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.