Student Accountability in the Middle School Classroom

My first year in Middle School was T.O.U.G.H. I've talked about my journey some in my classroom management post over on my blog. When it came to student accountability, I had the idea that by removing any responsibility from the students when it came to things like being prepared for class, I would eliminate distractions and encourage them to just pay attention. I told them that I didn't want them to worry about whether or not they had a pencil or paper. I just wanted them to be present in class. Many of my kids were from low income families, so I thought this would show them I cared about them.
Rookie Mistake.
It backfired. BIG TIME. 

Instead of viewing me as someone who cared about them, they viewed me as someone who was a pushover and... quite honestly... stupid. From Day 1 I set the tone that my students were in charge. I was never able to regain control once they realized they had no accountability.

The next year, I knew things needed to change. I became strict, without being mean. My students needed boundaries and expectations and it honestly took me a few years to find a good combination of what worked.

Student Accountability {What Worked For Me}

  1. Homework (including projects and makeup work) was due every morning BEFORE T.A. (or homeroom, whichever you call it). I had a cart outside of my room that had a slot for each class. 8th grade was contained on the same floor that was shaped like a circle. Regardless of where there lockers or T.A.'s were located, they had plenty of time and accessibility to walk by my door and drop in their homework. They didn't have to speak to me or even stop. Just drop it in and keep walking. I did this for three reasons. First, it ensured their homework was done AT HOME (or at least on the bus on the way to school) and not at lunch, in T.A., in the hall before my class, etc. Secondly, I had my planning periods during the first block of the day. I was able to check their homework before they even got to my room. I could hand it back, already checked, and go over the skills for that day. Lastly, it sent a message to my students that I was serious about homework. 
  2. Pencils - I NEVER lent out pencils to my students. I gave them about two weeks at the beginning of the school year to learn this before I really enforced it. My students were not required to carry textbooks for my class since we had enough for there to be a class set and a set for them to keep home all year. They only had to show up with their binder, pencil and calculator. If they came without a pencil, I would not give them one. They could ask a friend, or find one on the floor from the previous class. At first my students thought I was horrible for this. I explained to them that I wanted them to learn to think. They knew, that they would be coming to my room at the exact same time. I wanted them to stop and think before they walked into my room to see if they had everything. After the first few weeks, it worked really well. I rarely had students who were unprepared. 
  3. Non Disruptive Behavior - Addressing poor behavior in class is tough in middle school. If you are disrespectful to them or call them out in front of the class, they might bite back. They are more worried about saving face than listening to you. If a student was doing something that wasn't disruptive, I would make a note of it and email their parents without telling the student. This did two things - it let the student know that (1) I'm watching and (2) I'm not letting it go. At the end of class, I would say, "Three of you will be getting emails home today." And not tell them who it was. The following days, those three were pretty much spectacular. 
  4. Disruptive Behavior - If the behavior causes a disruption, I would move them to a single desk that was directly next to mine and far removed from anyone else. This desk was actually pushed directly up on the wall where my projector screen was. Taking notes from this desk was VERY uncomfortable. Another reason students usually tried to stay out of it. 
  5. Cell Phones - I was VERY good at taking cell phones. I would say I caught them a good 90% of the time. Our school policy was to take phones, write a referral and immediately give it to the grade level administrator. I followed this policy EVERY single time. No matter the student. No matter their reason. The teachers who would just tell the students to put the phones away or take them and give them back, were not sending a message. I told my students that they needed to understand that they were in my class to learn. Not check Facebook, not text their mom. To learn. 
Student accountability differs by grade. My 8th graders had all of the expectations as above. They were growing up and could handle all of my rules. They're the ones who needed the strongest rules anyway. My 6th grade intervention students were a little different. They had different needs and were only required to bring a pencil. Since they had no homework, their interactive notebooks simply stayed in my class. I would keep a box of golf pencils on my desk for my intervention students (all grades) to use if they forgot one.

The KEY to Middle School Student accountability is to actually hold them accountable. You want to build relationships with your students and you want to have that mutual respect, but you have to give them a reason to respect you. Many teachers think it's "mean" to require the things I required of my students. But, it worked. My discipline problems were low, my student achievement was high. Whether they thrived on the structure or just finally gave up arguing over the pencils, it worked.

1 comment:

  1. Nice turn around! I think often times teachers don't want to come across as mean, but having expectations is not mean. It's teaching them responsibility for their actions. I love it!