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You’re Killin’ Me, Smalls!

Posted by Tim under Personal

Most of us of a certain age probably remember the movie, The Sandlot. It was an irreverent look at a sandlot baseball team made up of misfits who eventually come together and make something great of their team. Reminiscent of The Bad News Bears, it made us laugh at the uncomfortable situation of knowing these children were acting and talking like adults often do. After laughing, often times we might even be embarrassed by the fact we found something funny.

Because, you know, if that were my kid, it would not have been funny at all. And he may not have survived to play another year.

But it wasn’t my kid.  It was somebody else’s kid. It was somebody else’s problem. We could laugh at the words of these foul-mouthed youngsters because they were going home to some other parents.

It’s a fine line for teachers. Elementary teachers often have 25 to 30 kids in their classrooms that are theirs, but yet they are not theirs. Middle school teachers might have 125 to 150. Some high school teachers have nearly 200.

While they are in our classrooms, we expect them to act like they are our kids. Our rules. Our norms. Our expectations. And yet, a small group of students don’t do anything of the sort. They act out. They can appear to be hurtful and cruel and unfeeling and often seem to totally lack empathy.

It is interesting as a teacher observer to watch students in the classroom. I’m somewhat detached from the goings on. Just a fly on the wall. If a kid acts out, I have the freedom to sit back and figure out the why of her actions. Was she just hit by another student? Was she ignored by the teacher? Did someone take her backpack? Did someone invade her personal space by touching her arm with their finger?

Teachers are busy. They are juggling 17 balls, 8 plates, and 3 very sharp knives all at once all day. They can easily miss the cause of the behavior and focus only on the after effects. And, just like that, the student who was actually a victim becomes the villain. Hallway talks take place. Office referrals are sent. Parent phone calls are made.

I know. I was once in that position and making mistakes with kids all the time. Dealing with these behaviors, and their root causes, is something it takes most teachers several years to master. A few are naturals. But not all. Not by a long shot.

I struggled with classroom management as a new teacher. At the end of my first year, my principal basically said, “Childers, I’ll give you the summer to figure it out. But if it is like this next year, there won’t be a third.” Not exactly helpful, but at least it was motivating. And I figured it out. Mostly.

While I’m observing teachers I watch with more than a little envy while some of them just seem to have kids eating out of their hands. They’ve made that all-important connection. Kids that misbehave everywhere else calm down and do what is expected in this one class. I long to be like that as a teacher. As an administrator. Heck, even as a dad.

Two quotes have guided a lot of my in-class practice.  The first is from that same administrator I mentioned earlier.  He was quite fond of saying, “If you can’t control them, you can’t teach them.” And the second comes from my first Christian education textbook. “If the student hasn’t learned, you haven’t taught.”

Me? I’m better known by one of the more famous the quotes from The Sandlot.

You’re killin’ me, Smalls!


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