As we’ve discussed in the last two entries (see “Administrative Paperwork I” and “Lesson Plans”), planning and recording/figuring grades takes the most time of all the administrative paperwork, but plenty more crops up on a daily basis. If a student messes up in my class to the point where I have to take measures more severe than just glaring or yelling at him, I will have two options at my school, both of which require filling out forms.
A detention needs the kid’s name, ID number, my name, the date on which the detention will be served and a check mark for one of several standard offenses. (“Tardies,” “Insubordination,” and “Other” are my favorites.) If the problem were really bad—he was cursing me out or refused a reasonable request (“Sit down and be quiet!” for example)—then I need a dean’s referral, which calls for the same information as a detention with the addition of a written account of just what the little jerk did that got me so mad:
“After I repeatedly asked Hugo to stop carving his initials in his desk, he proceeded to gesticulate in my direction with the middle digit of his left hand. He then uttered several obscenities, most of which suggested that I had an unhealthy relationship with my matriarch. He then exited the room, with a final metaphor comparing me to a bodily orifice.”
We definitely need a paper trail on the unacceptable behavior of our miscreants, so most don’t begrudge the necessity of this kind of paperwork, although I do believe that a single change in teacher behavior could make a huge difference in the necessity of giving out detentions and writing referrals. Believe it or not, this one wouldn’t even cost any money.
Every school has x number of minutes of passing time between classes to allow for the students to scurry from room to room. Depending on the size of the school, these times range from three to seven minutes, with five being the most common. (Five also makes scheduling and keeping track of when classes end simpler since with 50-minute periods, periods always end on a number on the clock. You wouldn’t think that something this basic would matter, but when you’re dying for the period to end, you don’t want to have to figure out how many minutes away 9:43 is—much easier if it’s 9:45.) This passing time is the most out-of-control time, outside of lunches, during the school day, thus the time most likely to generate behavior issues.
Fights, cursing, tardies, smoking in the bathrooms, unauthorized cell phone usage, and general mayhem don’t usually happen in the middle of a class, but in the noisy chaos of passing time. Every year I hear my colleagues complain that the behavior in the halls is getting worse between classes. But I have a magical solution to this problem that I have spent years refining and revising—please remember that this is a copyrighted work so that if you attempt to take credit for this idea, I will have to sue you, not to mention the usage fees you would owe me. Are you ready? OK, here goes: Teachers should stand in the halls outside their classrooms during passing time.
I know; you’re floored by the sophistication and brilliance of this complex idea. Seriously, I’m convinced that we could cut the discipline problems at my school by 32.5793 percent (Whoops, you caught me using one of those computer grade programs.) with this simple change in teacher habits. And believe it or not, administrative paperwork has contributed to this habit’s fading away. Because teachers feel pressed for time perpetually, they now use passing time to get ready to teach in the classroom. Writing the assignments on the board, getting handouts ready to go, setting up labs, turning on all the computers, etc., all keep teachers from hanging out in the halls between classes.
But, strange as it sounds, standing in the halls is one of my favorite parts of the school day. One reason is that it’s a way to keep in touch with ex-students. I’ve taught mostly freshmen over the years; after they are finished with my class, they have three more years to go, but in a big high school, I might never see them again if I’m not outside when they pass by.
Then too, just by seeing the same kids passing by every day, I’m bound to meet and connect with a couple each period, even if they are never in my class. The more students who know teachers in non-teaching roles, even if it’s just the clown who hangs out in the hall every day, the better the kids feel about school, lessening discipline issues.
Most importantly, proximity is one of the best preventatives out there. If I’m standing right next to a student rummaging in his locker, no matter how geeky that kid is, he’s not going to be targeted by bullies with me two feet away. The deeply in-love couples will certainly think twice about making out with some geezer glaring at them. Why scream obscenities when you’re going to get nailed immediately? I’ve seen lots of fights in my day, but never have I had one start up in my vicinity of the hall during passing time. And on and on. So any time you hear a teacher complaining about student behavior in the halls, feel free to ask him if he stands in the halls during passing time and smack him in the head if he says that he doesn’t. If we want the halls to be better—and we do—we have to reclaim them; without adult supervision, the students own the halls during passing time—we have to take them back.
So how did a series of articles on “Administrative Paperwork” end up analyzing why teachers should stand in the halls during passing time? The reason is that if we stand in the halls, we can lessen our disciplinary administrative paper load. The grade program issue, unfortunately, will take much longer to sort through—most districts are already using them, and parents have become addicted to the concept of peering into our gradebooks whenever they wish. And just as no one really discusses all that should go into the necessary evil of grading our charges, nobody has considered the unfortunate byproducts of grade programs.
We do need some hardy souls willing to challenge the assumptions behind these foolish creations so that we can all stay focused on the learning which is our real purpose, use calendars to help students and parents focus on the material to be learned, spend more time standing out in the halls, and make our schools safer and calmer. And guess what—this change in emphasis won’t cost one thin dime. It would actually save a bunch of money in not having to buy the expensive grade program software and train all the teachers on how to use it. We need to help teachers get back to their primary purpose: educating our children, not figuring out what their percentages are to the sixth decimal point.