Question: I have a middle school student who never has a pencil. I have used the Teacher Talk Advantage strategies of "Next time," The One-Minute Behavior Modifier, and the Power of One. I sent him to the Responsibility Room to create a plan, I debriefed it with him several times like you suggested. He still does not bring a pencil. Is there any Teacher Talk that will work with him?
Answer: How about this? "Here is a pencil. I live in the land of a thousand pencils and I will always have a pencil for you."
You might be immediately thinking, "That doesn’t hold him accountable, that works against Opportunity Equals Responsibility, there is no consequence for his choice." That is true. And just how well has holding him accountable been working for you so far? Let's get conscious. What you have been doing is NOT working. It is time to do something else.
We have witnessed and used a lot of ideas that fall in the something else category over the years. They include.
Send a note home.
Select a pencil stub out of the box on the teacher's desk.
Sign a contract.
Carry a reminder note in your pocket.
Use a rubber band on your wrist to remind you.
Borrow one from the teacher with a special object taped to the top.
Give the teacher an object of yours to hold for collateral until you return it.
Sit without one.
Listen up. None of these work. All of them have some subtle form of humiliation or shame attached. None of them build relationship. None say, "I care about you and I care about you learning this material."
Instead say, "Here is a pencil. I live in the land of a thousand pencils and I will always have a pencil for you." Say it the first time only. Then say it the second time only. And the third time. And every time.
"Here is a pencil. I live in the land of a thousand pencils and I will always have a pencil for you," eliminates humiliation, power struggles, and student anxiety. It lowers the chance that a student will dread having to come to you class without one.
Yes, some students might take advantage of you. You might end up giving them 30 or more pencils in one semester. Consider they are teaching you. They are giving you opportunities to learn how to hold a child in a state of grace as they test your patience and commitment. Can you hold that child in a state of grace as you give her the 20th pencil? The 40th?
What do you want this student to remember about your classroom ten years from now? Do you want her to remember that you made her sit without one, sent her away because she arrived unprepared or that you always welcomed her with, "Here is a pencil. I live in the land of a thousand pencils and I will always have a pencil for you."
"Where do you get all those pencils?" a student will ask one day. Every student will hear your answer. "I get them from garage sales, donations from businesses, friends, relatives, I ask for them for my birthday, I put ads in the newspaper, and I ask for them on facebook. When you want something bad enough you find a way. It works with pencils and it works with anything else in your life that you want badly enough."
With a thousand pencils you change the structure of your classroom. You have now helped create a structure that is safer emotionally, where students no longer create anxiety over not having a pencil, where they are not afraid to admit the lack of a pencil. When you say, "Here is a pencil. I live in the land of a thousand pencils and I will always have a pencil for you," you send several messages simultaneously. Your Teacher talk communicates:
"I care about you."
"You are more important to me than whether or not you have a pencil."
"You are safe here."
"Your basic needs will be met here."
"I see you as much more than your pencil behavior."
"I like you if you have a pencil and I like you if you don't have a pencil."
"You are welcome here."
"Welcome to the land of a thousand pencils."
Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller are the coauthors of The Teacher Talk Advantage: Five Voices of Effective Teaching. They are two of the world's foremost authorities on raising responsible, caring, confident children. They publish a free monthly e-zine for educators and another for parents. To sign up for the newsletters or learn more about the seminars they offer teachers and parents, visit their websites today: www.chickmoorman.com and www.thomashaller.com
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