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Unfortunately, I seemed to be the only one who understood Araceli’s SOS. My other students were convinced that she was simply too cool for school. She could squelch an animated class discussion with a single look or a sharp sigh driving the insecure students back into their shells.
Nearly every day, I would keep Araceli after class because I didn’t want to embarrass her in front of her schoolmates. As I described the particular behavior that needed to be changed she would slump in her seat, expressionless. She always agreed not to repeat her behavior. The next day she would devise another ingenious way to disrupt the class.
Once, for example, I asked her not to snicker if someone made a mistake reading out loud. The following day when the girl beside her mispronounced depot as dee-pot she exaggeratedly slammed her head down on her desk. Next day, I told her if she couldn’t keep her mouth shut. She then refused to utter a single word to the other four students in her discussion group and stared at the others until they collapsed into self-conscious silence. Finally, I threatened to call her parents. ‘Go ahead’, Araceli said, trying hard to sound nonchalant.
Before I did, I checked her school records. I learned that during the past few years, Araceli had occasionally come to school with injuries. One teacher even filed a report of suspected child abuse. Each time Araceli insisted that she had been injured in an accident.
I realized I couldn’t call her home without risking another ‘accident’, but I was at a loss about what to do. I had students who were much tougher than Araceli, but eventually they always responded. Finally realizing I had run out of options, I gave up trying to change her. It hurt, but I didn’t see any other choice.
Surprisingly, Araceli settled down. She actually allowed me to teach without interruption for an entire day. The following Monday, after weeks of not cooperating, she voluntarily participated in a group discussion. I thought I had won her over. As I was distributing a vocabulary worksheet, I paused by Araceli’s desk and told her that I appreciated her contributions in class.
‘Is that right?’ she asked,
‘That’s right,’ I said.
She shoved the paper to the corner of her desk. ‘I’m sick of this stupid stuff. I ain’t doing it.’
Ordinarily, I might have explained that the exercises were good practice for the exam. But I was tired of struggling with her.
‘Fine, Araceli,’ I said. ‘Don’t do the ‘stupid’ worksheet. In fact, why don’t you just rip it up and throw it in the trash?’
Araceli stared at me, astonished. ‘Maybe I don’t want to tear it up,’ she said. I ignored the whispers of the other students. Araceli had my full attention now – something she’d been wanting since the start of the school. I decided if she wouldn’t follow my directions, then it was time for her to make her own decisions.
‘I hate to boss people around,’ I told her. ‘I prefer to give them choices. So you have four choices: One, you can do the assignment. Two, you can rip it up and throw it away. Three, you can turn it over and write, ‘I’m not going to do this stupid stuff on the back. And sign your name.
Then I’ll just put it in my files, in case you or your parents ask me about your grade. Four, you can leave. You have the right to choose your own behavior,’ I continued. ‘But you don’t have the right to try to suck me into a fight with you when there are other people who would like to learn. So take your pick.’
Araceli glanced at the boy sitting next to her, to see whether he was impressed by her bravado. Before he had a chance to react, I clapped my hands and moved away from her. ‘Okay, we’ve spent enough time on this discussion. Everybody get to work. You all heard the choices.’
I rolled my chair to the back of the room, where I could watch Araceli over my book without seeming to. She spent the next 30 minutes applying makeup and staring out the window. When the final 15 minutes of class approached, she picked up her pencil and began working on the assignment. She had completed half her worksheet when the bell rang. As the other students filed out, she dawdled behind until we were alone.
‘I didn’t have time to finish the whole thing,’ she said. ‘Can I take it home and finish?’
‘Would you let me take it home, if you were the teacher and I was the student?’ I asked her.
She looked at me and paused. ‘Yeah,’ she said, after several seconds. ‘I’d give you a break. Once’.
I laughed, because Araceli’s response was exactly what mine had been in a similar situation years earlier during Marine Officer Candidate School. My drill sergeant had caught me in a major breach of rules when we were only one week from graduation I had railed to lock up my rifle. She had the power to kick me out of the program, just as now I had with Araceli. And, like me, she had asked what I felt her response should be.
Properly panicked, I lay on my bunk for several minutes to think things over. Then I stood up and marched back to the sergeant. ‘Ma’am, I have an answer for you.’ She didn’t say anything, so I continued. ‘I would scare the stuffing out of that young troop, ma’am, like you just did to me. But I’d give her a break. Once.’
The sergeant let me stand there for a long, long time. Finally she said, ‘I don’t care if you have the highest grades in this company. If you make one more mistake, I’ll make you sorry your mama was ever born. Is that perfectly clear, Candidate?’
