I am the most disruptive student in my class. It's not even a contest.* And I don't mean disruptive in the business-speak "I'm a disruptive innovator" way that whitebread, milquetoast dudes say right before inventing the bus.
I mean I am a disruptive student.
I am the noisiest student in my class. I don't mean that in the "most of the talk in the classroom comes out of my face hole" way, though sometimes that is true too. Let's be honest, I'm the teacher, I should be talking more sometimes. I've got 33 kids this year, I need to stand in front of them and talk on occasion. What I mean in this case, however, is that if there is a high degree of volume coming from my classroom, odds are good that either I'm perpetrating it or I started it. I can't help myself. Sometimes the spirit takes me. I know there are teachers who are able to teach quietly. I've heard talk of them and their magical ability to speak quieter, causing the students to lean in and hang on every word. I've tried it, I have. It works about as well as trying to play a quick game of Monopoly. No matter where I start, I will end up at 11. I blame theater training, because it's easier than saying I can be obnoxiously loud if the mood takes me. I learned to PROJECT to the back of the theater. It's here where I mention that, though I took a lot of theater classes I have never actually been cast in anything. Except plaster that one time, but that was completely different. If my class is working quietly, I will be the one to ruin it. Not to stop them to move on to something new, but because I can't help myself. Without wanting to, I'll say, "Wow, you're all working so quietly. I'm very impressed." And that ruins it.
Which leads me to the next example of how I'm the most disruptive student in my class: There is not a walk too far to make a joke for me. Even a joke my students won't get. Especially, sometimes, a joke my students won't get. Doesn't it get under your skin when someone keeps going for the joke, every joke, and when they reach the joke they start digging into the joke like beneath it is the previously undiscovered remains of a joke from the Paleolithic Era, Clownasaurus Classicus? And the only person amused by this expedition is the person leading it, dragging 33 students behind him? Well, 32. There's always at least one student who is going to discover Andy Kaufman and Monty Python on YouTube in four years and suddenly everything about why no one else thinks they're funny will become clear? I love cracking myself up, and I probably do it a little too much.
And this leads directly to the next example of how I'm the most disruptive student in my class- I've never met a tangent I didn't like. If I'm teaching something and a word or phrase lights up a section of my brain, we're all getting on the bus and taking a field trip to those lights to figure out what's going on over there. I can't resist. These might end at a quick YouTube trip or Google Earth or a brief personal anecdote or a riddle. Don't you know that student that raises their hand in the middle of a lecture and, even though you're going to call on them because their voices matter, you know that whatever is about to come out of their mouths has a 78% chance of being completely unrelated to the topic at hand? A student who is a future question asker at a ComicCon. "I have a question. Well, really a two part question. Actually, it's a comment and a question. But first, a story." I can be that student in my class.
And the last reason I'm the most disruptive student in my class (on this list, but not in a grander list covering all the reasons because at some point your bathroom break will be over and you'll stop reading this on your phone), would be how often I misuse the furniture. The first thing I do when I get new desks is break them, taking legs off, adjusting legs as high as they'll go, whatever. I love teaching from atop a student's desk. Not because of that Robin Williams movie, I'm pretty sure I'm the only teacher alive who has never seen it. But because a desk is there, it's standable (that's a word now), so it shall be stood on. I will pretend that it's because it helps focus the mind wonderfully, when your teacher is standing on your desk or a nearby desk, and I do it as an engagement strategy. But it's not really that, not at first. It's because standing on desks is fun and it allows me to be more *stares into camera* dramatic. Also, it means that on occasion a desk will wobble precariously and I get to test both my balance and my ability to not curse out loud in class. Cat-like reflexes, friends. The cat is Garfield, but still.
"Now Doug," I hear you say in a British accent because I've been watching a lot of Doctor Who recently. "Why would you tell us all this? What does this have to do with being a good teacher? Is there a point to this list of buffoonery?"
First of all, dear reader, well done. How often does one get to use "buffoonery" in a sentence? Secondly, as I tell my students, everything that happens in this room has an academic point. Then I look at them with my Most Serious Teacher Face™ and repeat solemnly, "Everything." Let's take a second pass at that list, shall we?
