When people ask questions about my own kids like, “Where will they go to school?” I have learned to say, “I really won’t know until it happens.” My reason- It seemed over the years every time I said something, especially with regard to my kids’ education, I was WRONG! It happened completely differently. Not one of my children was going to attend full-day kindergarten! I was dead certain. Yes. You know where this is going. For various reasons, not one of which was my going back to work, all of my children were enrolled, one after another, into full-day kindergarten.
It has happened AGAIN! But this time, with my other kids. Those in my classroom. Since I began giving presentations in schools years before going back to “teacher school,” I have had a growing aversion to hand symbols put in the air prompting students to come to attention and stop talking. At school after school, teachers and support staff put hands in the air and slowly, VERY SLOWLY students began to follow suit. I watched horrified as 5, sometimes 10, minutes passed. It felt as though the students all saw the hand symbol and treated it as their cue not to stop immediately and give attention, but to finish their important conversations with peers before maybe looking quietly at the person standing next to the principal who was waiting to begin. HORRIFYING TO ME! Call me old-school, but I decided then, “NO!” In my classroom, when I needed the attention of the students, I was not going to wait for them. They were to learn to immediately respond respectfully to the instructor in the room.
Depending on the time of day, class and where we are, I sometimes use a small bell, a 5-second countdown, clapping rhythms, or sayings to quiet my class, get their attention, give direction and transition to our next activity/lesson. Yet, the end of the first week of school I stood with an aide in my room and mentioned my amazement that sometimes the minute the students stop the clapping rhythm, they just turn to their classmates and continue talking. I attributed it to the first week of school. These little first graders are just learning how to behave in my room. They will adjust accordingly. When the aide mentioned the hand symbols and I relayed my annoyance at them- WOW was she GOOD! More evidence she works well with students with special needs. She just nodded her understanding and quietly mentioned favoring the message the “quiet coyote” symbol sends to students as it concurs with research that students this age are programmed to still respond more quickly to visual as opposed to audio cues. SCHOOLED!!
There it was! I had just been SCHOOLED as my own kids say. I can’t be certain of the meaning of this urban lingo as it is called, but if I had to guess a definition, it was what just happened to me. DUH! I knew that! We teach kids to use pictures in addition to words to understand the meaning of stories. We use visual lessons to support auditory per Howard Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences. I feel like I got hit by a flying dunce cap! I realize after not being able to get her one simple, direct, and incredibly correct statement out of my head for the last 24 hours, that my aversion is not to the visual symbol provided to students in order to get their attention. It was their reaction to it; likely, what I was seeing had to do more with the expectations and enforcement of it. Students took their good ol’ time complying and they were by no means first graders during the first week of school!
So, here I am. I have looked up and made my own sign for our new classroom symbol, the “quiet coyote,” which includes expectations. That does not mean I will not continue to use the other methods that have so far been tried and true for me in the last 2 years I have been in other classrooms. It also does not mean that I will not transition away from using this symbol later in the year as the kids grow. But for now, I have been reminded of the one thing I actually DID KNOW starting this year. There is SO MUCH MORE for this teacher to learn. Later, I’ll let you know if this teacher regains some of the voice she lost this first week while she rests it when using our new classroom hand symbol.