Classroom Management

Talking Dirty: Dealing with Student Immaturity (Ep. 014)

In this episode, Andrew brings up a topic that we all agree happens on a daily basis: student immaturity. It’s a topic we don’t always feel comfortable sharing as somehow confessing this is an admission of classroom management failure. If creativity is the currency of art teachers, immaturity is the currency of our students. Be it fart jokes, sexual innuendo, or “that’s what she said” remarks, students revel in immaturity. Teachers deal with these antics in their own ways. Some see them as inevitable and harmless little quips that can lighten the class mood or build rapport. Others see them as a huge distraction that can completely derail your class and undermine everything you’re trying to do as a teacher.

Andrew and Tim begin by sharing some memorable stories of how student immaturity reared it’s head in their classrooms. You won’t want to miss the epic fart story that Andrew tells (7:45)! They then discuss tips and tricks to deal with or circumvent immature and offensive behavior (11:30). And finally coming full circle, Tim and Andrew discuss ways that masterful teachers can navigate and even leverage immaturity into teachable moments to build a healthy classroom environment and strengthen rapport (21:00 ). Full episode transcript below.

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Welcome to Art Ed Radio, the podcast for art teachers. This show is produced by the Art of Education, and I’m your host, Andrew McCormick. You know we’ve all slogged through it. Some days it’s heavier than others. Some classes are worse than others. Usually Fridays are bad. Forget about the days before a big holiday break. Holy cow, avoid full moons. I’m talking of course about student immaturity; obnoxious, rude, and inappropriate behavior. Just as Tim and I have said that creativity is the currency in which art teachers trade, immaturity is the currency of our students. Be it fart jokes, sexual innuendos, or “that’s what she said” jokes, our students revel in immaturity.

We all have varying stances with these antics. Some of us will see them as an innocent, or maybe even a little bit of a funny thing. Maybe it’s a way to lighten the class mood or even build rapport. Others are going to see these as a huge distraction that can completely derail our class and undermine everything we’re trying to do as art teachers. Lets talk some specifics on how to deal with these dirty talking antics. Number one. I think we need to find and discover our own threshold for what’s immature and offensive. Then we need to communicate that clearly to our students. Number two. We’re going to talk about how we develop some tactics to defuse and sidestep some of these pitfalls of immaturity. Three, I’m going to pose this question if mastering student immaturity and how to deal with it is actually a way that we can build rapport with our students.

At my very first job a veteran teacher once told me, “Don’t let them get your goat. Don’t even let them know where you keep it.” To me, this is always spoken to not letting things bother and affect me, but that works up until a point until it does bother you. Then you have to be very clear and consistent with your students that something that they are doing, something in their behavior is not appropriate. We have to deal with all of our students in a fair, consistent, and transparent way, and we have to keep at it. Students lose focus and attention in December and in February. All right, let’s be honest. Their attention and focus is probably going to wane in every month, but let’s even look specifically at this month. It’s easy for students to lose sight of their job, and their job is to make awesome art work. A simple reminder individually, or even to the entire group, redirection of class expectations is going to go a long way on improving and vanquishing some of those immature attitudes that you don’t appreciate.

There’s a great article that I just read on Edutopia called Clowning Around: There’s a Comedian in Every Classroom where it discusses how to defuse and actually work with the class clown. Let’s be honest, we all have them. Shoot, I actually was one for pretty much my entire life. In the article, it basically says rather than meeting the students head-on in a confrontational way, we need to think about how to leverage the student’s natural desires to perform and get that limelight, and turn it into a positive and creative outlet for them. If we meet these students with scorn and ridicule and anger, we give them what they want: a stage, an antagonist, us, and an audience. Checkmate. They have everything they want. Instead, think about flipping it on its head and leveraging that to a more positive and creative solution.

Next, I want to talk about the two tactics that I use to avoid some of these immaturity, rude pitfalls. They are using humor myself and front loading. With front loading, I know when and where I’m going to open myself up for all sorts of ridicule and laughter. I can, right off the bat, tell students, “Here’s what I don’t want to see. Here’s what I do want to see. Here’s my expectations.” Appealing to their sense of maturity, despite how slim that actually may be, goes a long way. Something like, “I know you guys are old enough and mature enough to handle this.” Let’s take, for example, the inadvertent student discovery in nudity in an artist’s work. I do try to steer clear of deliberately showing artists’ examples of nudity because I figure there are millions of other artists and examples that I can show without even going there. It does sometimes come up as students are doing some of their own research. We can handle this in a mature way. Students can sense if and when you’re squeamish and uncomfortable about this, and they’re going to react in kind. Be up front, be frank, be honest. Don’t make something a bigger deal than it actually is.

