Saturday, February 6, 2010

The Give & Take Power Play

After a long hiatus of inclusion teaching, I finally worked my schedule where I could go back into the classroom consistently for math instruction.  I started again last week and I found myself stuck in a situation that I wasn't quite sure to handle, and I've been thinking about it ever since.  It revolves around the issue of giving vs. taking power away from the teachers when dealing with classroom management.

In one class the kids were doing well with staying engaged in the lesson and participating in our guided practice, but when it came time for independent work, it felt like chaos ensued.  Not because they didn't understand the material (they all did very well answering the questions), but because of what happened when their work was complete.  The general ed teacher and I were walking around looking at their work and helping when needed, but they all finished roughly around the same time and it became a myriad of kids calling out our names or coming up to us to have their work checked, which ultimately led to a lot of moving bodies & elevating noise levels which distracted those who were still working.

Now, I'm not a teacher who is afraid of movement & noise, but I prefer it to be structured and relevant to the task at hand.  Needless to say, this was a bit much for me, especially because I would be conferencing with one student and 2 or 3 were calling my name elsewhere in the room, without ceasing even when I pointed out that I was already working with someone else & they needed to be patient.  My immediate solution was to use the technique that I use in my own classroom - when you're finished simply give me a thumbs up & wait till I get to you, don't call my name.  Some of the kids did that when I told them about it, but the rest just stopped calling for me and went over to their general ed teacher instead.

Then, in another classroom, I came in after the regular lesson and the kids were beginning their independent work.  I parked myself next to one of my ELL students to help her figure out the problems while the gen ed teacher went to the back to talk to a student who was refusing to do his work.  There were only a few other students on task and the rest were running around the room.  Two students even found a blow-up globe to start throwing around the room.  I continued to work with my student and we made it through the whole assignment, but it was definitely not in an environment conducive to learning. 

Now, I don't tell these stories to make the teachers look bad in any way.  They're both new teachers and have been struggling with management all year, and the kids can be a big handful especially in the afternoons.  What I have been wondering though, is what should my role look like as a support person in their room?  Should I be imposing rules on the kids and aiding in managing them when they're rules are different from my own?  Or should I just sit there and do what I'm supposed to do which is help my ELLs access the material (and help others who don't get it as well)?

That's what led me to this question about giving and taking power away from teachers.  I'm not comfortable with coming into someone else's classroom & imposing my own rules, because that takes power away from the teacher.  In fact, even if I tell a child to do something that they haven't practiced and is not a normal routine in their room, it will most likely be ineffective, or only work in the short term while I'm there. 

I thought about offering some suggestions to the teachers, but I have my own insecurities about my management skills (I basically feel they're not where I want them to be) and I ask myself, who am I to tell them how to manage?  I know these are my doubts & fears getting in the way yet again, but I'm also the youngest teacher in the school and I'm only in my 3rd year so I'm no pro by any means.  I do know these teachers pretty well and I'm sure they wouldn't mind if we sat down & came up with some ideas together, but I know they already feel helpless & I don't want it to seem like I have the magical answer, because frankly I don't.

But I'm curious readers, how do you handle the power balance?  When is it ok to step in if a teacher is struggling with managing one kid or the whole class?  Have you done it in a way that doesn't take away the teacher's power?  What should a support teacher's role be in the general ed classroom?

Please share your thoughts.


  1. I don't have the exact same situation as you, but I do have an intern teacher this year. In my situation, the kids automatically view us differently due to the sheer fact that my intern is only there 3 days a week vs. my 5 days.
    I am wondering if you could approach it as a question with your peer teachers about having a consistent approach that respects their routines/rules but that would help you both achieve your goals. If you start the conversation using the idea that you want to support in the best and most efficient way possible, it could open the dialogue for some teamwork. I also wonder if you have both ever sat down and together talked with the students about your "joint expectations" for them.
    Just thoughts from my rambling Saturday morning mind :-) You bring up some very important questions!

  2. Thanks for your feedback Joan! I've never even thought about both of us sitting down with the kids to discuss joint expectations, but that could definitely be a plausible approach. I think I've decided that I will talk with them this week and start the convo similar to how you suggested. I will bring the idea of us having a session with the kids on what co-teaching time will look like and see what they think. As always, I appreciate your feedback!