Boundaries of Behavior, Parallelograms, and the Art of Forgiveness

Barry Garelick, via a kind email:

There are a variety of methods one can use to discipline students: detentions, referrals, sending the student outside of class, contacting the parents. I was confused about most of them and resisted using them. Lunch-time detentions were especially tricky because of a dual lunch schedule at my school. Because of the limited space for lunch there were two lunch periods for the two grades. This meant that during the eighth grade lunch period, I was teaching my fourth period class (pre-algebra).

The first person I ever referred was Peter in my fifth period algebra 1 class. He showed disrespect in a number of ways. He would sometimes say in a sarcastic Eddie-Haskell-like tone: “I think you made a mistake—oh but I know you’re a great teacher,” which would elicit knowing giggles from others. One time when he was particularly disruptive, I sent him outside which in this school meant outdoors. The school was a collection of modules—all classrooms opened to the outdoors. Sandra, another disrupter, waved to him on his way out and called “We love you, Peter.” He has a fan club, I thought—just what I need.

Her seat was next to the wall on the other side of which Peter now stood. She pounded on the wall to get his attention. I heard the pounding, and saw Peter’s head appear in the window as he jumped up to see what was going on. Not knowing the details of the event, I assumed wrongly that Peter had been doing the pounding. I got him back inside and gave him a referral. As I filled out the form, Peter protested and Sandra quickly confessed. “It was me who was pounding on the wall,” she said. I knew Sandra was telling the truth but I decided I had no time for details; the die had been cast. I needed an example. Plus, if the class thought I was acting irrationally or in error, then it was a signal that they better be quiet and not risk my irrational actions.