Turning a toddler’s potty seat into a bathroom pass seemed like a great way to discourage middle school students from leaving my classroom for too many breaks.
After all, what self-respecting 11-, 12- or 13-year-old would want to be seen walking down the hall holding a red and green Elmo seat with the expressions “Ha! Ha!” and “LOL?”
I didn’t come up with this idea on my own. Other teachers use it too.
Still, I was wrong. The potty seat goes into the trash and I am starting a new system this week.
Laughing Elmo seat was embarrassing
Elmo’s laughing image did nothing to discourage most boys from leaving my class as often as they pleased. Some would even come back into the classroom holding it high like a sports trophy — disrupting everything that was going on.
And girls who probably really needed a break would look at the potty pass, turn up their noses and go back to their seats.
It might have taken me more than a month to realize I was making a mistake by using the potty seat, but I was fortunate to recently spend a school day with master teacher Stephanie Franquinha, a Chandler, Ariz., Pueblo Middle School teacher and Spanish department chair for the Kyrene School District.
“NEVER embarrass your students,” Stephanie told me when I asked about her classroom management philosophy.
This idea made me stop and think about everything I have been doing since I began teaching in August . I have made rules and given passes, detentions, rewards and praise … but basic politeness has not entered into many of my actions.
I watched Stephanie’s finesse with her large classes of sixth, seventh and eighth graders. Nearly all of the students were very clear about the rules and their responsibilities in class. When one would get out of line, Stephanie would walk over and talk to them quietly. She never stopped a class to call anyone out. The other students did not even look up when she redirected someone here or there.
Quiet classroom management works
At one point, Stephanie took a bottle away from a kid who was playing with it instead of paying attention. I was sure a few heads would turn and watch what was going on. Nope. She and I were the only ones who knew a student had been reprimanded. Everyone else was hard at work.
My own classes have been a bit calmer since my day with Stephanie. But I still have a lot of work to do on my system.
A few weeks ago I asked other experienced teachers to share their wisdom. Here are a few more tips:
Tips from other master teachers
“Keep Sundays for yourself. Run your errands and do everything you need to do on Saturday. Then lay on the sofa with a good book or movie on Sunday,” recommends Kathy Nunez, a history teacher at Kyrene Altadeña Middle School in Phoenix
“Find an exercise outlet that helps you physically and mentally,” advises retired Mesa Dobson High School English teacher Mike McClellan. “I used to take a four-mile run after school.”
“Self correct as you go along and never be too harsh on yourself,” says retired Mesa Redbird Elementary teacher Cindy Eckert-Timm.
“Nice matters,” coaches Beth Snyder, science teacher at Kyrene Akimel A-al Middle School in Phoenix. “You know how they say ‘Don’t smile before Christmas?’ Forget that.
“Laugh at yourself. Eat well. Hydrate. Sleep.”
“Remember that the kids will get it,” advises Sara Adams, a language arts teacher at Kyrene Altadeña. “All teachers doubt themselves but then there is that moment when the light goes on.”
What’s next for my students
Early on, I decided one of my missions is to teach my students how to plan their time and be responsible for themselves in the classroom. The Elmo potty pass was not doing anything to help kids with those goals.
So this week I am going to distribute two cardboard restroom passes to each student — to be used between now and the end of the term. Students don’t use the passes can turn them in before report card time and get extra credit points.
This idea also comes from Stephanie Franquinha. I will write again about how well it works!