Sailing Your Own Ship

Sandra WeirBlog, Connect Better, Manage Better


  • Shutting down a student’s behaviour in the moment can be effective short term but damaging in the long run.
  • Knowing my students and what they need to be their best selves is part of my mission.
  • Addressing students’ behaviors privately and maintaining a trusting safe environment are essential in my classroom.

Sailing My Own Ship: Am I doing it wrong?

“That woman runs a tight ship.”

Our classroom aide, along with our students, had just returned from a specialist class. The specialist teacher was away, and a substitute teacher had taken her place. One of our students had been called out by the substitute for his behaviour. In front of the class, she informed him that she had taught every grade K through 11 before becoming a substitute. Her public assessment was that his behaviour was more fitting of a second grader than his current level, Grade Six. She expressed strong sarcastic concern that he would never make it in high school.

“He was quiet for the rest of the class,” our aide informed me. “It’s too late now, but if there had been more of that here this year, he would have been much improved. He needs someone like her.”

Our classroom aide is a highly intelligent person and a respected member of our educational community. Because of this, I thought about what she had said. A lot. Maybe a little too much (that’s me!). 

I maintain a safe classroom space, where all students know I have their best interests at heart. Their needs are my priority. Click To Tweet

This one comment made me question my teaching practices and my suitability for sixth grade. Is this how teachers of middle-school-aged kids are supposed to be? Could shutting down a behaviour in the moment be the most important goal? Have I let my student, and his peers, down?

I know there are many educators who would respond with a resounding “yes” and many who would not. After some serious overthinking (see above), I’ve decided to stick with my way of navigating things. Here’s why.

Sailing My Own Ship, Reason 1 : Classroom teaching and substitute teaching are different.

I, too, have taught a number of different grade levels (only pre-K through eighth grade, in my case). I have also been a substitute teacher. This year, I am my students’ classroom teacher. Our sixth grade is still part of an elementary school in Québec, which means I have my students all day, every day. In my opinion, positive relationships are key to a successful classroom. Unlike a substitute teacher, who only has 45 minutes to deliver the content set out by someone else, I have some flexibility in my agenda. I can build in a more private approach to behaviour issues, and make sure the work still gets done. 

Sailing My Own Ship, Reason 2: My credibility hinges on being myself.

Our integration aide rightly noticed that the substitute teacher’s technique appeared to work for her. I know myself, and my gut instinct was that it would not work for me. A conversation with a wise and trusted friend confirmed this. I make it part of my mission to do all I can to make sure my students show up as their best selves.

My personal belief is that, while a severe public calling-out can shut down a behaviour quickly, there could be long-term effects on the student. I do agree that a teacher notices important things from an adult perspective, and students need to be made aware of how they can improve. My private discussions about behaviour often contain similar content, but admittedly different delivery. I feel it’s essential to make time for this, away from the ears of the other students. 

Sailing My Own Ship, Reason 3: I serve the students.

I respect my colleagues, and I want them to feel empowered and fulfilled in my classroom. That being said, my students are my reason for teaching. My relationship with them is important to me and so is teaching them to regulate their behaviour. Being firm and fair—and correcting students in private as much as possible—are part of that. My classroom aide is not always aware of these interactions, but I make sure they happen. In operating this way, I believe I maintain a safe classroom space, where all students know I have their best interests at heart. Their needs are my priority.

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Sailing My Own Ship: The Final Word

A few days after the incident with the substitute teacher, the student in question came to see me about his feedback on an assignment. He soon changed the subject.

“Do you think I act like a Grade Two-er?” he asked.

“Why? What happened?” I replied, feigning surprise.

“The sub in Numeracy said I do. She said I’m gonna fail in high school because I’m a big baby. She said it in front of the whole class. I got her back, though. When she turned around, I pretended to erase her with my whiteboard eraser and everybody laughed.”

“Do you think she’s right?” I countered.

“Sort of, yeah. I don’t want to fail high school.”

I looked him in the eye. “You will not fail in high school. You are smart, and you know what’s right. It sounds to me like you need to think about what you were doing in Numeracy, and maybe just do something differently. Erasing the teacher doesn’t help to prove you’re ready to move on.”

He was silent, and I continued. “She doesn’t know you the way I do, and neither will your high school teachers. You need to show them how mature you are in how you behave. It’s that simple.”

“I guess,” my student replied. 

He was uncharacteristically quiet as we finished discussing the assignment. As he went to leave, he added, “Don’t worry. I’ll be okay next year. I promise. I’m glad you’re my teacher.”

Based on that, which is a better landmark than anything else, I will continue to sail my own ship. 

About Sandra Weir

Sandra Weir lives in Québec, Canada. She taught every grade from Junior Kindergarten to Grade Eight. Sandra is currently a Grade Six English and Math teacher. She is a wife, mom to three wonderful adults, and a definite dog person.