Tools For Your Toolbox

by Arlene Birt


In this long stretch from beginning of the school year to Thanksgiving, the “honeymoon” is over. Here are some tools or ideas that can equip you to keep going.

It’s not fair!

“That’s not fair!  Joel got two marshmallows!”  One of the first-graders complained about the marshmallows after an excellent chapel service in which the speaker tossed marshmallows to the audience.  I remembered another class when a child was complaining about something not being fair and a classmate responded, “Hello, life’s not fair!”

Let’s put this sentence, “It’s not fair!” on vacation.  Write out “It’s not fair!” and put it on a background of mountains or the ocean (any vacation place), and hang it up.  Refer to this when a student states, whines, or fusses,“It’s not fair!”  If a student says this too often while “It’s not fair!” is on vacation, it is not fair to try to bring this sentence back from vacation, so that student will have to write a letter of apology to “It’s not fair!”

Smile!

“Miss Birt, she took my pencil!”

“But I asked for that marker first, and then Sean gave it to Tyler!”

“She stole my book!”

“I can’t find the page.”

“She keeps looking at me!”

“But I didn’t get a turn.”

“Why didn’t I get to write on the board?”

They say these in a whiny voice, with the forehead wrinkled and nose pinched.  Sometimes the mouth is frowning and the feet may be stomping, also.

So what is the antidote for this complaining and whining?  I have a student who is very good at whining and reporting to me.  I’ll call her Lisa.  Sometimes I think Lisa is searching the classroom for something to tell me!  And I know she watches another student in particular, waiting for him to do something wrong so she can tell me about it.

I do want to hear legitimate concerns, and I want the children to feel heard.  I don’t want them to be in a habit of tattling or complaining, though.  One day I talked with Lisa at recess and reminded her to say good words and to smile.  I made her smile before she could go, and it became something fun then, as we both made silly smiles.  Now when the whining continues, I can look at Lisa, catch her eye and give her a big silly smile.  That makes her smile and stop the whining, at least for a bit!

Signs

A hand waves wildly in the middle of a lesson.  I have not asked for responses or questions, so the hand should be down.  I ignore it for a while.  When I do call on this child, she asks, “Can I go to the bathroom?”

I reply, “You need to ask the right way.”

“Oh, yeah,” and she does the sign for “bathroom” and I sign back, “Yes.”

We use different signs/signals in our class. They really help to minimize interruptions during lessons.  The children sign for “bathroom” or “drink” and I respond with “Yes” or “No.”

Our signals are from sign language, but could be any type of signal that is silent communication.  Two fingers crossed may be used for permission to use the bathroom.  A pencil held up is a request to sharpen the pencil.  The teacher may also use signals–we all know what a finger to the lips means. Twirling the finger is “turn around” when we are in chapel.  Crooking the index finger–come here.  Motioning down–please sit down.  Waving both arms in the air –a silent cheer.

Behavior Cards

Some of my students use behavior cards to help them in monitoring their actions, and for accountability and reporting to parents.  We use an index card divided into four sections, with three faces in each section.  One is a smiley face, one has a straight-line mouth, and the third is a frowny face.  I divided the day into three time sections, so I wrote 10:30, 12:30, 2:30 at the top of three boxes, and “End of Day” in the fourth box.  I write the behavior we’re working on at the bottom of the card.  At those times, I meet with the child and we decide how they’ve been doing in the previous two hours.  If they’ve done well with that behavior, they circle the smile.  If they could have done better, they circle the straight mouth, and if they didn’t do so well, it’s the frown.  At the end of the day, we evaluate the entire day.  The child tells me their thoughts about their behavior and what they think should be circled.  I listen, but I have the final say.  This card goes home each day so the parents can see it.

This has been a helpful tool for us.  It keeps the child aware of his behavior and is a visual reminder there on the desk.  It keeps me thinking about what’s happening, and it’s a good way of reporting to the parents.  The school psychologist recommended this for a student last year, and we tried it and liked it.  That child was very visual so this fit that bill. He needed to have his attention redirected, so this worked well to stop and check every couple hours.  This system is working nicely for a student this year – he reminds me to get his card if I forget.  He gives good input into what he should circle.  (Often he is harder on himself than I am!)  His mom is with me on this, and checks his card when he gets home.  If he has frowny faces, he receives discipline at home.

Humor

Humor is great in the classroom, and adds a nice touch to lessons.

We were talking about Abraham and his travels, so I wondered what kinds of things Abraham would have packed for his trip.  “Food!”

“Yes, “I agreed.  “What kind of food?”

“Bread!”  Again, I agreed, and said, “Like pita bread, or pocket bread, flat bread.”

Understanding dawned in the child, as he said, “Oh, like PopTarts!”

Another time, I asked my class, “What do you think teachers do after school?”

They had a variety of answers, like “sometimes they relax,” “check what time it is,” “clean up stuff,” “do stuff on their computer,” “make sure everything is working good,” “have meetings,” and, my favorite: “peek in windows!”

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CONTRIBUTOR: Arlene Birt

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