Thursday, August 23, 2007

The movie moaner

Last night I saw La Vie En Rose, the hard-hitting portrayal of singer Edith Piaf's rise from the streets of Paris to the stages of New York City. The movie was bold and graphic, illustrating the depths one can sink to in this life, be it of neglect, drug abuse, heartache, or self-loathing.

About 15 minutes into the film, a woman in her early 50's entered the theater - which was less than half full - walked in front of me and my fiancee, and sat down next to me. I thought this was a bit strange.

The woman then proceeded to make loud moans and gasps whenever anything slightly dramatic happened. Given that this was a dramatic movie, and dramatic things were happening about once every 30 seconds, the woman's grunts, exclamations, and utterances were, to put it mildly, making me uncomfortable.

Every time I would look in her direction, I would see her wearing a narcotic smile and staring intently at the screen. She was completely oblivious to the sounds she was making, or was pretending to be oblivious. My fiancee even "shusshhed" her, but to no avail.

At one point I thought of asking her to be quiet, but I didn't want to cause a scene. My fiancee and I ended up moving forward a few rows, and although we weren't fully out of her range, we did enjoy the rest of the film.

This encounter with the movie moaner made me think about my methods of classroom management. I'm the type of person who would prefer to ignore a behavior until it goes away rather than react like a volcano at any annoyance or distraction. I, frankly, don't enjoy confrontation, and have never viewed myself as a type A authority, like a policeman or Army sergeant.

I don't like yelling at people because it raises my blood pressure and causes me to get tight in the chest. I believe that reason and understanding are the keys to resolving conflicts and disputes, not "because I said so." I've always been unimpressed with people who give orders and demands without proper justification. As a teacher I do my best to explain everything that we do in the classroom. Sometimes the students don't really care why, and in that case we just roll with it. But if they ever want to know my reasoning for teaching a novel a certain way or giving a specific assignment, I am happy to share my thought process with them (and how that process aligns with school and state curricula). I feel it's something they deserve.

Sometimes there are moments when I have to put my foot down and kick a student out of the room. I don't like to do it. I want my students to stay in the room and take part in whatever activity or lesson we have planned for that day. But when a student ceases to be reasonable, and is distracting his or her classmates from learning, and attempts at redirecting the student have failed, the student has got to go.

Had the movie moaner been one of my students, I would have politely asked her to listen and watch the movie quietly. If she continued moaning, I would have given her a clear warning so she knew the next offense would result in a disciplinary measure. If the warning didn't work, and she moaned again, I would write the name "Movie Moaner" in my "detention den" (a small rectangular box in the bottom right corner of my board) and send her to the hallway.

Once the movie moaner came after school for a 20-minute detention, I would remove her name from the board. If she didn't show up, the next time she moaned after receiving a warning she would be sent to our school's Planning Room, rather than the hallway. The Planning Room is staffed by a professional who telephones the student's parents and explains the offense. A trip to the PR is accompanied by an office detention, and negates a student's opportunity to participate in any extra-curricular activities planned for that day.

I probably sent 15 students to the PR my first year of teaching at my current school. Last year I didn't send any. I don't know what this year will bring, but I'm hoping that I can provide students with such an intellectually engaging class that they'll have little time or inclination for disruptive behavior.

Of course, regardless of what I create for my students, there will be a handful of movie moaners I'll need to deal with over the course of the year. Here's hoping reason and understanding can prevail. If not, one of us is going to have to change seats. And I'll tell you right now, it ain't gonna be me!

(Those last two sentences were written in my tuff-as-nails persona. Quite intimidating, eh?)

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