No, really, I did. Not a physical punt, mind you, but it was by far the most drastic disciplinary step I have taken in my pathetically short teaching career up to this point.
Perhaps I should rewind a bit and explain the way discipline functions in French–or at least my–schools. From what I understand, students in a middle school age and below seem to respond to threats of calling parents, receiving detentions, and so on. Not to say that they still aren’t cheeky, (I have fallen in love with this British-ism thanks to a particular friend here who uses it in the most DELIGHTFUL ways) but there seem to be more solutions.
My students, being older, pose two problems. Primarily, there seems to be no punishment or classroom behavior system in place at their age. They choose to pay attention when they want and talk when they want, at least in my class, even when I am looking directly at them–and they at me–telling them to be silent. This is not just me, the French teachers I work with suffer the same problems and I have often heard them yelling and banging on things to get attention. I can’t threaten to call parents since I have been assured that neither student nor parent would care too much anyway (possibly unique my school, or the age group in general.) Secondarily, I am not really in a position to give grades, although I’m considering asking for that to change with some of my teachers–assistants in the TAPIF program are usually unfamiliar with the French grading system and thus are discouraged from serious grade-taking. Just a participation grade would do though. The one punishment I know I have the power to dole out is to remove the root of the problem. There is the “CPE”, more or less detention, but that always seems incredibly harsh to me given that my problems basically center on students who just don’t know when to shut their yappers (or at least in French.) I haven’t discussed this with any other teacher, but the one whose class I was teaching today had happened to tell me in the context of another group in the past that if I were to have any real problems to just send the students back to her.
So what was today’s troublemaker doing that got him such an unusually harsh reprimand? (Keep in mind…I’m a pretty easy-going person in general, even when teaching.) Really it was a combination of several things which on their own I would have let slip with only verbal correction, but together…too much. As the class was filing in, I heard (in no hushed tones) behind my turned back this student and his friend chatting, and one of them was saying “DO YOU F*** YOUR MOM? DO YOU F*** YOUR MOM?!” over and over. Unacceptable, obviously, even if the swear words don’t have a heavy weight with these kids since they are foreign–they still know what they are saying, I assure you. So I turned around and informed them that if I ever heard them say that word again, they would leave my class and never come back. (Oh the luxury of leading small individual groups. I can make that call.) To be fair, they did not and apologized. As the lesson started, however, they began a routine they had carried out in my last session with them (forcing me to raise my voice for the first time ever in a sharp manner) which included talking rather loudly while I was going around the room for our activity after being repeatedly asked to be silent…as they were again today, particularly the boy who got in the most trouble. Finally I decided to just put a stop to the problem after asking far too many times for silence, so I asked the boy to move to the other side of the room away from his friend. I thought that would be the end of it, as he got up more or less obediently to do as he was told, but as he was about to walk away and I was attempting to re-start the conversation, he reached over to his friend’s desk and made an incredible racket shuffling his friend’s things and stealing his worksheet. After having already struggled to continue the conversation several times because of them, I snapped, whipped around, and demanded that he return to his teacher’s room immediately. He formed some kind of a protest but I cut him off and just kept repeating the order and pointing to the door until he left.
So there you have it. A combination of several misbehaviors in a row disrupting my class repeatedly is apparently all it takes to remove you from said class. Was it an overreaction? Possibly. Like I said, individually those actions would have just gotten verbal reprimands normally. And sadly I know that once students see you riled up a bit, you’ve lost. But as much as I am only a teaching assistant and as much as my class doesn’t really have any grades attached, I personally don’t accept that kind of behavior–if students are going to come to my sessions they need to come focused and ready to learn. I recognize you can’t stop teenagers from talking–lord knows you can’t do it with college students either–and also that not every student (read: most) is going to be gung-ho and thrilled about my class and that’s fine, but there is a line, and as far as I’m concerned this kid crossed it.
And that’s all this highly inexperienced teacher has to say about that, kids. Sorry for the rant.
(Sidenote: That class aside, today was lovely!)