Tuesday, February 16, 2010


The face says, "Dude, I'm WAY too manly to make rice krispie treats." Does that mean he's too manly to eat them too?

My Tuesday evening art class in one of my favorites. A very small class, I can give each student all the attention in the world, which is necessary since I have two kinders, two first, a second, a fourth, and a fifth grader in the class. In the beginning, some over-ambitious parent wanted to force their pre-preschool kid into the class too. Needless to say, that didn't work out well.

There are two boys in this class. Brothers, one being the second grader and the other being a kinder. Their personalities are very similar. They are high energy, humorous, fun-loving. Both have grown a lot in terms of their illustration skills the in 4-weeks I've taught them.

They are also both easily bored, easy to tire, easy to enter into an unexplainable tantrum of stubbornness that demands all my wit and wisdom to evade.

Last Tuesday, the older brother came to art class with a bit of a cough. He had been sick all week, which explained their absences two weeks ago.

So I do my thing, and the students do theirs. Quite a bit of sophisticated banter go on with this class, another reason why I love teaching them. We enter the coloring stage of the lesson without any mishaps or misbehaviors.

Fifteen minutes left of that lesson, things started going sour. Older Brother is wiped out by this time; his cough gets worse. He starts complaining. Younger Brother follows and for what seemed like forever (although in reality it was probably only thirty seconds) there is a barrage of whine.

I nip it in the bud as soon as I caught on that they were just getting started, rather than simply letting off some steam. I cajole, I encourage, I joke, I push, I sympathize, I tell stories, I jump start their art by "helping" them along, coloring side by side. I'm jumping back and forth across the table from one brother to the other. Older Brother manages to pull himself together enough to complete the coloring. Younger Brother gets about 3/4 done.

That was a long fifteen minutes.

I cut the session a few minutes short, since tempers were getting shorter and shorter as well. I tell the students that clean up time would be a whole group effort that day. I tell them all to grab the closest pencils, sharpies, baskets of markers and color pencils, blotter paper and bring them to me. I tell them to keep grabbing stuff off the table until it was all returned to me. I had one student oversee the markers and color pencils being put back in their respective boxes for transportation (note: I haul all the materials to each art class in a rolling cart). The girls are in a frenzy of activity, some of them spilling more than they are picking up, but all are pitching in. All are participating, even enjoying it.

I notice the two brothers, Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum, just hanging out in the back of the room by the door.

I say, "Hey now boys! What's going on? The girls are currently beating you in cleaning up."

Older Brother, obviously the more mature of the two, drags his feet and weakly picks up one pencil from the table and returns it to the pencil box. I thank him sincerely, knowing he's at the end of his stamina for the night, what with the cough and all.

Younger Brother huddles closer to the door and says, with literal full-stops between each word, "I. Don't. Care!"

Younger Brother is probably at the end of his stamina too, although he shows it in a much less polite manner.

It should be stated now that their mother was present in the room throughout the session. In this situation, I allowed the parent to handle the child. Props has to go to their mother for pulling Younger Brother aside and giving him a firmly quiet bit of verbal discipline.

If the parent wasn't in the room, I would have swooped upon Younger Brother and given him a calm, controlled speech that would have shamed him until he turned fifteen. I would have held him back after all the other students had left and made him wipe down the tables by himself. I would have made him apologize to me and his classmates for disrespecting them, the teacher, himself, and the space we use for art.

Too harsh for a kinder student? Maybe. But better now when it's relatively easy to reform bad habits than when he's actually fifteen. Now THAT would be harsh.

As it was, it took all my self-control not to intervene with parent and Younger Brother. They left. Older Brother said a polite "good-bye." Younger Brother said nothing, but did look a little shame-faced.

Thus, I tie it all back to the title of this post: boys are in danger, serious danger, as a demographic group. Girls and women are on the rise. Even if equal pay still has something to be desired, the female students (and people) I know are generally more disciplined, more considerate, and more engaged in school/life. Boys, not so much. What is up with that? How can I teach this group better? What exactly is going on with the boys?

I'm still waiting for an apology from Younger Brother. I suppose I'll wait forever, but if they show up tonight with longer-lasting good attitudes, then I'm satisfied.

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