After the first few challenging days with my students, things settled down quickly, especially after three students, all boys, were placed on extended suspensions pending expulsion hearings at the district office. I'll post more on them in weeks to come.
Now I was left with thirty fifth grade students (ages 10-11), and while they all had their own issues, we were off and running as a class. That said, they seemed to have their own collective agenda - to test my patience and strength on a minute by minute basis. They did this by constantly talking out of turn, cursing, leaving the classroom without permission to go to the restroom, breaking pencil points on purpose, and chewing gum loudly and incessantly. While I did have firm rules and consequences which I enforced, to be quite honest, my students weren't phased by them at all. They had lived through much harsher situations out in the world like witnessing drug deals and shootings, so by giving them my textbook punishment, I was really instead rewarding them with the one-on-one attention which they craved.
So, how did I get my students to buy into MY education agenda? I did it the old fashioned way, by bribing them with the things that meant the most to them. Starting with bubble gum. For most teachers, the no gum chewing rule is a sacred tenet, usually because gum smacking is disturbing to others and students tend to leave a mess under their desks or seats. I decided to work with their likes and did what I'm sure accelerated my nomination straight into the bad teacher hall of shame, I did allow my students to chew gum in class.
When I first proposed the idea, they were a little thrown (This is good. Always keep your students on their toes). We had a talk about why we should chew quietly and why the trash can was the only sensible receptacle to discard old gum. Another concession made (this was their idea) was that they were allowed to get up from their seat without permission to throw away gum. I let them know that if these conditions weren't met, we'd go back to the no gum chewing policy and the whole thing would be ruined for everyone. All I asked in return, was for their undivided attention while I was teaching.
I was pleasantly surprised by how well my students, for the most part, abided by our social contract and there were some added benefits. While I'm not a dentist, I've read studies where gum chewing (sugarfree) is in some cases encouraged for good oral health. Another benefit, is that the repetitive motion of chewing can be soothing (think of baseball players as an example), and finally, it's hard to chew and talk at the same time.
I'll share more unusual strategies in posts to follow and would like to hear what you've succumbed to with your students or with your own children for the sake of furthering your personal agenda.