Secondly, I use humor. I figure let’s fight fire with fire. I make fun of myself all the time. My students know that I don’t take myself too seriously and I have a good sense of humor, but that there are lines that we don’t cross. I can joke with my students. I’ll sing, dance, act goofy. Honestly, I think that this has defused much of the student’s temptations to be overly stupid and goofy in the classroom because I’m already doing it in a more appropriate and respectful way. They don’t have to do that. They see the lines of what’s acceptable and they rarely, if ever, cross it.

Finally, and this is the tricky one, I want to talk about … If you can get really good at harnessing and leveraging student immaturity, it actually may be a way to build rapport with your students and create a warm environment and show your students that you’re a human being, and you have a sense of humor. Listen. Fart jokes are pretty much going to be funny. If I ever get to a point in my life where a well-timed toot doesn’t elicit a little chuckle, put me out of my misery. It’s not the end of the world if, as a teacher, we say something totally stupid by mistake, as we’re apt to do, and a student responds with a well-placed zinger. That’s funny. We can go ahead and laugh with them. Let’s not make a big deal out of it. Then we can quickly pivot and get the students back on task. This shows that you connect and that you care about your students, while also still holding them accountable.

With immature students, what we’re really talking about is classroom management. If you feel like your classroom management skills could use a little boost, and let’s be honest, who couldn’t use a little help in this regard? I know I could. I recommend checking out AOE’s course Managing the Art Room. Now, Managing the Art Room is a two-credit course and it begins at the first of every month. A cool little fact: all AOE courses are offered every month. If you’ve got a crazy summer, and I know that I do, then you could maybe get your continuing ed units or grad credits in September or October, which is really cool. Head on over the and check out Managing the Art Room and all the other great courses under the courses tab.

Now let’s bring on Mr. Immaturity himself, Tim Bogatz. Tim, how are you doing?

Tim: I’m doing well. That’s a questionable greeting, but we can go with it. That’s all right.

Andrew: Yeah. Hey, we’re talking lewd, crude, and the mean and obscene. Right off the bat, let’s hear a horror story. One of your worst or most funny moments of lewd, crude, inappropriate behavior from your classes.

Tim: Oh, I don’t know. I don’t know that I have anything funny necessarily, but I think the biggest thing for me, probably the most awkward inappropriate moment, was the first time I ever tried to teach kids to pull handles for ceramics.

Andrew: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Tim: You know. You picture what that looks like with a room of high schoolers and it became a really uncomfortable situation really quickly. I didn’t even think about that at first. I was just like, “Oh, I’m going to show them how to do these beautiful handles. Our mugs are going to look spectacular,” and it definitely did not go as planned. All these weird glances between kids. It was awkward. Even after the demo was over, after class was over, I had a couple girls come up and just tell me how uncomfortable they were just watching boys, watching them while that was going on. It was bad news. I actually ended up recording a video for AOE for the magazine showing some alternatives, different ways to pull clay handles because that just … That didn’t work for me with high schoolers.

Andrew: Yeah. I could see that happening. You’re already eluding to one of the things we’re going to talk about, which is knowing when we’re going to venture into some, “Whoa, Nelly,” kind of moments, how to circumvent that. I want to share one of my stories. I actually think we have … We’ll depart ways on this a little bit because I actually think some of my most inappropriate moments are probably my own fault. I think sometimes I create problems and then I’ve got to deal with them. I used to teach elementary classes and I think some of my favorite stories are from my elementary days. Anyway, I was teaching a fourth grade lesson with colored pencils. I don’t really remember what it was. I had this rule which was three strikes and you’re out, where as if you can’t get your pencil sharpened on the third try, give it to me and I’ll do it. I had this little dude in the front row and his name was Austin. He gave it to me and he was all frustrated. He’s like, “Ugh.” I sharpened it and I wiggled it and I got it right and I gave it back to him. He just looked totally amazed like, “How’d you do that?” Like all frustrated. I was like, “I’m magic.” He’s like, “No, really. How’d you do that?” I’m like, “No, really. I’m magic.” Then he’s like, “Nuh-uh.” After he said nuh-uh, I don’t know what came over me but I was like, “I’m going to shoot lightning bolts at this kid.” Imagine the Emperor from Star Wars where he shoots the lightning bolts. I stomp my feet and I shoot lightning bolts out of my fingers. I kid you not, this kid let out the biggest fart in the world I’ve ever heard. The look on his face was just sheer terror. He actually grabbed his pants a little bit. I pointed at him. I said, “That’s right,” and I walked away. I just let him live the rest of his life thinking that I could induce farts out of him. With that, the whole class erupted and they’re laughing.

Tim: That’s amazing.

Andrew: Yeah. There’s certain things I don’t miss about my elementary school days, but having some fun with some kids and being goofy right along side them is definitely one of the things. That does actually bring me to a point that sometimes I think I’m part of my own problem, so I might need some help from you. Let’s talk tips and tricks, ways that we can get around it, ways that we can avoid it. What are some things that you do to circumvent this inappropriate behavior that we might see?

