A Day I’d Rather Forget

The list of bloggables has been stretching for a while so this is kind of a grab-bag, help-Dan-process-a-lot edition. Best to keep moving, probably.

It was only a terrible day because of a terrible third period. I saw most of it coming, but not all. The day before any break is typically tough. Add to this the fact that I last saw that class a full week ago, thanks to block scheduling and a sub day.

As usual, no one got anything done unless by “anything” we’re talking about whining. My word what a bunch of whiny babies. In order to get them to get some classwork done, I’ve put the following incentives/punishments in place:

  1. If they take too long to get started, I add more problems.
  2. If they aren’t getting work done, I’ll double the assignment value.
  3. If they’re talking when I need quiet work, I’ll hold them after class for as much time as they wasted.
  4. If they finish enough classwork, I’ll cancel homework.

And hopefully today was just symptomatic of the upcoming break, because none of this worked. I hate #1 because it uses math — which I want my students to enjoy — as a punishment. (This is why only the dumb English teachers still assign essays as punishment.)

#2, which factors a student’s behavior into her grade, is really morally repugnant to me for complicated and somewhat personal reasons.

The effectiveness of #3 is slowly eroding. The list of students just stretches.

#4 is a good one, though. It’s tangible and positive but if a kid really doesn’t care about classwork, what’s homework gonna do to her work ethic?

So I gave third period homework. And then I told them I would call the parents of any kid who didn’t complete the homework. This is a big deal for some, not so much for others.

No matter what incentives or punishments I throw at my students, nothing works better than a healthy class relationship. I just get sick of browbeating them. I don’t yell at them or call them little shits or anything but I remind them that, damn, there was a really fun activity I had planned for the end of class, an activity my other class got to do, that you guys won’t because it’s taken you so long to find the right page and finish asking me if you have to draw the pictures.

In addition to the whole I’ll-call-your-mommy threat, they’re going to learn in a few more subtle ways the cost of not doing anything, of drawing on my books in pen, of throwing trash on the ground for me to pick up, of calling your classmates “fucking bitch,” of being disruptive during tests, of blowing off lunch detention. (All of which happened today.)

I’ll take the fun miscellaneous random inconsequential question off the opener. Today’s was, how many consecutive days of darkness does Barrow, AK, get each year? (A: 66) The kids’ll deny it but for most of them, it’s the first question they go to.

I’m also done greeting them at the door. So there’s the muscle — the threat to call parents — but there’s also the subtle intimations that they’ve done too little. And they’ll get it. I’m positive.

Today left me only one salvageable scrap, but it was a treasure. Third period would ask stuff like, “Bad day, Mr. Meyer?” and say things like, “You’re pissed; I can tell.”

But I wasn’t, and I’m not. Even when JB disrupted the test, threw paper on the floor, refused to pick it up, and walked out on his lunch detention, I was able to keep cool only because I took things one reasonable consequence at a time.

You can choose to disrupt your neighbor’s test by jumping out of your seat, but you’ll take a zero on your test.

You can choose to disrupt your neighbor’s test by crumpling paper, but you’ll lose fifteen minutes of your lunch.

You can choose to throw that paper on the ground and refuse to pick it up, but you’ll lose five more minutes of your lunch.

You can choose to walk out on detention, but that’ll get really messy for you.

The longer I handle my discipline in-house, the better my relationship with my students. JB’s situation required larger guns than mine, though.

So I found BM, the dean of discipline, and asked him if he could keep a student out of my class for a couple days. I’ve kept my administrative referrals low and the administration in turn has backed me up huge in the moments when I really need them to hurt a kid. Seriously, it’s been so fun having such a supportive squad of administrators. I’m not used to this.

“You don’t owe me anything,” I told my fifth-period freshman algebra class. “I’m paid to do my job; you don’t owe me any sympathy. But third period was awful, and any love you can show me — getting quiet, working hard — I will really appreciate.” And that was a great class.

None of this is very interesting, I guess. I’m even a little bored writing this. But that’s the joy of cold, sturdy professionalism.

I'm Dan and this is my blog. I'm a former high school math teacher and current head of teaching at Desmos. He / him. More here.


  1. I was searching for some lesson plan ideas and came across this old post.

    Thanks for keeping this up. It’s good for me to see old posts and guess from your current writing how you’ve improved over the past year. The past two weeks have been one bad day after another for me. Seeing this helps me remember that I will be a better teacher by this time next year.

  2. I wonder why you’ve instituted four incentives/punishments when you’re not so fond of them. Was it a case of “seemed like a good idea at the time”?

    Reading other posts, it seems #s 1, 2 and 4 are totally out of keeping with your philosophy anyway, but then I’m probably projecting current ideas back into the past.

    #3: keeping them back. If it’s losing its effectiveness because the list of kids is growing longer, I’d say you need to make the punishment more troubling. If students don’t respond well to a moderate punishment and keep acting up, they deserve not only to be punished for acting up but also for disrespecting your previous efforts in disciplining them. You’re quite within your rights to say: “I didn’t overreact before; I just expressed my concerns and trusted that you would improve your behaviour. You’re letting me down and I’m going to raise the consequences if you do it again.”

    Of course you may totally disagree with that; you have a few more years’ experience than me. I’d love to know what you think.