Reflection: On Arguing

Twitter Version: I don't argue.

At the end of last year, I did a couple reflection posts. Now, it is time for me to reflect on some things I learned this year.

My first year of teaching, I spent a lot of time arguing with my students. At one point, the VP came and talked to one of my students outside my classroom with me. I remember so vividly the way she handled that situation. He had done something wrong, and she was lecturing him. He started a weak protest, and she said, "Sir, this is not a time for you to argue, you will listen to me now." That sounds like a harsh and unhelpful way to talk to a student, but it is really quite effective. I know there is a lot of talk about how we should treat students--they are people too, after all. I think there is a fine line you have to walk in these situations. You need to treat people like adults when they deserve. Not all students deserve that treatment, especially when they are just arguing for argument's sake.

This is how I handle situations now. When a kid is goofing off or doing something wrong. I very firmly and authoritatively tell them to leave the room. When I get outside, I ask them questions like:
  • Why are you out here?
  • What is causing you to act like this?
  • Why would your behaving like this make me upset?
  • How would this behavior cause problems in the classroom?
If, at any point during our conversation, they want to argue, I immediately interrupt them and tell them that they are not permitted to speak right now. They are out here to answer my questions. I never raise my voice or get angrier at them. If they continue, I calmly say something like, "M., we are not here to argue."

If they still argue, I repeat the above and say, "You did X wrong, and it has created a big enough problem in class that I need to come out here to talk to you. You will have your opportunity to say your peace after you answer my questions." Invariably, their peace is, "I understand that what I did was wrong, and I am sorry."

Nearly always, I give them an opportunity to say or add anything else. My belief is that if they answer my questions, I should answer theirs. Usually, this consists of them saying "Someone else started the problem" or "Why didn't you get so-and-so in trouble?"

When they ask those questions, I focus them on themselves, and talk about what they did and say that I will deal with the other student as needed. Usually this works pretty well, because it is almost always the same kids that do something wrong. (Hmm, that sounds like a whole other blog post.)

This method has been very effective for me this year. Students have behaved better, and even though it is the same kids goofing off, they have been goofing off less this year, and problems have been resolved quicker, and with less administrative involvement.

Have a Good Life.

Image: Busted (my title). Crop of IMG_2994 by Mr. Woo