Josh is Cool

Josh is cool. There is no way getting around it. If you pay attention to that fact, you will feed it, but if you ignore it, it will get out into the room somehow anyway, in more subtle ways. Either way, the fact that Josh is cool will draw your students’ attention away from you and what you are trying to do in your class. It’s just that way with some of those cool kids.
In fact, Josh’s job is not just in being cool – it is also in allowing some of the other kids in the room to try to be cool as well, with him as the lead cool guy. Josh wants employees. That puts Josh and you into conflict – you both want the kids to work for you. Who will be the boss?

 Back in September, Josh scored critical points with the wannabe cool kids when he repeatedly answered “sixty-nine” to many of the questions I asked about how many of something there were. He was so funny that day. But only the cool kids got it. Josh thought that day that his sixty-nine joke was new, and that his teacher certainly could never had heard it. What a cool kid!

Josh thinks that only the cool kids who wanted to work for Josh got it. He thinks I didn’t get it – otherwise I would have laughed. Very cool. Josh had established his own little “under the radar” joke file to share with the class at each opportune moment.
And then, in October, that day I made a story out of a Jacques Prévert poem called Page d’Ecriture, about a boy who sits bored in math class and calls through the window to a bird to come play with him, Josh hit back-to-back home runs.

First, he made an original play-on-words on Prévert’s last name, gaining the admiration of his peers. He just reversed the first “r” and the first “e” and then retreated into silence. When I looked at him he had an innocent look, a slight smile, but the class was laughing hard. Home run.

And then, his next chance, he hit another home run. When I wrote down and translated the words “Joue avec moi, oiseau!”/”Play with me, bird!” Josh repeated the first three words in English, in mock astonishment, winking at two guys, who took their cue immediately and also said those words as well, all three breaking my “only two words of English” rule.
But I let it go, not wanting to interrupt the flow of the class, saying to myself that I would deal with it later. With this line, Josh was invisibly but officially recognized by those in the know as really very, very cool. Josh was having a hard time concealing how cool and funny he was, and it was only October.

When I didn’t react to Josh’s second home run comment, he knew he had me. It was a home run I didn’t even see, and it made me look pretty much like a dufus in front of the class. I didn’t react because I had to focus on more serious things, the subject matter I was teaching. I thought, maybe if I focus on the French, these problems will go away.

The only thing is, my job was in those moments of intolerable rudeness was not to focus on the subject matter and ignore the kids. It was to focus on the offending kid, the bully, and bring in the subject matter secondarily. What could I have done differently?

I actually had three good chances to strike Josh out, that one time in September and two more on that fateful day in October, when the fate of my class was sealed for the rest of the year. But I missed those three chances, and the year was so emotionally difficult for me, the kids who wanted to learn, and, truth be told, Josh himself.
Next year, because now it is kinda late, I may want to CONFRONT Josh in front of the class. I may want to tell him that unwanted comments of any nature are considered a form of harrassment and will not be tolerated.

This story about Josh is hypothetical, and desribed here to make the point that all kids need guidance. The first time a teacher hears an inappropriate comment from a kid, no matter how seemingly innocuous (the kids are experts at such comments), that teacher needs to say something, to react, to announce to the class that they will not tolerate any behind the back sly comments of any kind, and to speak to Josh and definitely make a phone call to his parents.

The teacher is the adult in the room. For TPRS to work for teachers, they must act like adults. TPRS, no teaching method, works without classroom discipline. Josh, with his off color comments, is begging you to straighten him out, so he, too, can learn the language you teach.


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