Meet The 5th Grade Teacher Who Now Plays Einstein For A Living


Teachers who produce the most orderly, productive classrooms combine a nurturing approach with clear limits and predictable routines. On my most recent visit, I watched Kathleen McAfee stroll around the desks in her fourth-grade classroom. She peered over the kids’ shoulders as they practiced subtracting large numbers, borrowing from the higher place value to make the calculations. Upon noticing one of her students vainly trying to subtract five from four, she gently cupped his face with both hands. “Child,” she said with a smile, proceeding to correct his math.

Elsewhere in the classroom, one girl pulled a mini–elliptical machine in front of her chair and pedaled while she worked on the problem, while others bounced their feet on elastic bands tied taut across the legs of their desks.


One child in McAfee’s class, Marshaun, had dramatically turned around his behavior in the last three years, she told me. In fact, I hadn’t paid much attention to him on my visits because I was looking for disruptive kids or those who needed help self-regulating—he didn’t fit either category. During his earlier years at the school, Della Flora later told me, Marshaun would regularly wander the halls, tense with anger. He fought a lot, often resorting to closed fists and throwing chairs and flipping desks, and was suspended multiple times.

Now, at age 10, Marshaun could calm himself down when upset in the classroom. Occasionally he’d struggle in transitions between classes or at recess when boys jostled against each other, but the staff could de-escalate him with stress balls and fidget spinners. “He’s found things to help him,” Della Flora said.

Tony Schwab, a teacher, speaks to one of his kindergarten students in his classroom’s “dramatic play” area. (Maddie McGarvey)

Another major strategy: a behavioral-management tool known as the PAX game the school introduced. Distributed by the nonprofit PAXIS Institute since 1999, the PAX game aims to teach children to control their impulses by making good behavior fun. The students agree on the type of behaviors they want to see (referred to as “PAX,” the Latin word for peace) and the types they don’t want (“spleems,” an invented word the game’s creators adopted because it’s impossible to say without a smile). These unusual terms help shed any baggage children might have associated with “good choice” or “bad choice” in other environments. Teams of kids compete to win an intangible prize—usually a short, playful activity such as Simon Says—which all students can win as long as their team keeps its spleem count low. Many teachers at Ohio Avenue wear a harmonica on a lanyard around their necks, which they play gently to call kids to attention. Research shows that children with a trauma history may be more sensitive to flashing lights or loud noises, such as the common classroom strategies of getting students’ attention by clapping or flipping the classrooms lights on and off. Harmonicas, blown from high to low, won’t trigger the so-called “fight-or-flight response,” which is a physiological reaction to stress, and which often leads to an escalation of conflict.

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Source : https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2018/05/ohio-school-bad-behavior/559766/

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