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Detention #2: An Interesting Conversation

By Chick Moorman

(Note to readers: Austin is my sixth-grade grandson. As his legal guardian, I single-parent him along with his sister Chelsea, who is fifteen.)

"Hi, Austin. Welcome home."

"Thanks."

"How did school go?"

"Not so good. Had a bad day."

"Really?"

"I got a detention."

"Bummer. That's too bad. Tell me about it."

"I was blurting out in class, fourth hour. Mrs. Trugeon was talking to me after class and I was listening to her, but I was in a hurry. She paused and I thought she was done, so I said, 'Later,' and turned to walk away. That's when she gave me the detention."

"Why do you suppose she gave you the detention?"

"I'm not sure. Maybe she thought I was being rude, but I wasn't. I thought she was done."

"Did you have a disrespectful tone when you said, 'Later'?"

"I don't think so."

"Sometimes when you say 'Later' to an adult, it doesn't come across as too respectful."

"I guess."

"I'll have to call Mrs Trugeon and check it out from her point of view. What do you think she'll tell me?"

"Don't know. Guess you'll have to ask her."

"I'd call her right now, but it's 4 o'clock on Friday. I'm sure she'll be gone."

"Yeah."

(I really wanted to hear Mrs. Trugeon's view of the detention situation, but I didn't have her home phone number and wasn't sure if I could get hold of her, anyway. That's when the "interview" idea occurred to me. Little did I realize at that moment just how much information I would get from Austin by having him role-play his teacher.)

"How about you be Mrs. Trugeon? I'll call her, and you answer the phone and give me her answers?"

"Okay, but I don't know what she'll say."

"Hello, Mrs. Trugeon? This is Austin's grandpa. I just finished talking with him, and he tells me he got a detention in your class today."

"That's right." (This is Austin talking now, role-playing the views of his teacher.)

"I just heard Austin's version of the situation. I thought I'd better talk to you to get your point of view. What happened?"

"Well, we were in the library earlier. Austin and another child were standing next to each other waiting to check out books. They got into an argument and were making fun of each other's last names. I'm not sure what names they were calling each other.

"Later, when we returned to the classroom, I was reading a story about a quilt project we're doing at school. Austin got up in the middle of the story to throw away a piece of paper. After class I talked to him about that. When he decided we were done with the conversation, he said 'Later' to me and started to walk away."

"He just said 'Later' to you and started to leave?"

"Yes."

"Did he say it with an attitude?"

"No. It was pretty flat."

"He didn't put any affect into it?"

"No."

"So he misinterpreted you, thinking that you were finished?"

"Yeah."

"How come?"

"It's not easy when you're in a conversation with a teacher to know if you're done with that conversation."

"Why do you think he turned around and said 'Later' and then took off?"

"Either he was in a hurry, or he didn't want to talk to me."

"What would be your guess?"

"A little bit of both."

"So that was when you gave him the detention?"

"Yes, that was the final straw."

"How did he handle the detention?"

"He pleaded and begged and promised and said he would do anything to avoid getting the detention."

"He tried to change your mind?"

"Yes."

"What did he say?"

"He promised he wouldn't do it again. He asked me what he could do to get rid of the detention."

"How come you remained firm and didn't let him out of it?"

"Pleading and begging don't really work with me."

"At this point, do you think he knows the mistake he made?"

"He's a bright boy. I'll bet he's got it figured out."

"If he had it to do over again, what do you think he'd do now?"

"First of all, he would behave in the library and prevent the problem from happening in that area. And he probably wouldn't get up in the middle of class to throw a piece of paper away. And he would listen to the entire conversation."

"Do you think he learned his lesson?"

"That depends. I'll have to see how he does after he serves the detention. I could tell you tomorrow or the next day, after I see how much progress he makes."

"How will you be able to tell?''

"I know his normal behavior, so I'll be able to analyze how he's acting over the next day or so compared to that."

"Is there any problem with his normal behavior that needs to be improved?"

"Actually, there's a problem with my entire fourth hour. It's my worst class in terms of making comments. When we read things, someone makes a comment and then it seems like they all have to make a comment."

"Aren't people supposed to comment on what's being read?"

"By the time the students joke around and make all their comments, we've spent 30 minutes reading a story that normally takes a couple of minutes."

"That must be distracting."

"Very! And it takes up a lot of their time."

