Rules, What are they good for? 

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Gardening Rules

My parents’ apartment complex has beautiful gardens, planted and tended by its residents.  Like covered parking spaces, one must wait on a list to obtain one of these 8’x12′ coveted plots of land.  I was visiting my parents earlier this summer and my dad started reading the above gardening rules off of the newsletter.  He suggested we write a parody of these rules to which I replied, “I think this list already is a parody.”  All I want to do when I read a list like that is think about what is not on the list (which is why I am a rebel at heart).  Can I put a barbed-wire fence around my plot to keep people from stealing my marijuana plants?  According to these ten rules, as long as the fence is regulation green and no more that 4 feet above ground level, I can!  It made me very nervous to think that someone would have the confidence to write down ten rules and (a) expect everyone to follow them and (b) expect every potential issue to be addressed by said rules.  It also made me think about my classroom rules.

How many classroom rules do I have?  Cosine(Pi/2).  Zero.  If I were to write 100 rules for my students, I would never get all of my students to follow them and then I would have to punish them for breaking the rules.  I would also never address all of the kooky things that high school students do over the course of an academic year, and then I would not be able to say, “You broke the ___th rule.”  Teenagers are very conscious of  rules and are constantly trying to ride the line to see how much they can get away with.  If there is no line, then the students don’t try to butt up against it.

So how do I manage my classroom?  I have found that I am better off thinking about how I expect my students to behave, and limiting those expectations to five or fewer statements.  I wrote these expectations over 20 years ago, and they are still true today.  I didn’t have to change my rules to incorporate statement about cell phones, e.g..


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I have these expectations posted on my classroom wall and printed on my students’ notebook binder cover sheet. 

I also try to make connections with students and as soon as possible to build classroom camaraderie.  Where I currently teach, I have taught many children from the same families.  Thus, my students are usually not thinking about what they can get away with in my classroom, but rather when that crazy teacher lady they’ve heard stories about is going to whip out her light saber, don her Yoda ears, and sing a song.

One final thought:  Last year I was in Kansas City grading AP Calculus exams and for obvious reasons security is tight there.  One of the guards was getting frustrated with graders who did not have on their name badges upon entering the convention center.  This security guard asked me, “Aren’t you all teachers?”

I replied, “Yes.”

The guard continued, “Well lots of you aren’t following the rules. Isn’t it your job to make the students follow the rules?”

I was kind of taken aback by this, but being a crusty old teacher with tons of experience, I instantly replied, “No.  I don’t see that as my job at all.”



3 thoughts on “Rules, What are they good for? 

  1. Classic Cornelius classroom management.
    As a colleague and friend I have learned a lot from this lady — and although we teach many states a part from each other, I continue to learn and collaborate with her.
    Fun piece to read, Virge!

  2. Pingback: The First Day of School | Math, Teaching, and Teaching Math

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