The 2016 Presidential Election was an incredibly tough one. It was long, it was drawn out, and it was ugly. It also had an outcome that a lot of people--and a lot of our students--didn't want. How can we talk about this with them? I take some time in this post to explore the meanings of "tolerance" and "love" and how we can have open, respectful discussions about the election results in our classrooms.I want to preface this by saying that this is not a political post. This is a post about how I am dealing with the 2016 election in my classroom. If I am going to be honest, some of my views will come out, but I will in no way demean the side I did not support. I do think that 2016 has been particularly challenging for educators, and I think that we will all benefit from discussing it honestly, yet kindly.

This election season was ugly. I cringed during all of the debates. There was name-calling. There was fear-mongering--from both sides.

I live in the deep South, and I teach at a diverse school. I teach children of immigrants who felt vilified by Trump. I teach white students identifying as "rednecks" who felt like Clinton had placed them in a "basket of deplorables." I teach African-American and LGBT students who feel marginalized by both sides. I teach females--and I am one.

This might seem like an odd and somewhat personal place to begin this, but twelve years ago, I had some health issues that prevented me from having children. There are far more difficult things to go through in life, but I was pretty low. My aunt sent me a sermon of C.S. Lewis's called "The Weight of Glory."

I read it each night before I went to bed. It made me cry. It comforted me. It helped me get through a tough time by looking at other people in a new way. Regardless of your faith, there is a valuable message in this sermon.

 Essentially, Lewis argues that we should do more than merely tolerate each other as human beings. We should love each other.

Think about it. Merriam-Webster defines tolerate as "allow the existence, occurrence, or practice of (something that one does not necessarily like or agree with) without interference."

Tolerate almost means to disregard. Sure, you disagree, but you let it happen. You coexist, but you don't interact.

Love means "an intense feeling of deep affection." You may disagree, but you care about the person. You interact.

Maybe all the talk of tolerance is part of the problem. Why would you stand up for someone you merely tolerate? They have become "the other," the "out group." We don't mind building a wall around them or putting them in a basket and sending them down the river.

On Tuesday morning, I woke up optimistic. I began to realize halfway through the day that it was because I was convinced that by 10 PM EST, we, The United States of America, would have our first female president.

I grew up in a society that marginalized women. Women were mothers and wives. We had a place, and we should not deviate from it. I always believed that it was a mistake, and it made me angry, but it was the way things were.

When Trump said the things he did about women, it made me extremely angry. We aren't merely decorative and sexual beings. We have intellects. We can be leaders. I am truly, truly indignant that the only value he acknowledges in women is beauty. (BTW, even Lewis in his profound sermon said that women should submit to their husbands--I love you, C.S. Lewis, but I am not a child).

So, when I thought Clinton was going to win, I was ecstatic. When Trump actually won, I was devastated. I actually stayed up most of the night crying and texting my dad (a reluctant Trump supporter). I did not post on social media. It was way too personal for me.

I am still coming to terms with the result. But I have realized a couple of things: 

1. I often feel disenfranchised as a woman. That's one reason I so desperately wanted Clinton to win.

2. Many of my students and their parents obviously feel the same way, which is why they voted for Trump.

3. If we're all feeling disenfranchised for one reason or another (Black Lives Matter, The Wall...) then we should listen to each other. And empathize. And NEVER assume that just because we're not experiencing it that someone else isn't.

I don't agree with Trump supporters, but they deserve a voice. We all do. So we talk about the election in my classroom--from all sides--as long as we can keep it nice. I will not tell them how to think. I love them too much for that.

Sometimes we teach classes of students who are nice but distracted. They're not intentionally misbehaving or being rude, but they're jittery and chatty. One way I've decided to combat this issue is to implement a class contract. Another ways that's effective is to reward the positive behavior when it's displayed as an encouragement to get back on that path. What do you do with a distracted class?
Last year, I had some of the most difficult students that I've ever taught. I wrote about it HERE. I got through it, and so did they. In order to do so, I had to target very specific, undesirable behaviors from individual students and approach it with behavior contracts. Believe me, I tried targeting positive behaviors first, and that was not effective under those circumstances.

