When I quit talking I became my mother

by Mr. Sheehy

A conversation with my mom (a veteran middle school language arts teacher) late one night in Starbucks. As usual, she was buying, I was talking.

Mom: If you had to summarize and simplify your classroom management strategy to its core, how would you describe what it is you do?

Me: Keep ’em busy.

Inquisitive look from Mom – is that what she expected? Maybe, but I kept talking.

Me: Relationship comes in later, but I can manage the room the first weeks of school too, before I’ve built bridges. So I say, always keep ’em doing something, cuz if they’re not doing something constructive, they’ll think of something else to do.

That includes talking. If I’m talking and they’re not listening, then they’re not doing anything, and they’ll think of something else to do then too. So I’ve quit talking.

Mom: Yep.

I find the end of this exchange the most amusing, because early on it was what set my mom and me apart in our styles. I am a dynamic speaker. I don’t say I’m a brilliant speaker, but I’m highly energetic and am capable of going nuts up front when talking about Shakespeare or Langston Hughes. I will also do anything for a laugh. Earlier in my teaching career I tended to use this skill with my students – it was a bit of a mark of my style. My mom, on the other hand, has always been more of a quick pep talk and then to-the-projects kind of teacher. Not that she isn’t a good speaker, but she’s a bit less nuts than I am and she has grown her reputation by wowing people with the work her students produce for her.

Five years into this gig, I have begun labeling my talk as “blah, blah, blah” and don’t even prepare lectures anymore. Looks like Mom wins again.

Thanks for reading.