On the first day of synchronous learning at my school, I had a pair of students doing something I hadn’t seen before while the class was completing a writing warm-up. They were taking turns flashing their videos on and off, making funny faces each time they’d appear. I could tell they were getting a real kick out of it.
I said, “X and Y, that kind of thing is distracting to others. Please keep your video on or off. My preference is on.”
Student X unmuted himself at that moment and said something to the tune of, “F— you, man. I’m not turning my video on.” I told the student that we don’t speak like that to one another, and then I removed him from the Zoom.
This was the first day of Zoom class all year.
Class progressed fine from there — I explained to students what we’re after in our time together learning remotely, what our norms and expectations are. When we shifted to the independent learning portion of the lesson, I made a point to stop in to Student Y’s breakout room (I place students into individual “offices” during the independent portion of the lesson, as this makes it easy to stop in for a moment of genuine connection and to answer student questions when they arise).
I said, “Hey Student Y, are you there?” And he said that he was. And I said, “Hey, do you understand why I can’t have you and Student X flashing your videos on and off like that? I’m not trying to pick on you guys, but I do want a place where we can all focus when we’re on Zoom together.” He said he understood. And I said, “Hey, would you mind telling Student X that there are no hard feelings and that I hope to see him back in class tomorrow?” He said that he would.
That was all I could do during that class period. I did not want to fall into the trap of placing any more time or effort into this one situation; after all, Student X is one of a hundred or so students on my rosters this semester, and I owe a shot at an education to all of them.
After class, I made a quick report on what had happened (a “write-up,” we call it), and my principal replied later that day that he had made a quick phone call home, and that the student’s father was going to try having the student do remote learning work in a more public place in the home.
The next day, Student X was absent from class. I remember thinking that day, “Well, I really hope Student X is in class tomorrow.” I prayed that he would be. And I noted that Student Y volunteered his voice during our whole-class discussion twice — which is infinity percent more than he had ever done on any other day this school year.
And then, today! Who arrived on my screen at the start of our Zoom class but Student X himself. Not a peep from him during the whole class time, and then the independent work time arrived, where the students are in their individual Zoom breakouts. I went to Student X’s room right away.
This is what happened:
What I’m doing
I want to close the article with what I’m doing here. A few very basic things:
First, I am working to like Student X — to genuinely value, know, and respect him. I want to like him no matter how he treats me. Sometimes, I don't naturally like students — but that doesn't mean that I can't work to like them. A student's treatment of me (and you) is rarely personal, and even when it is, I don’t need to take it to heart.
Second, this is the start of a 2×10. I’ve written more about that in this article: “But What About That One Student? Use 2×10.” 2x10s usually begin more awkwardly than this one did, but they quickly get less awkward. Most of the time. 🙂
Third, my interactions with Students X and Y were efforts (genuinely undertaken) to help them believe two things:
- That I care about them (this is part of credibility)
- That people like them belong in academic spaces like mine (this is belonging)
(It's difficult for me to overstate how dramatically the five key beliefs influence my work in the classroom. If you're new to them, try this article or chapter two of this book.)
So for whatever it's worth to you, this is how I handled a misbehavior during our first day of Zoom school.
joleigh kirkland says
Connecting with students on a personal level is so important to open them up to learning. When they believe you want to know them as individuals they are more likely to want to be a part of whatever you are teaching and asking for help if needed. When students see yours a person, not just a teacher, the classroom, whether face to face or zooming, becomes a comfortable place to be. That is essential to successful teaching.
I really like the effort you made to show the student that you care about him and that he’s more than the behavior he exhibited. The conversation between you both may well have been the best part of his day. It’s not easy to connect to all students, but we must continue to show them that they have value and each day is a new start to begin again. Best of luck Zooming!