The Blackboard Jungle

days spent beating back the seeds of doubt

Monday, April 26, 2004

Nine years ago, as a probationary teacher, I was initiated by a fellow probationer, Vasso, into the mysteries of an annual ritual we call Do Not Come Into My Class. It's strictly off the handbook, threatening stuff, not sanctioned by any teaching authority anywhere, that plays reverse psychology tricks on your weirdest most misbehaving kids. Do not try this technique if you aren't willing to risk everything to get what you want. It's worth the risk, though, because if you do it right, your worst student is going to disappear.

The ritual must take place in late May or early April, when there are only maybe three weeks at most left before study leave begins. When most graduating students have already voted with their feet, and the remainder fall clearly into good / evil camps. The motivated conscientious students, who don't want to risk humiliation by being loud about it, or the ne-er-do-wells whose more ambitious parents force them to get up and into class every morning, but are putting in seven hours a day on the teen classic of You Can Make Me Go To School But You Can't Make Me Learn.
It's this latter group whom you will prioritise in seeking this year's victim for initiation into the mysteries of Do Not Come Into My Class.

Select a student who has potential, but whose presence in your classroom causes a heavier heart, a sinking realisation that your energies will be utterly wasted upon babysitting, reprimands, on keeping a lid on this student's wisecracks and boisterousness rather than any actual meaningful interaction.

Make sure your student's attendance record is patchy at best. If you can persuade him or her to admit to truancy in the past, this mitigates your implementation of Do Not Come Into My Class all the more.

Choose your moment carefully - you should be careful to wait until the end of a lesson where Student X (let's call him serial practical joker Ross) has displayed behaviour of a particularly galling and persistent sort. To the degree that he knows he has a talking to coming to him.
Preferably, a fair amount of behavioural modification strategies should already have been attempted during the lesson, to no effect. It all adds weight to your grim faced authority if Student X / Ross is aware you will rip a chunk out of him as soon as the other students leave.

Seat the student calmly and alone in the room, once his or her peers have left at break. Choose a location for Do Not Come Into My Class where you will not be overheard by any other member of staff.

Speaking quietly, and standing at ease, arms folded, point out to Student X / Ross that you have had quite enough of his infantile behaviour. Do not mince your words. Make it clear that you find him a petty fool whose progress you are entirely willing to sacrifice to ensure your classes' grades do not suffer.

Refer to the small amount of time left before Study Leave starts. Raise your voice as you list any amount of annoying and petty time wasting infractions. Make it clear you are angrier than ever before.

Appear to be consumed by frustration, as if unable to speak, temporarily. Lean in towards Student X / Ross, and fix your eye upon his.

"You know what? I don't want you in this class any more. Do Not Come Into My Class."

Allow that to sink in a second.

"I won't make a fuss, or report you missing. Just don't turn up. Do Not Come Into My Class."

Student X will protest - I guarantee it. What is he supposed to do during lesson? Where is he supposed to go?
Enunciate very clearly indeed: "I don't care."

Student X will be horrified. You, a teacher, breaking the rules. Rejecting him. Worst of all, withdrawing your attention. Forever.

At this point in Do Not Come Into My Class, all students say the same thing. "You can't do that!"

A very calm, even, modulated tone is required. "Oh yeah?"
Eyes fixed, unmoving. "My word against yours. Who they gonna believe?"

Usually there is an outburst, a railing against fate, you, education, the world, everything that cruelly denies Ross the autonomy to play with mini video cameras under the desk, flick wet paper pellets, throw textbooks out of the window, lock smaller kids in the stock cupboard, bunk random lessons, swear obscenely at girls and ridicule anyone trying to work. The unfairness of it all.
He will flounce, remonstrating. Do not respond. Simply remain still, arms folded. You will see, before he goes, a light of acceptance in his eyes.

You have just played your entire hand in the off-message, un-PC, dodgy teacher's gamble that is Do Not Come Into My Class.

Yes, it's a risk. Yes, it's a gamble. Yes, he could report you. But I can assure you that I've done this ritual almost every year for nigh on a decade. It's never failed yet.

Your wicked ruinous wanton troublemaker will disappear.

How? Listen.
From this point on, Student X will faithfully attend every single remaining lesson, punctually, with equipment, and will make an attempt at effort. He or she will restrain the rumbustiousness to 'low level' and will do anything to avoid a confrontation with you. Any reprimand will not need to go further than a raised eyebrow in his direction.
His attendance and levels of co-operation will shoot from execrable to exemplary.

You have succeeded, once again, in perpetuating the wicked mystery that is Do Not Come Into My Class.
Now, tell me another way you could have made that happen without paying the kid cash?