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Classroom Management

In my classroom kids always have choices. For instance: they can stop taping their pencils or I can throw their fingers away. Every year the first time I offer these choices to a child some fool always asks, “How are you going to throw my fingers away?” I stop, focus all my attention on that child, stare at him (it is always a him) in silence for ten seconds, then softly ask, “Are you volunteering to be the first person to find out?” It is a very effective question. Every year my students leave my classroom with the same number of fingers they entered with, and I don’t have to listen to tapping pencils.

When the kids have some silly sort of accident — the oops kind, not the “you could have killed somebody” kind — I generally greet their confession with the question, “Do you want me to beat you now or later?” Fifth graders are always quick to choose later. I then respond, “Okay, but I’ll forget, so be sure to remind me later.” Yeah, right lady.

Well, because of my sarcasm I work best with older kids. For some reason little kids tend to cry when someone threatens to cut off their fingers. Go figure.

Despite that fact, a couple of years ago some brilliant soul gave me a third grade reading class. Some third graders are evolved enough to get sarcasm. Most aren’t. As I gathered the papers from their first homework assignment one little boy walked up to me obviously trembling. He said, “Ms. A., I didn’t understand question 2, but I did all the rest of the paper.” I treated him the same way I would have treated a 5th grader. I smiled at him — I smiled — then I asked, “Okay, Sweety, do you want me to beat you now or later?”

His eyes widened. His trembling increased and I saw him swallow. Then, in a tiny wobbling voice he said, “Now I guess. It’s worse when you have to wait.”

That kid is in my 5th grade class this year. We went through the “do you want me to beat you exchange” yesterday without a hitch. This morning he arrived and asked if I had time to beat him now. He stood staring at me with a smirk on his face. The whole class was quiet as they waited for my reaction.

I stared back at him with a smirk on my face (thinking frantically). Finally I shook my head. “Too much trouble,” I said. “And way too messy.” Then I picked his smart self up and put him in the garbage can. “That was easier. Marcel, take the garbage out.”

I think this is going to be an interesting year.

Quilly is the pseudonym of Charlene L. Amsden, who lives on The Big Island in Hawaii. When she is not hanging out with Amoeba, she is likely teaching or sewing. Or she could be cooking, taking photographs, or even writing. But if she's not doing any of that, she's probably on Facebook or tinkering with her blog.


  1. Quilly-Sister, you’re a riot, one funny woman. I’m glad you have so much fun with those kids.

    MY girls were, of course, very smart! When they were very young and doing something wrong, I’d tell them that if they didn’t stop, I’d rip their arm off and beat them with the bloody end. It didn’t faze them.

    I have to tell you, though,Gram was more than a little aghast at my parenting skills. (I think SHE thought I was serious!)

  2. I really don’t remember mom threatening to beat me with the bloody end of my own dismembered arm. Guess I was too traumatized by it to remember. lol 🙂

  3. We are a family full of terrorizing fools!! I also threatened to throw my darlings in the garbage or flush them down the toilet. The shreiking from the poor soul being held over the garbage pail or the toilet bowl could be heard for miles…..and more frequently than seems appropriate today!!
    Much love, C

  4. Oh I’m so glad he grew into sarcasm! SOME of them never do! It’s so hard when they get to High School and you still have to “explain” that you didn’t really mean that!

  5. My mother was always aghast when I’d say stuff like that to my kids. For me, the effort it took to think up a gruesome, bloody alternative to grounding them forever and beating them to death, was just enough time to de-tense the moment and find a logical solution. Funny story today!

  6. oh brilliant in your part and gutsy in a day..being a teacher always gives to the most interesting and exciting stories. thank you for sharing them with us..can you imagine in recess or something, all the kids around him trying to make sense of it

  7. Sarcasm and the threat of violence. you should write a teaching manual. You know, I get busted at home so bad for sarcasm– have you noticed?– that we have a rule in our house: NO SARCASM! It really sucks because I am so good at it. But the kids hate it. Darn. my talents wasted. There should be some form of competitive sarcasm. Like Extreme Sarcasm or something like that. Man, there would a career move for me except DAMN! I’d be competing against you! there goes my career. and I had just got started. poof!

  8. Yes, sarcasm and violence – much under-rated tactics in the rearing/teaching of children. And, like all other things, just the right amount needed!

  9. You sound like a really awesome teacher! I use sarcasm with some of the older kids who sometimes ride my bus. It never fails that when a new one gets on, they always have to ask what the bell cord is and if they can pull it. I tell them they are allowed to pull it once, after that I have to hurt them. It works, like you say, with the ones who are old enough to understand sarcasm.

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