that one of the toughest behavior issues with which we deal is the anonymous disruptor: a student whose actions disrupt the class, but you don't know who that student is, and today's ubiquitous "don't snitch" mentality keeps the rest of the class from letting you know who the disruptor is, even if they wanted to tell you.

So how does one work around these challenges? I have found that the best method is out-and-out bribery.

Yesterday during my second period class (7th graders), I was standing at my table at the front of the room looking down at a book when a balled-up piece of paper struck me in the chest. I didn't see who threw it, but I could tell that it was most likely an errant shot meant for the big waste can directly to my right. Nevertheless, I asked the class who threw it, but naturally no one would say anything, including the errant shooter. I told the class that I wasn't going to run some huge investigation; they could either give me a name, or I would hold everyone after class for 30 seconds to give them one more opportunity to fess up, unless the shooter wanted to fess up, in which case the rest of the class would be released immediately. Still no one talked.

Later in the period, near the end of class, I was walking toward the front of the classroom with my back to the class when yet another balled-up piece of paper struck me in the back of the head and bounced off my shoulder. This was no errant throw; it was intentionally aimed at me and had found its mark. The sound from the class was equal parts giggling and gasps of astonishment. With just a few seconds before the bell rang, I didn't have much time to make a decision on what to do about this. One thing I did not do was lose my cool. Even though I was fuming inside, I remained very calm and deliberate on the outside and informed the class that they could either give up the name of who had thrown the paper or I would keep them after class for one minute instead of 30 seconds to give them an opportunity to give me a name. I despise class punishments, but with a four-minute passing period until my 3rd period class came waltzing in, that was the best I could think of in the moment. Every one of those 7th graders stood there in silence for the full minute and never gave up a name. The code of "Don't Snitch" is alive and well in our schools.

I ruminated over this matter for the rest of the day yesterday and talked with my wife about it when I got home. She teaches elementary school in another local school district, so I hit her up for ideas on how exactly to handle this situation, because quite frankly (self-congratulation alert!) it never really happens in my classes. On the one hand, it was tempting to just drop the whole thing and move on, but on the other hand, I looked at this as a power struggle that was worth digging in my heels, lest the class think that it was worth it to try something like this again if I didn't do anything about it.

My wife's solution was something that I had actually done years ago, but had forgotten all about. My first full-time teaching gig was back in 2003 as a long-term sub at a ghetto-fabulous high school in south Sacramento. It was a rough place and student behavior was atrocious. One day during class, a student unknown to me was wandering the halls outside my classroom and stopped in front of the classroom windows that looked outside. He peered in and when my students all turned to see what he was doing, he flipped off my classroom with both middle fingers. I ran to the door, but he took off, and I couldn't leave my classroom to track him down. That day, I knew exactly what to do: I offered 30 extra credit points to the first student who would give me that clown's name. The dime was dropped on him in two seconds flat.

Fast forward to last night, and my wife suggested that I do the same thing with this situation: offer extra credit to the person or persons who would squeal.

So this morning, when the class walked in, they were greeted by my email address written on the white board. I told the students that I would give 50 points extra credit to the first five students who anonymously emailed me the name of the perpetrator. That's when I found out that two different people had thrown the two pieces of paper. Once extra credit was involved, anonymity went out the window. I had students raising their hand and ready to give up the names out loud then and there if they could get the extra credit. Before that could happen, both perps knew the jig was up, and they confessed.

After a little further questioning, it turns out that I was right about the first piece of paper: he was aiming for the trash can but was afraid he would get in trouble if he fessed up. I told him that not fessing up got him in even worse trouble. As for the second thrower, he just straight up aimed it at me. I kept him after class and told him exactly how I felt about what he had done, and you bet I raised my voice in doing it. He departed with his eyes rather red and glossy. During my prep period today, I called his mother and informed her that I was suspending her son from my classroom for the next two days, and I submitted a referral to the administration. The mother was aghast at what her son had done, and she fully supported the two-day classroom suspension that I handed down. I don't know what teachers in other states can do, but according to the California Ed Code, a teacher can a suspend a student from his class for up to two days as long as the student, the student's parent(s), and the administration is alerted of this. I have alerted all three. Whether or not the student gets suspended from school is up the administration; I can only ask and recommend.

So the lesson to all you teachers out there who read this, I have now learned on two separate occasions to never underestimate the power of extra credit.

Good Day to You, Sir


Anonymous said...

I'll have to use that next time.


Anonymous said...

Must read:

Texas Truth said...

I LOVED THE WAY YOU GOT THE PERPS TO CONFESS. I would have never thought of that. See, an old dog can learn new tricks (I mean ME). I am going two use that in my classes. THANKS

American Idle said...

Just one word to ponder -- bribery. Not judging; just asking.

Chanman said...

The fact that I use the word, or the fact that I employ a strategy based on the word?