Tim: Oh, I don’t know. I think the biggest thing for me, honestly, is to, I guess, be more proactive than reactive because I think so many times we talk about, “Oh, what do you do when this kid would say this,” or, “What do you do when this kid acts like this?” What we need to think about is how do we keep the kids from doing that in the first place? How do you avoid those comments? How do you avoid those actions? If you can cut them off before they even start, I think that’s the biggest thing. I guess just being proactive about it is really good. Let’s say we’re going to be thrown on the wheel. There’s all sorts of inappropriate stuff there. We’re going to get things wet and open holes. You know, all the stuff that kids are going to make jokes about.

Before that even starts, I like to just talk to them like, “Hey. Here’s what we’re going to to. These are some of the things that we’re going to be saying. However, I need you to focus on this. This is why I’m teaching you this. This is the language that potters use.” Just give them the rundown of what’s going to be coming and tell them what your expectations are before you even go into that. Generally, I’ve found that if you pre-teach that and just say, “As I’m doing this, I expect you to do this,” it can really help get the behavior that you’re looking for with kids.

Then secondly for me, I don’t necessarily want to be condescending with my kids ever. Those inappropriate comments, I’ll break that rule because I hate it so much when kids are being inappropriate or being immature. I will just look at them and just say, “You are not nearly as funny as you think you are.” Something just dripping with vitriol. Just give them that look and tell them how much I hate that. Generally, that stops things in its tracks. I know I should probably be a little more patient with it and I’d love to have more fun with it like you do, but that’s definitely just not in my DNA. I try and cut it off before it begins. If it does happen, just deal with it swiftly and deal with it pretty strictly.

Andrew: Well, I think you’re right there in the notion of DNA. Something to keep in mind, we also teach different age students. I have kids who are thirteen, fourteen. You’ve got more your seventeen, eighteen, sixteen. It’s kind of the difference between high school and middle school. As a middle school teacher, if you meet too much of that inappropriate behavior too confrontationally, too head-on, then you become the one pebble in the river that’s defying all odds. It’s just like, “Man, I am getting stormed over here.” At some point you’ve got to roll with it a little bit. I know I’ve mixed up about four different metaphors there, but sometimes you’ve got to know which battles to pick and when to step in, but I do agree with you that I think pre-loading and front loading … I mean like, “All right, we’re going to look at some artists that have some nudity in it.” Oh my god, shock of shocks. At the age of fifteen, we ought to be able to handle that. If you pre-load it ahead of time, it’s probably not an issue. One of the things that I’ve noticed that I do, and I think there’s something about ceramics that sounds like both you and I … It’s like ceramics is our downfall when it comes to student immaturity. I think it’s semantics. There’s too many words, too many …

Tim: There really are.

Andrew: There’s too many goofy boys that are just like, “Oh, he said finger.” It’s like I got to talk about a finger if I’m talking about … How am I going to make a pinch pot without talking about a couple of these things? I found myself saying, “Make sure that you apply enough water to the posterior side of the ceramic sphere. Then you can put your digit inside of the opening.” It’s like, oh my god. It just sounds like such a scientific analysis of what we’re doing because I found there’s …

Tim: Yeah. You’ve sucked all the life out of it at that point.

Andrew: Honestly, this is a little meta here, but my kids know what I’m doing. I even get that fake stuffy voice like, “I’m putting my digit inside of the … ” They know why I’m doing that to avoid saying the words like hole and finger and bottom. It’s like, “Oh, god.” It’s funny, and I can make a joke out of it. That brings me to this idea. It’s a fine line to walk about rapport and how, if you could maybe, harness some of the immaturity, some of the inappropriateness to our favor. Does it show that we’re more human? Is it showing that we’re cynical, that we’ve got a sense of humor? Do you just not even play that game at all and not ever venture into that?

Tim: That’s a good question, actually. I think it’s something that probably every teacher needs to think about individually. I guess as far as what you permit and what you can go with. For me, like I said, I don’t have a lot of patience for that. At the same time, you don’t want to be a stick in the mud. If something happens and your entire class is laughing, you don’t want to be standing there with your arms crossed like, “Guys, this is not funny. Guys, there is no humor in this situation.” You really need to go with it. I guess the line for me is whether or not the inappropriate behavior action, words, whatever, whether that’s intentional or not from the kids. Sometimes funny stuff happens and you can just go with it, but other times when kids are trying to be inappropriate, trying to draw attention to themselves, trying to get the class off track, I don’t have a lot of patience for that. That’s where I’m going to be strict. That’s where I’m going to draw the line. Like you said, if something funny happens you do need … Well, me at least. I need to role with that. You need to have some personality. It’s a great time to build rapport with your kids. I guess the intention of it is where I draw the line.