"Does Austin know he's doing this?"

"He blends in with the other kids. He knows that he does it, but he doesn't give it much thought. He's probably just fitting in."

"Is Austin the worst one?"

"Well . . . no. I couldn't tell you who's the worst one, because everyone in my fourth-hour class makes comments."

"Why do you suppose the students do that in fourth hour?"

"I don't know. Just like I told them the other day, I don't have a clue. I think they've been doing it for so long that they can't stop themselves now."

"What do they get out of it?"

"They get laughs, but it's not worth it. Sometimes they have to stay after class and miss part of lunch to read the stuff they missed."

"What will Austin have to do now to demonstrate that he's changed his behavior?"

"He's going to have to stop commenting in class, and he's going to have to behave better in the library, because he and a few other boys are constantly making noise there."

"So he's been behaving inappropriately for quite a while in your class?"

"He's been doing a lot of laughing."

"So there has been a problem for quite a while."

"Yes."

"I think he's a pretty nice kid overall, though. Don't you?"

"I don't really know him well enough to have an opinion, but I'm sure if I got to know him, he would probably be that way."

"What are two or three things you'd like to see him change?"

"I'd like to see him stop making comments."

"You don't want him to say anything in class?"

"No, not that. But what happens is, we'll be reading along in a story and then someone will make a funny comment. Then someone else will add on, and someone else, and by the end you could probably make a novel out of it."

"So one of the things Austin needs to do in your class is refrain from commenting so much."

"Yes, all the kids need to do that."

"Anything else for Austin?"

"He reads ahead in stories when we're reading in our Lit books. He has an accelerated reading level, but I want him to stay with the class."

"What's the problem with his reading ahead?"

"When I call on him, he has to search for the spot and it's not really that good."

"Anything else he does that needs to be improved?"

"He acts like a know-it-all."

"I've seen that some at home too."

"Once I told the class that there was a major penalty in the story and he just blurted out aloud, telling the whole class what it was. I wanted them to read it for themselves. He had to sit out in the hallway for that. Another thing is, he blurts out a lot."

"Why do you suppose he acts like a know-it-all?"

"Umm, I don't know."

"No idea?"

"No."

"If you asked him, what do you think he would say?"

"I honestly don't know."

"Anything else you think I should know about?"

"No, nothing that I can think of."

"Tell me what you like about him."

"He does his work. I have some kids who never do their work. It seems like he really likes to read. But sometimes that can be a problem, because he likes to read before his work is done. Sometimes he drifts away to a whole different world. But he has good writing ideas. His stories are done very well. His good area is reading and writing."

"Maybe he shouldn't be bringing his leisure reading books to class."

"I shouldn't have brought that up. I think he just likes to read."

"He is getting his work done in your class?"

"Yes."

"Maybe you and I can work together on this, because he does some of the same things at home. All in all, he's a good kid."

"Yep."

"He's got a big heart. He's a lovable kid and he's going to make a major contribution someday. I don't know what it is, but I know it's going to be an important one. I appreciate everything you're trying to do with him to help him learn to be respectful and to learn the things he needs to learn in literature class. And I want to thank you for giving him that detention, because I want him to learn that when he chooses disrespectful behaviors, he chooses a detention, and when he chooses other behaviors, he doesn't choose a detention. I want him to know that he's in charge of whether or not he gets a detention. Do you think he understands that notion?"

"Yes, I think he does. I know you're an author and that you write books about responsibility, so I'm sure you give him lots of talks about responsibility. Yeah, I'm pretty sure he can handle responsibility. Especially with you as a grandparent."

"He's learning. He's come a long way on that. If you have any more trouble or if any good things happen, I'd like to hear about them. Thanks for taking the time to talk to me about this."

"You're welcome."

"Bye."

"Bye."

Five minutes later Austin and I left the house to drive into town.

"I just got off the phone with your teacher," I told him.

"Yeah," he said, "what did she say?"

Chick Moorman is the author of "Parent Talk: How To Talk To Your Child In Language That Builds Self-Esteem and Encourages Responsibility," and "Spirit Whisperers: Teachers Who Nourish A Child's Spirit." (Personal Power Press, toll free, 877-360-1477.) He publishes FREE E-newsletters for parents and educators. Contact him (ipp57@aol.com) to get your free subscription to one or both newsletters.