4.2 Fall 2022

October 17, The last straw

I reached my limit with Helen’s homeroom class of 5-3 today. They didn’t recognize any of the warning signs that they were in dangerous territory, signs that every other class I’ve ever had has responded to immediately.

I try to pause and then react when managing the classroom, and I don’t raise my voice, unless I’m trying to be heard over a speaking pairs game to signal the end.

But 5-3 drove me to do something I haven’t done. I raised my voice at them.

Class had been going on for 15 minutes, with incessant chatting from all corners of the classroom. Two boys switched seats back and forth as some weird joke. And despite their incessant private conversations, few volunteered to play or answer which is a rarity reserved for late stage sixth grade senioritis. No matter how many times we stopped, paused, and restarted, the kids did not pick up my disintegrating patience. The strain had started back in August, when their dubiously acceptable classroom behavior turned a permanent corner for the worse.

I had given them another opportunity, and one rude boy kept talking through it. I knew the thin membrane keeping me together was stretched to its max.

I tapped the board marker on the chalk shelf.

clang clang clang

This is always enough to alert my other classes that they are in danger, and the sound of ringing metal is impossible to ignore.

But these kids did and the last tiny fray of my patience snapped. I slapped the marker three times on the metal shelf.


They shut up.

“You are making me very angry,” I told them in a raised voice.

“I am trying to be patient and I am trying to endure, but I simply cannot. This behavior is intolerable. What’s wrong? What happened to you?” I said, walking to the middle of the room and gesturing to all of them. I wanted to ask them how often they had seen me like this, which was close to zero. They should know this is serious.

The boy without the ability to read the room opened his mouth and I turned on him.

“I am trying to be patient but you’re making it impossible.” His mouth clicked shut.

I turned back to the class.

“I am really upset. I don’t like yelling but it’s come to this.”

There was a heavy silence as I looked back at the room, daring them to try something. I felt myself shaking and upset. How many more classes did I have with them? I stopped counting once I realized it was more than ten.

“We’re not going to play any more games today, because you don’t want to. You are going to write.”

I then made them write the sentences that I originally had assigned for a duel game. I don’t want writing to be a punishment, but in this case, they are physically incapable of keeping quiet unless they have a pencil in hand.

In an inflectionless voice, I asked them to spell each sentence out loud. After that, I told them “I made three games for you today but we’re not going to play any of them. Instead you’re going to watch this YouTube video in silence.”

I sat behind the teacher’s desk with a thousand yard stare, counting down the minutes until class was over.

Then I taught 5-4, and my bad memories were washed away. Why is every other class capable of following directions but this one? Do I have to make a separate boring lesson plan for 5-3 every week? Looks likely.

I asked Jack later if he had the same terrible experience with 5-3 and he confirmed, “They are not good. They are the worst of the fifth grade classes.”

He then proceeded to talk to MJ and Wendy in Korean about the problems in fifth grade for ten minutes. I would have liked to join in and let off steam but that would be asking a lot from someone with whom I’ve had roughly two conversations this year.

I elected to take a nap instead of taking it personally.

The Monday blues are real.

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