the difficulties of handing out detentions as a sub |or| d-hall power trip

I just put a kid in his place and I’m still riding high on the power trip so bear with me.

I am the nice teacher. I am the one who gives at least 3 or 10 or 20 chances before I even call you out (of course it depends on the urgency of the issue at hand). I know that this is problematic because anything that deserves a punishment needs to be dealt with immediately.

The difficulties of handing out detentions as a sub are as follows:

  • If you’re dealing with a hit and run offender, especially at the very end of a period or in the hallway, it can be very hard to track down the invisible man. In other words, email me your success tips the next time you are searching for someone whose name you don’t know, who you’ve never seen before, who is the same relative age, height, weight, and general coloring as hundreds of other kids in the building
  • You don’t know the student’s history, personality, intentions, etc. A student may be unfamiliar with the class and school rules for a number of reasons. You may have a student with special needs, learning disorders, or behavioral disorders. Yes a sub should be informed of these, but how quickly can one become an expert on a revolving door of 90 or more students? I’ve unintentionally been tough on a student who had a special bathroom pass and was allowed to go when no one else was. I once demanded homework from a student that I didn’t know had been absent for at least 2 weeks. I have been harder than I should have on students who are high functioning with learning disabilities. I didn’t know. And that scars you or at least makes you think twice about blasting rounds of d-halls at possibly innocent students.
  • If you haven’t found a “home” school yet and you’re subbing all over 3 counties, how can you as a sub know the rules of each school let alone each grade and teacher? I can give you 4 different rules about using devices in class at one school. I can give you 40 different rules about using devices throughout the county. Add about 100 more rules per school…carry the 1…and welcome to the split decision d-hall nightmare 
  • Kids are effin’ sneaky and conniving. It’s one of those things that you often see in movies and you assume that the magic of film is creating a hyper-exaggerated version of reality. Then you start substitute teaching and decide that they weren’t lying. To some students, a substitute is a target and a challenge. They finally have someone new to pull old tricks on. And they will try every old trick in the book. 

The list goes on. Many teachers are naturally unafraid to punish a student they’ve never met. I don’t necessarily have a problem with it per se, but I feel like it’s something that I have to work up to. That’s a skill I admittedly need to continue to develop.

Back to the kid.

I’ve been in this classroom every day for about 6 weeks now. We’re past the old tricks and the getting-to-know-you stage. I am in complete control of my classroom and I can easily deal with a million different types of students who don’t care about school, don’t have a clue what they are doing, do things they’re not supposed to, etc. But I have one particular little [expletive deleted] that has got attitude overload and sass coming out of his ears. Worst of all, he’s disrespectful and ain’t nobody got time for that. He absolutely has to have a smartass remark for absolutely anything anyone has to say to him. It starts pointless, time-wasting arguments every single day, sometimes with other students and sometimes with me. And I stupidly let it go every time because he never really passes a point that I consider detention-worthy. It’s a smoke and mirrors type of trick where I usually save detentions for blatant rule breaking but there’s no hard and fast rule against being sassy so I don’t know when to give in. However, I’m quickly getting tired of the disrespect.

Today was a day like any other and he had sassy back talk for me and for everyone else, again and again. When the bell rang, I told him to come to me for a minute. I lit into him with a fire that my students have never had to see before. I didn’t scream, I didn’t yell, I didn’t get in his face, and I didn’t do it in front of the class. I stayed quite calm in relative relation to my burning anger (i’m shooting for all of the fire puns). I simply let out everything that I have been holding in for a long time. I let him know that I was tired of his disrespectful back talk. I was tired that he was wasting my time and I was tired that he was wasting everybody’s class time. I told him that other students have told me that they are sick of him trying to be funny and that he wasn’t funny (ok that was kind of mean, but also completely true!) and that they are tired of him taking up the class’s time. I think that’s what put him near tears. That wasn’t my goal of course, but maybe it means I got through to him. Who knows. He needed it and I needed it. Any parent who would give me a hard time about it can sit in my classroom for 6 weeks and try not to resort to physical punishment. Until you take that challenge, leave it to me. I think I’ve got it under control. For the most part.


One thought on “the difficulties of handing out detentions as a sub |or| d-hall power trip

  1. I try to keep a realistic perspective about who really has “control,” (hint: there are more of them than us) and about what it feels like as a young person to be the one “controlled.” I don’t think it brings out the best in human nature, either the ‘power-tripping” or the kowtowing. Some students will test (while others watch), but I think a “pass” is not so much about “putting them in their place” (which is—what? in their chairs with hands folded like little robots, with smiles on their faces?), but about our maintaining self control, showing wise judgment, protecting the learning environment, and allowing a range of normal student behavior without taking anything personally. Respect goes both ways, and students long for respect also, though they are immature and it’s easy to criticize their behavior. A phrase I have found very useful when I ask for a change in behavior, which conveys a sense of legitimate teacher/adult authority and also respect (if I’m not gritting my teeth and frowning), is “I insist.” Another is a question” “Can you think of anything you’ve been doing that might be causing problems?”


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