20 In-School Suspension TIPS: some of the following might be more helpful than others. Hopefully they can all help to one degree or another….
1. Get to know your school policies and your school. Make sure that you speak with your superiors about what your role with the school polices is— and what can you expect of superiors, especially if you are dealing with an ISS student whose behavior is unacceptable or out-of-control. What is expected of you? What are you permitted to do and not do? What are teachers’ expectations of you when their students are assigned in-school suspension (ISS)? What do they wish for their students to accomplish while they are with you? Two-way communication between you and the staff is key throughout the school year. In the beginning of the year, you may wish to survey teachers via an e-mail or www.surveymonkey.com to foster communication.
2. ISS Classroom Rules: Once you know your school policies and expectations, you can create your classroom rules. Since ISS classrooms almost always have more controlled, restrictive environments by nature, your rules should reflect student expectations accordingly. When I first started out, I had students copy 5 pages of written rules by hand. If they were re-assigned ISS, they had to re-copy those rules- or at least the most important ones. I now have those rules down to two pages. Note: please see tip # 8 for how I highlight the most essential rules. If you wish to see a copy of my current incarnation of classroom rules, please let me know and I can send you a copy.
3. Be yourself— that is your professional, disciplinary-self. There is no sense in you trying to be someone that you are not- sooner of later your personality will come out anyway, so you might as well embrace your personality to the extent that professionalism and position-expectations will allow. Regardless of your personality type, I suggest trying to take a ‘firm but fair’ approach, and constantly monitor yourself for consistency with your behavior. I also recommend picking your battles, and winning the battles that you pick.
4. Be empathetic and listen to the ‘students’ side.’ Please recall how you and other students were when you all were part of the age-group you are now working with! It is never easy being a child, regardless of the age- and especially in this day and age… Despite your disciplinary or ‘firm’ role, not taking their misbehavior or verbal attacks personally, starting every day fresh by giving students a ‘clean slate,’ (especially with aggressive/frequently misbehaving students), and closely listening to students’ versions of what transpired can work wonders- and make everyone’s lives a lot easier.
5. Changing the dynamic of negativity: I suggest for you to always look for ways to turn the initially negative situation of a disciplined student into a positive one through the appropriate reinforcement. For example, some students never hear anything positive, regardless of whether they are at home or at school. Sometimes, something as seemingly insignificant as complimenting a student on his or her handwriting can make all the difference. Warning: only say something if you mean it! Most students now-a-days can see right through false, placating compliments- especially ISS students! Honesty is a vital ingredient to effective reinforcement.
6. Remember- YOU are in charge of your classroom- and NOT them! Despite my previous tips on being empathetic and complimentary, please heed the following! Never, EVER let students get to the point that they are running things- even small things- and yes, they WILL try to run your classroom! They will try to defy you and your rules! ….I like harmony by nature, and prefer to be on pleasant, friendly terms with students whenever possible. I take an interest in their lives and welfare, and do genuinely care…I even enjoy occasionally making harmless jokes with students. But make no mistake- I am NOT their friend, and never will be…and if being a teacher instead of their friend violates what they thought was a friendship, so be it. I am an ISS teacher, first and always. One of my mottos is: never be cold and distant, and never get too attached. Balance must always be maintained in that respect.
7. Own your mistakes. Sooner of later, every teacher makes a mistake with a student. I can recall several occasions when I raised my voice and used harsh words with a student who did not deserve it. Or I did not trust a student’s ‘story’ when I should have. Or I was impatient…or insensitive… Regardless of the mistake, I always made a point to go back to that student as soon as I could, and apologize for my mistake. To some students, who never received an apology for anything in their lives, this act meant the world to them. I can honestly write that some of my best rapports with ISS students grew from a single apology that I gave. Warning: much like compliments, ISS students can quickly detect mendacity! All apologies must be legit!