I'm the noisiest person in my room. Because I'm modelling behaviors I want to see. I want my kids to talk. I want them to talk about what I want them to talk about, normally, but I want them to talk. I get loud not because I'm shouting at them or because I am shouting over them, but because when I get excited about something I get louder. And I genuinely love teaching this stuff. I get excited, and I get louder about it. I want them to see that. Let's be frank (you can still be whoever you are if you'd rather), I wouldn't be able to not let them see that because I'm not good at keeping that stuff on the inside. It shows a freedom of communication, options for communication, and I can also model ways to control those things. Yes, I love being loud about stuff, but that means when I am still and quiet it gets their attention beautifully. I also want them to feel free to think of an idea and bring it up. Hold that thought, we'll come back to it.
The joke thing? Tell me it's bad that students see their teacher laugh. Not at someone else, but at something he finds genuinely funny. Or something he tried to make funny and failed. "Oh, jokes can model failure, Doug?" Aye, my friend. If my history with jokes are any indication. Remember, everything has a reason. Jokes help you find joy in anything, jokes are social lubricant (some of you giggled at lubricant, I know you did, and how dare you, this is a teaching blog). I want my kids to try bad jokes. And then I want to model for them the When and Where of those jokes. There's a lot you can learn from trying to be funny when funny is not the right choice. We're learning more than curriculum here, I saw someone say that in a book once or a thousand times. And when the class does start to click, when we all are getting the jokes, when we've got inside jokes that confuse adults who come into the room to observe? Golden, right there.
The tangents? Where do you think creativity comes from? All my best ideas come because I've trained my brain not to reject paths out of hand. Does that result in dead ends? Sure, sometimes. But, because I've gotten that muscle pretty well trained now, more often than not it results in, "Wait wait wait....oh...ohhhh...ok hold on. Instead of what I just said, let's try this instead." And I can trust that "this" will be just as good, if not better than the original idea. It happens in class, and it happens in planning. The team I work with right now is great for this because we are great sounding boards for each other. Tangents turn into rainbows with gold at the end of them. I live for that gold. Remember that thought from the noise thing I told you to hold. Bring it back. Think about students doing this too. I want them making connections. Make connections wildly and with abandon. How can you link this to that to this? You can't automatically do it, you've got to train that. Which means I've got to let it happen in my class. I do it for my kids, and then I let them do it for themselves.
Which is important here, especially with these first three- I'm talking a lot about what I'm doing and not so much about what my kids are doing. Cardinal sin, because the kids should be the focus. You have to trust me when I say the kids are doing just as much as I am and more. It's all coming together. I'm not disrupting their learning. I'm not attacking my introverts (introverts love to point out when they don't think you're thinking about your introverts, and I love you guys, but let's be clear that hyperbole is funny). It's spice and seasoning and voice.
And abusing the furniture? That's easy- See tools as tools, to be used how you need. I control the tools in my room, and not the other way around. I recognize here that this is very site-specific. But I started doing alternative seating not because I saw a conference session on it. I was struggling with a class, I was chatting with the brilliant and wonderful Jess Lifshitz (follow her if you're on Twitter, oh my Gods follow her right now) about what she was doing, she mentioned the alt-seating she was trying, and I ran with it. Took legs off desks that day. Went to Goodwill for pillows and stuff that day. Started a Donors Choose for wobble stools and whatnot that day. Changed my classroom. Because I saw the furniture in my room the same way I see my textbooks, my pencils, my computers, my cardboard- as tools to bend to my will, and the needs of my students. Because "How can I beak this to make it work" is a positive statement and one I want my kids to take away from my class. Just because something looks one way doesn't mean it is. Just because you think something can't do something doesn't mean it can't. Oh, those sound like metaphors. Hmm.
Oh, also if you say something that reminds me of a song lyric I will sing that entire song. I'm gonna pretend the academic reason for that is that students should be exposed to Queen and Metallica at an early age, and not because I'm literally physically incapable of not doing that.
So maybe I am the most disruptive student in my class. But maybe that works for me, and it works for my students. Plus, see how I'm calling myself a student the whole time, connecting with the whole "always be a learner thing"? Kids notice that too. Being disruptive has helped me be the teacher I am. To see rules as suggestions and all things as a path to the most important thing- The Learning.
Bam, stuck the landing.
*Ok, that's not true. Sometimes it's a contest. I teach upper elementary, after all.
If you like this post and the other posts on this blog you should know I’ve written three books about teaching- He’s the Weird Teacher, THE Teaching Text (You’re Welcome), and the just released A Classroom Of One. I’ve also written one novel- The Unforgiving Road. You should check them out, I’m even better in long form. I’m also on the tweets @TheWeirdTeacher.