‘Get out of here.’
I realized then why I cared so much about Araceli. I saw so much of my young self in her. ‘Get out of here,’ I told her, but I let her see my smile. I didn’t need to scare her, the way my sergeant had scared me. She was already scared.
Araceli didn’t reform immediately, but she stopped acting out in class and occasionally participated in group exercises. She had apparently learned her lesson.
And I had learned mine.
When regular classes resumed the next fall, and one of my Academy kids refused to do an assignment, I did not give a long, useless lecture. Instead, I listed their options and insisted they make the choice. From now on, I would let them be responsible for their success or failure.
11.01. Notes on the text
11.02. Recommended vocabulary list
to squelch an animated discussion, to disrupt the class, to boss people around, bravado, to reform, tough, nonchalant, to snicker.
11.03. Match the following definitions with the appropriate phrasal verbs given below
1. to act out
a. to force someone to go back
2. to drive back
b. to become calm
3. to settle down
c. to gain the support of someone, often by persuasion
4. to file out
d. to leave, moving in a line
5. to boss around
e. to give expression to something in actions and behavior rather than in words; perform one’s feelings
6. to rip up
f. to waste something such as time
7. to dawdle over
g. to destroy something by pulling
8. to win over
h. to treat someone unpleasantly by giving unnecessary orders
11.04. Study the entry ‘laugh’ in the Longman Language Activator and fill in the gaps.
11.05. Study the article and complete the following synonymous rows:
11.06. Expand on the following:
11.07. Make a list of your own strategies to find a way with disruptive students.
11.08. Outline the problems tackled in the article. Discuss the problems with your group mates.
11.09. Here you can find information about restrictions on behavior at UNIS (United Nations International School).
A. Off-Campus Behavior
Students represent UNIS to the outside world, and their behavior should reflect the ideas of the school when they are on or off the campus. UNIS students are expected to observe UNIS standards of behavior wherever they may be, including public buses, UNIS buses, contracted van services, common areas in the school, field trips, sporting events, and artistic events. Codes of behavior are distributed at the beginning of each school year and require parental signature. Each student is responsible for maintaining the UNIS standards of behavior and will be held accountable. Teachers and administrators will make every reasonable effect to find out all of the circumstances and the involvement of others in any violation of the school rules.
B. Detention/ Probation/ Disciplinary Committee
In the event of attendance infractions and other violations of the code of behavior, detentions will be given to students.
A student who, for academic or behavioral reasons, is not conforming to the standards and expectations of the school requirements may be placed on probation at UNIS for a specified duration. If the terms of probation are met, the student will be reinstalled at UNIS conditionally at the expiration of the term. When the terms of probation are not met, the student may be asked to leave school.
c) Disciplinary Committee
Ordinarily, when a student has committed a major infraction or when there is reasonable cause to believe so, a Disciplinary Committee is assembled by the principle. The Committee consists of no fewer than four people including teachers, counselors, administrators, and at least one teacher requested by the student. The committee recommends appropriate action to the Director.
C. Dress (as appropriate to school setting)
Children must dress appropriately for school, maintaining a clean and neat appearance. Students are not to wear hats indoors. New York winters can be quite severe, and because of the closeness of the East River, the Manhattan playground can be very cold. As the children play outdoors if weather permits, on cold days they should be warmly dressed. Please label all clothes clearly, and make sure coats have a hanging tab.
D. Litter, Graffiti, and Vandalism
Students are to clean up after themselves and to respect their school environment.
E. Smoking, Drugs, and Alcohol
The school supports and enforces all applicable laws. The use or possession of alcohol or illegal drugs, and assaults, theft, and vandalism are examples or acts which are unacceptable within the UNIS community and also illegal. There is no smoking on the school grounds or in the vicinity of the school.
F. Sexual Harassment
Sexual harassment, like other forms of prohibited discrimination, will not be sanctioned or tolerated. As a matter of policy, every UNIS student has a right to be treated with dignity and respect and to expect a courteous educational milieu.
Students are not permitted to carry weapons or any object that might willfully be used as a weapon in physical combat.
H. Radios, Walkmans, and Disc Players
Students must leave expensive items such as radios, walkmans, and disc players at home. The New York Police Department has advised that students traveling to and from school should not wear headsets, or other distracting devices so that they can be vigilant at all times.
I. Corporal Punishment Policy
The use of physical force by adults and students is prohibited at UNIS. The only exception is when force required to restrain a student from doing physical harm to himself/ herself or others, or to school property.
It is expected that all students bring a lock to school to secure their belongings. Students are expected to exercise reasonable caution in guarding their personal belongings.