8. The Crucial First Minute: as soon as a student enters my room, I immediately drop what I am doing, seat them (my carrels are numbered), and verbalize my essential expectations (and they may see these again when they copy my rules). In a quiet voice I say something like following to them (while making some, but not too much eye-contact) “hi, my name is Mr. ______, and this is ISS. While you are here you must face your carrel number, and are not allowed to talk to anyone or may eye contact with others. I will send you to your locker at _______, and lunch will be brought you around _______. If you have any questions, please raise your hand instead of just getting out of your seat. Thanks. Now I am going to have you start _________….ok?” I found that this little one-on-one chat helps tremendously with preventative maintenance in regard to misbehavior in my classroom (for when I occasionally forget to do this, or do not take the time to do it, I usually have problems).
9. Be ready for anything to happen at anytime– adjust on the fly. Some ISS rooms remind me of ghost towns so much that I half expect tumbleweed to blow through them… not my room! …Last year I had over 1,000 ISS assignments, almost 1,000 lunch detention assignments, and many, many ‘time-outs’ (which are basically ISS assignments that are not officially recorded on students’ records). If you have the fortune to be in a high-volume ISS room like me, you must be prepared for anyone at any time. Always be ready to re-arrange your students into different carrels (you will develop an idea of who can not sit by who as the school-year progresses), re-do your seating chart (which will probably change every day and/or several times a day), have rules handy for students to copy, and be ready to e-mail teachers about the student or students who have been assigned after the school day starts (I also send A.M. and P.M. e-mail reports to the school every day to let every teacher know who is coming in, who is still in my room, how long they are serving ISS, when they are projected to get out, and who has been released (for I receive everything from students who are assigned 5 days or more to students who are assigned 1 period or ½ day).
10. The importance of databases: monitoring recidivism. I use an Excel program to monitor recidivism. In this manner, if a principal or teacher wishes to have data on a student’s over-all infraction record, I can quickly supply it. Having a data-base is also usually very helpful for principals and teachers in regard to detecting behavior patterns, so I document every student who comes through my door every time- as well as out of school suspensions and bus suspensions. I send out an e-mail report at the end of every month to the school which is further divided by team- and then submit an end of the year report for yearly comparisons.
A typical team data entry:
Last Name First Name 1st Disciplinary Documentation
9—10—13, 1 Day ISS, Inappropriate Language
11. You might find yourself doubling as a post office. …Especially if you are in a high volume ISS classroom, where teachers assign a lot of work to many different students: make certain that you have an easy-to-use mailing system in your classroom for incoming and outbound school mail!
Tracking Sheets: since you will most likely be responsible for keeping track of a lot of student assignments, make sure you have a tracking sheet for every student’s ISS visit! (I file my ISS folders by carrel number in a filing cabinet next to my desk. Once students are assigned ISS, I create for each student a folder for the year, with his or her schedule on it. Work I receive from the teachers goes in their folders, along with the tracking sheets, to check off as they complete their work).
Cover Pages for every assignment, where the teacher can indicate what the nature of the assignment is and any directions that the student should follow, is also advisable. If you are lucky enough to have a classroom printer, I suggest having teachers complete the cover pages via e-mail, and then sending them to you for printing…otherwise you may find yourself doing what I do every day: handwriting partially completed ISS cover pages, putting them teachers’ mailboxes, receiving the completed cover pages in your mailbox, and then putting them back in the teachers’ mailboxes with the complete work attached….
*** I can supply battle-tested tracking sheets and cover pages if you need them…
12. …and tripling as a tutor. I wonder how high the correlation is between students who struggle with academics and students who misbehave? I believe that it is very high. By staying abreast of what teachers are teaching students in their classrooms, you will through tutoring be able to lower ISS students’ frustration levels, and possibly diffuse potential behavioral issues in your classroom. ** Be careful to not DO students’ work for them! *** ……I always make sure a student brings his or her work to my desk, so I can monitor my entire room while tutoring. I try to help a student as many times as they need (provided they are legitimate requests for help), but I rarely let tutoring sessions go more than 3 minutes at a time (this cuts down on misbehavior from other students).