I've encountered something different this year. My students are very nice across the board and overall, a pleasure to teach.

But one of my classes is more crowded than it probably should be and full of larger-than-life personalities, including a large portion of the JV football team.

Oh, my, those guys are not interested in sitting still.

If you read my blog often, then you know that I do lecture, but that I try to keep it down to the bare minimum and offer activities that involve getting up and getting active. That's how the kids learn, and that's the goal.

But when I'm talking, I need them to listen. When I turn them loose to work on their Chromebooks, I need them to work.

Here's what was happening in that class:

Me, passionately lecturing about absolute rulers in Europe.

In my periphery, Student A gets up to throw something away.

Student B's hand shoots up, "Can I go to the bathroom?" (And I can't help but respond with my usual, "I have faith that you can." It makes me and only me laugh every time.)

Student C giggles into Student D's ear, as Student E says, "Go back a slide, I missed the last part."

Well, Student E, you missed the last part because you were distracted by Student A's walking across the room and Students' C and D talking, not to mention my HILARIOUS response to Student B.

And....that's not fair to you. So sorry--my bad.

So--what to do when the kids are nice, generally cooperative, but just not quite doing what they should be?

That is the perfect opportunity to target those positive behaviors that they generally display.

There are all kinds of apps and programs out there to help organize all of this, and I love using technology in the classroom, but when it comes to management, I have found that I prefer simple, to-the-point, and low-tech.

Here's what has worked for this class so far:

Give Them Ownership 

Have a candid discussion with them. Say something like, "This is a great class, and I really enjoy you all, but we get distracted a lot. That wastes our time. When our time is wasted, we're not learning, and learning is why we are here."

Ask them what behaviors they should be displaying to make the best use of their time. They may say things like, "Listening...Staying in our seats unless we're supposed to be up...Being respectful of each other...Taking turns to talk...Being on the right website(s)...Doing our work...Keeping cell phones put away...etc." As they speak, write these things on the board.

Then create a class contract that begins with something like. "I agree to do the following...."

Give Them Consequences   

Acknowledge when they are doing right. For years, I was opposed to rewarding students for behaving appropriately. That's what they're supposed to do. Their desire to do right should be intrinsic.

But many things should be that aren't. And with that logic, it would also stand to reason that we should not have consequences for negative behaviors. But we do. We must. Consequences--both positive and negative--are a part of life.

Many of our students are desperate for attention. If the only attention they can get comes from negative behaviors, then not offering reinforcement for positive behaviors will encourage misbehavior among a portion of our students.

Rewards can be as simple as a call home when a student is doing right. Something I've seen teachers do that seems pretty effective is to give students a raffle ticket randomly when they are doing right. At the end of the week, they have a drawing, and a certain number of students win a small prize.

I'll probably try that at some point because I like the immediate acknowledgement of a ticket and the anticipation of a raffle, but what I'm doing now is tied into my class contract.

After I list the behaviors that the students and I came up with, I write, "If I ever fail to honor this agreement, the consequence will be a strike. Three strikes in a week will result in a phone call home, etc."

I print a roster and don't say anything, but I put a mark by students' names for a strike. They usually think about it and know right away that they've gotten one.

Keep in mind that the behaviors that I'm dealing with this semester are mostly distracting, not dangerous or disrespectful, so they start each week with a clean slate. If they make it to the end of the week with no strikes, I spin a virtual wheel (I LOVE these wheels and use them all the time in my classes--find them here, just be sure to create a free account so you can save your wheels). I put each student's name on it, and whoever the spinner lands on gets an assignment pass. Then I give everyone who didn't get a strike a small prize like a piece of candy or a mechanical pencil (these are seriously coveted).

They get really excited about the assignment pass, even though it's not good for tests, quizzes, or projects.

Sometimes we teach classes of students who are nice but distracted. They're not intentionally misbehaving or being rude, but they're jittery and chatty. One way I've decided to combat this issue is to implement a class contract. Another ways that's effective is to reward the positive behavior when it's displayed as an encouragement to get back on that path. What do you do with a distracted class?
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How do you manage "distracted" classes? Leave a comment below, and let me know.

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