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Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Feb 25 2009

Essay Land

To elaborate on a previous post (see January), Essay Land is a faraway place where students must go when they have been bad.

After three warnings — for having their heads down, for example, or talking when they shouldn’t, or just generally “acting a fool” – students must write an essay on a topic of my choosing. They cannot get credit for anything else in my class until that essay, a full page, has been completed. Students may not talk to anyone in Essay Land unless they want to join them there.

The success rate, as measured by overall classroom tone (far better) and the number of dispositions written per week (far fewer), shows significant improvements from last semester. Essay Land, an idea hailing from the classroom of TFA demigoddess KT Cooney, has sparked a revolution in my classroom management. The system demonstrates to students, as well as administrators, that I’m actively trying not to send kids to the office – while still showing that every consequence is a direct result of students’ own choices. Now, when I do send kids to the office, the administration backs me up; offenders go to ISS long enough to write their essays, then return to class and (usually) cause no further trouble. This system is fine with me. In order to get sent to the office, students usually have to defy not only me but also their peers: the REAL key. A typical situation goes like this:

Ms. ____ (casually): You’re really choosing not to write that? You’ll have to do it in ISS anyway. I haven’t written you up since October; this is disappointing.

Offender (indignant): I don’t gotta write this!

Ms. ____ (reaching for disposition form): Ok.

Other students (exasperated): Just write it, dude.

Offender begins writing.

Behavior essays also allow for a much more positive classroom environment than one in which students simply get sent to the principal’s office after “three strikes,” which happened all too frequently in my chaotic first semester of teaching.

Initially I really had be steely and hold my ground so that students would respect the behavior essay system. After that hurdle, however, the only major drawback has been that students sometimes pay close attention to the number of warnings their peers have received and then taunt them with chants of, “Essay Land!” when they’re nearing the cliff. The collateral damage: warnings (or essays, depending on the situation) for those who clown in such a manner. Lame. But students always write their essays.

(Note: Blatant demonstrations of disrespect, such as backtalk, profanity, cheating on tests, etc., still earn students a one-way ticket to the principal’s office.)

One Response

  1. Jeff

    Welcome back! I’ve missed the posts.

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Mississippi River Delta

Mississippi Delta
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