13. …and quadrupling as a counselor. Often you will experience students who come to your classroom in a very unstable emotional state- screaming, crying, withdrawn, etc… So as a caring professional, it is only natural for you to desire to stabilize the student, and try to steer him or her toward taking accountability for his or her actions, in a effort to alter future behavior. I usually accomplish this through a twofold method: first I have the student reflect on his or her behavior with an introspective behavior work sheet (I can send you one if you like). This usually calms them down while simultaneously giving them something to do. Then I hold a brief dialogue with the student about what he or she wrote.
Warning: Unless you are a professionally trained counselor or psychologist, often referrals to those highly trained professionals is the best route for serious issues. Warning 2: KNOW YOUR ROLE AS A MANDATED REPORTER! It is your legal responsibility!
14. Special needs students: make sure you have a way of instantly knowing who your special education students are so you can meet their needs. I get copies of all students’ schedules at the beginning of the year, and can tell from those which students have special needs.
15. Idle hands are the devil’s work. Let’s face it- some teachers are better than others when it comes to sending (or even e-mailing) ISS student assignments to you. Even if the teachers promptly send work, students can finish all their work and behavior assignments with days to spare. My experience teaches me that you had better have some busy-work and/or reading material to keep your students occupied, or there will be heck to pay- heck I tell ya! I advise you to stay well stocked with activities. Of course I have some busy sheets I would gladly send to you- but I highly recommend getting SRA-style assignments (hope I am not dating myself by typing ‘SRA’), in an effort to develop their reading-comprehension and writing skills.
16. Lay of the Land: maximizing the potential of your classroom is another key to being an effective ISS teacher! However you decide to set-up your classroom, make certain you can monitor your entire classroom with a single glance (or as much of the classroom as possible). Students will quickly realize that they are being actively monitored all the time- which will prevent some misbehavior or refusals to work. If you are tutoring someone, or a student is on a computer, frequent glances at the classroom to see what everyone is doing will help you tremendously with order and work-production.
17. Lunches: if you have the choice, have the ISS students fill out a lunch form (healthy choices only), and then have the lunches delivered by the lunch staff. This keeps the students in their seats and prevents them from socializing with each other in the cafeteria.
18. Lavatory breaks / Lockers: I allow for 3 lavatory breaks per day. Usually you can tell when a student has a legitimate emergency for an additional lavatory visit. At the start of each ISS assignment I require every student to go to their locker and to get all their textbooks, notes, and anything they might need for the duration of their stay. I personally document when a student leaves and returns to my classroom for any reason.
19.The ISS Store. I am going to try this concept for the first time during this upcoming school year. For common, small offences / violations only. This concept will obviously need to be adjusted to your preferences and school policies. I am certain you will understand the concept of the ISS Store after reading the following example:
Students are expected to come to my classroom prepared- much like any other classroom. In past years, many of ISS students came under the delusion that ISS is some how different, and preparation is optional. To hammer the point home that it is not, I am going to require students to ‘purchase’ items at the ISS store. No pencil? That is okay, here is one- and that will cost you 1 extra period of ISS. I think you get the idea.
Note: for some students who are financially challenged, have parents who can not be bothered to apply for free or reduced lunches, or just forgot their lunch, I do keep a stock of food on hand- free of charge.
20. LAST BUT NOT LEAST: Preventing burnout: if you do a high-volume, and/or regularly interact with students who have severe behavioral issues that emotionally, mentally, and physically drain you, preventing burnout is (yet another) key for you lasting (in both your position and life). Exercise is a great stress reducer- but if you do not like exercise, try to walk 180 a minutes a week. That is a half hour six days a week, or 26 minutes 7 days a week. I would not go fewer than 5 days a week with the 180 goal, because it should a daily or almost daily practice. I have read many studies that say this safe routine can take pounds off while greatly reducing stress and blood pressure. If you have the time, work up to the Chinese practice of taking 10,000 steps a day (walking about 5 miles), for additional benefits. I also recommend hobbies, meditation, prayer, regular sleep, eating well (and avoiding fatty and fried foods and caffeine- my weaknesses), and regular physicals with your doctor. Talking with colleagues in a constructive manner and/or therapy may also be of great benefit.