Rock Star Status
One of the greatest things about having a dog and being an Elementary PE teacher is that I always feel like a rock star. Every single time I walk into the house, Buckets wags that whip-like tail back and forth and pounces forward to give me kisses. Likewise, my elementary school students will hang out of bus windows; yell down the hall or run across the playground to get my attention. It’s like being Beyonce without the paparazzi. However, while my dog will continue to treat me like royalty no matter what I do, it is incumbent upon me as the teacher to foster a continually positive relationship with my students.
Buckets loves to have her tummy rubbed. We use cute little “baby talk” when we want her to do something and we pat her head when she does something terrific, like going out her doggy door. Thankfully, physical education is one of the only areas of education where touching students is still acceptable. High fives, a pound or a turkey are all positive touches P.E. teachers and coaches use to acknowledge student performance. (High five- open palm to open palm, Pound- fist to fist, Turkey- wide open hand to fist.) A simple gesture with a “Duchene Smile” goes a long way to making students feel special when they have done something terrific. I try to encourage my students to use them as well.
Somehow, with puppies it is easy to be positive. Teaching hundreds of children every day can sometimes bring out the negative in even the Mary Poppins of teachers. I read somewhere that you need to say 10 positives to every one negative. I don’t know if there is any science behind that but I believe the sentiment to be true. Here is a trick that I use every now and then. I take 10 pennies and put them in my left pocket at the beginning of the class. Every time I make a positive statement to a student, I move a penny to my right pocket. I can use this personal reminder with the whole class or with that one student that I find myself having difficulty staying positive with.
I know there are some people that are against tangible rewards. I myself am not a fan of the “everyone gets a trophy” concept; however, there is no denying that Buckets and my students respond to the smallest cookie or trinket. I try to save the tangible rewards for special occasions. I also believe it is important to wean both Buckets and my students from extrinsic motivators once they understand the behavior that is expected. I like to use stickers, certificates, life size pictures (see Wall of Champs) and any of the freebies I have picked up from AHPERD conventions.
We had Buckets for less than a week and she was going out of her dog door and “doing her business” outside. What proud parents we were. I posted to Facebook and bragged about how brilliant our little girl was until she did her “business” in the dining room during the second week. Whether it is as simple as not completely understanding the expectations or whether it is attention getting behavior, our puppies and elementary school students sometimes regress. I find it happens a lot just before or right after a vacation with my students. The expectations at home are not always the same as they are at school. I once sat through a lecture about how we need to understand the culture that our students are coming from and adapt our programs to their culture. I can understand and appreciate where my students are coming from; however, just as we expect everyone in society to modify their behavior when they walk into a religious building, a museum, or a library, I believe we should expect our students to abide by the rules of behavior in our educational setting. Regression can be expected. I believe in reteaching respectful, responsible and safe behavior in the physical education setting and keeping standards high.
Buckets has sharp as razor baby teeth and she loves to use them! We give her a stern “No” and replace with a biting appropriate toy. In my classroom, I try to reprimand using “the look” first. I can’t really describe “the look” but it seems to work for most students. I also try to use humor without sarcasm to defuse a situation when possible. In physical education, I think we are lucky in that all sports use some kind of negative reinforcement to deter rule infractions. I will explain to students that in hockey a penalty results in time spent in a box watching the rest of your team play without you. In basketball, the other team might get a free shot at the basket. Setting up negative reinforcers in PE makes sense. I often use the term, “sitting out for safety,” when I feel that a student is being a danger to himself or others. While I believe that there should be concrete, consistent, appropriate consequences for inappropriate actions in the gymnasium, I also believe it should be one of the tools used and not the only tool in your toolbox. Remember the definition of insanity- “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” If all you are doing is punishing and it is not changing behavior, you need to try something else!
Buckets is now 11 weeks old! She is house trained, can come, sit and shake… when she wants to! Just like my students, learning to be socially appropriate takes time and practice. Some students will pick up social cues just by watching, while others will need structured instruction and practice. For these students, patience and a plan are necessary. As you enter next year and a new group of students, may you be prepared with a behavioral plan, have the patience to stay positive and faith in your students.