Andrew: Yeah. I think the line I draw is if a kid’s inappropriate, or funny, or immature, or off-task, all of these things that we don’t want, is it affecting just that kid or is it affecting the entire classroom? If it is affecting the entire classroom and our entire learning environment’s compromised, I need to step in and stop this right now. If it’s one kid being goofy and he’s only hurting himself, I’m going to let that ride out. I’m going to let it play out, but I’m not okay with it. I’m going to talk to that kid and say, “Here’s why what you’re doing is wrong and I don’t want you to do that. Here are my expectations.” When it becomes and entire classroom, it’s a lot more swift and severe, and we’re knocking this junk out right now.

That gets me to another thing to think about, though. I’ve censored music that I’ve played in the classroom like, “Okay, we’re not going to play that hip hop song because it’s got some content that’s inappropriate,” even though personally in my own life I might listen to that and not think twice about it. When I tell my kids, “Hey, we’re not going to listen to this. We’re not going to look at this artist,” or, “You’re not going to say that.” They’ll say like, “But we do it in our own lives.” That gets me to think about the pop culture and visual culture that our students are already using. Do we as teachers need to think twice about bringing that stuff in when it can lead to immature and inappropriate behavior? How do you navigate that?

Tim: I think there’s a couple ways to think about that. First, I don’t think you can be afraid to bring anything in. If it can teach a good lesson, I wouldn’t shy away from it because, again, it goes back to my first point that I talked about, we’re just pre-teaching expectations and behavior. Say, “Hey, this artist does these things and some of it may be offensive to people. Some of it may be inappropriate, but we’re looking at them because … ” and give them the reasoning behind it and let them know what kind of lessons that you can take from it. Then the second part of that is just having kids know the context and know the audience of where their work is being presented. The things that you do at school are different from the things you do at home. Just like you said, what you’re doing at home, what you’re listening to at home is not what you can listen to at your job. Those are not one in the same.

If you can teach your kids about the context, audience, the placement of whatever they’re doing. Whether that be the music, like you said, the artworks that they’re creating, the artworks that you’re looking at, I think it’s important to teach them how to deal with those sorts of issues in different situations.

Andrew: Okay. That brings me to my final one. I think this is going to be a slow pitch softball for you to knock out of the park. Do you think then that immature, inappropriate behavior is like the curse of teaching older students, or do you actually think that it provides us an opportunity as teachers to work with them a little bit on these things?

Tim: I’m going to go with both. I don’t know if I’d call it a curse, but it can be really annoying. Like I said, I don’t have a ton of patience for kids who are really trying to get class off track and work really hard to be immature. At the same time, like you said, it is an opportunity to teach them a little bit more about how to behave, how to deal with these issues, how to deal with these situations. It is a good chance for us to teach them and hopefully they can take that beyond the art room.

Andrew: Man, I agree with you because I think art teaches so much more than just art, more than any other classes. Grit, determination, focus, learning from failures. Some of that is also behavioral. You’re not focused right now and you’re being goofy and off-task. Not to poo poo core classes, but it’s like, “Do this worksheet and stay busy.” We, it’s a little more open-ended. I think there’s plenty of opportunities for kids to be immature and inappropriate. Then we can coach them through how to deal with that better.

Tim: Yeah, I think that’s a really good point.

Andrew: Yup. Hey, man. Thanks for coming on and thanks for letting me tell one of my favorite fart joke stories.

Tim: That is a great story. That is classic.

Andrew: All right, well talk to you later, man.

Tim: All right, thank you.

Andrew: Good bye. I think it’s clear that Tim and I have some slight differences in how we view the severity of student immaturity. I see it as a way, if harnessed correctly, to build rapport with your classroom, where I think Tim is a little bit more of a nip-it-in-the-bud type of teacher. I think we both agree that that which we promote … There’s that old adage with teenagers that if you give them an inch, they’ll take a mile. That definitely can be true, but we can and should as teachers be more savvy than that. We should know how to coral our classes back in. An occasional joke, okay. That’s fine. If you don’t know your class well and you don’t know your environment that you’ve created, it could morph into something more serious and destructive. You could actually be creating a toxic environment in your classroom. Be careful and deliberate with how you deal with student immaturity.

Confrontation and a “my way or the highway” approach to little childish things isn’t going to work, and it may very well alienate your students. Sure, you’ve got obedience and difference, but at what cost? At creativity’s cost? At student’s investment and excitement’s cost? I’m not willing to make that trade-off. Always keep in mind what we were like as students and that immaturity is actually a great opportunity to teach what proper focus and respect in arts, and in life, actually looks like. How boring would it be, as a teacher, if all you had were perfect, well-behaved students? We need those immature students to teach us patients and better sharpen our teaching craft. Anyone can teach the great kids, but a truly great teacher teaches all kids.

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