Please excuse the typos and extra use of the word “had”. In order to preserve the original message, this article is in its original form. I wrote this article in 2000 during my second year of teaching, and it was published in The William Glasser Institute Newsletter in the Spring of 2000. The ideas in this article continue to influence in my work every day as a school leader.
The William Glasser Institute Newsletter – Spring 2000
Stories from Huntington Woods
Editor’s Note: Allyson Apsey is a second-year teacher at Huntington Woods Elementary School. She has recently just completed her Advanced Week of training and this article journals her struggle as she moves from a Boss Management to a Lead-Management teaching philosophy.
My Hands Are No Longer Tied
I remember walking into my first day of teaching at Huntington Woods thinking that I had this teaching thing in the bag. I had received rave reviews from everyone that I had encountered in all of my teaching experiences before this job. Despite the fact that those experiences had been students teaching, before-school programs and summer camp, I thought I had this teaching thing under control. I could do this with my hands tied behind my back.
I have been wrong before in my life, but never this wrong. Halfway through that first morning, I walked into the bathroom and started at myself in the mirror. What had I gotten myself into? Could I be wrong after all this time? Was I really meant to be a teacher? I felt like the kids in this classroom were walking all over me. I didn’t know what this Choice Theory thing was. All I knew was that these students were not behaving in the way I wanted them to, and I could do nothing about it. I felt like I was teaching with my hands tied behind my back and I did not like it.
I had just finished my student teaching experience in a traditional classroom with punishments and rewards that ran pretty smoothly. I started teaching at Huntington Woods halfway through the 1998-1999 school year, and things were running anything but smoothly. My face seemed locked in a constant look of frustration and despair. How could I teach these children when I couldn’t even get them to sit back down in their seats? My principal mentioned something about adding more fun into my lessons. I thought she was crazy. How could I add fun to a lesson when I could not even get them to listen without interrupting me?
Walking into a classroom halfway through a school year is challenging. Pile on team-teaching 50 third, fourth and fifth graders. Add trying to learn a crazy theory that allowed students to walk all over you. I felt like I was drowning, and I did not know how to save myself. That is when a light of salvation shone through.
It was called Choice Theory. Through learning about Choice Theory with a wonderful woman named Jeanette, I was able to understand that I had complete control over ME! I was choosing to frustrate and agonize over what was happening in my classroom. Was choosing to feel this way helping me? NO! I realized that I had to learn different ways to respond to all these difficult situations I encountered. And, slowly but surely, I did.
The first step was realizing that I was doing the best I knew how to do. That realization helped me forgive myself and let go of some of the mistakes I had made. The next step was figuring out what I could do to get what I really wanted—a wonderful classroom. Did frustrating help my classroom? Did getting angry help my classroom? Absolutely not. I was not modeling Choice Theory to my students, so how could I expect them to use it? I realized that the only person I could control was me, so that would be a great place to start the change that needed to take place.
Once I started to make better choices, I was able to step back and help my students make better choices. I was able to sit and discuss poor choices that a student was making without choosing to anger. I could then help my students work out problems with each other without choosing to fight or become angry.
I also realized that my principal was not crazy, my students needed to have fun. I began to see fun not as a reward, but as an integral part of our classroom. Before I could expect my students to open up and begin to learn, they needed their needs to be met. They needed a safe, clean, comfortable classroom. The needed to feel like they were loved in that classroom, by each other and by their teachers. They wanted to feel powerful. If we help them meet their needs within the functions of our classroom, like their needs for fun and power, they would not be acting out to get their needs met.
The next school year turned out to be more than a little different than the last. I knew that I was responsible for modeling Choice Theory, for helping my students meet their needs while they were in school, and for teaching my students about Choice Theory so they could help themselves get what they wanted. I would have never believed it a year ago, but Choice Theory really works. We have very few incidences of students acting out to meet their needs, because we help them meet their needs while still being a productive part of the classroom. In our classroom, both the teachers and the students are responsible for self-evaluating a poor behavior choice and learning how to make better choices. Our students have developed skills that will help them be able to better get what they want for the rest of their lives.
When I first started teaching at Huntington Woods, I felt like Choice Theory tied my hands behind my back. Now I know that by using Choice Theory, I am free to control myself. My students are responsible for their own behavior. Now my hands are free to wrap around my students in an embrace of love, trust and honesty.