Two Choices Technique and the Gangsta’

11.29.14 2 choices Gang iStock_000005364632LargeI got a gangsta’ challenge.

Andre and Nicolas were not doing their math.  They were talking nasty stuff about jail.  They were showing off, whispering just loudly enough to make their private conversation public.  This was at a time when we had some pretty tough customers for students and it was obvious that Andre and Nicolas were working at showing how tough they were.  They didn’t need to.  At a school full of hard guys, Andre was easily one of the toughest and Nicolas wasn’t far behind.  They were trying to show the other kids that they could bully me.  I hadn’t been their teacher for very long so they were testing me.

Sometimes it can be effective classroom management to let a couple of students take a minute and talk to each other if they don’t distract others and quickly get back to work.  You pick your battles.  But there are limits!

Now, I’m an open minded guy.

I have had conversations about sex, drugs and rock and roll (and hip hop) but I know how to pick my time and place for such conversations.  I also remember what it’s like to be a teenager and that it is a part of growing up to test your boundaries.  But Andre and Nicolas crossed every reasonable boundary of appropriate classroom conduct.

You be the judge.

Nicolas was turned around in his chair.  He wouldn’t stop talking gangsta’ stuff and when he said, “I hate that prison gay shit man!  Homeboy was in general lockup and these faggots were in the corner jacking off…”

I quietly said, “Nicolas, turn around and get to work please.”

Nicolas gave me some stink eye but turned around and imitated a student working.  It didn’t last.

As soon as I was helping another student, Nicolas was turned around in his chair and Andre was saying, “You know that girl Rayon?  She’s pregnant and she says it’s mine but I ain’t doing shit because she already got a baby from her boyfriend and he’s due to get out of lockup in a month.  Let him take care of it.”

I quietly said, “Gentlemen, that is not appropriate conversation for class.  Nicolas, turn around and get to work please.”

Nicolas again gave me stink eye while turning around and imitating a student working.  But, since he was testing me, it didn’t last.

They waited until I was busy helping someone else and then I heard Nicolas complain, “Man I ain’t listening to Dr. Dre no more since he gave up weed.  Snoop Dogg’s okay because he still gets high but…”

For the third time, I quietly said, “Nicolas, stop talking and please get to work.”

The Final Insult

But Nicolas just swiveled around in his chair and went back to talking about some guy he knew who got in a fight in jail.  That was the final insult.

I shouted, “Nicolas!  Turn around and get to work NOW!”

Nicolas jumped to his feet sending his chair flying behind him.  Then he shouted, “Man!  You ain’t got to yell at me like I’s your nigga bitch!”

The room fell deathly silent.  The die was cast; the gauntlet thrown.  What would the teacher do?  What would you do?


I quietly said, “I’m sorry Sir.  You misunderstand me.  I wasn’t yelling at you like you was my nigga bitch; I was yelling at you like you were DEAF!  Because I politely asked you three times to turn around and get to work and you didn’t get to work.  So I’ve got to figure that either you were having a momentary deafness or YOU WERE INTENTIONALLY DISRESPECTING ME!  So what was it?  Were you intentionally disrespecting me, or were you having a momentary deafness?”

I’ve said before, my Kung Fu is strong.  Nicolas wasn’t ready for the Two Choices Technique.  He surveyed the room and his homeboys were busy studying the floor or giving him looks that said, ‘You’re on your own brother.’  Nicolas then wisely said, “I guess I was having a momentary deafness.”

And he sat down, and got to work and that was the end of it.

Epilogue: Two Choices Technique Explained

As I previously said in Two Choices Technique and the 2 Year Old, the trick is in wording what you want so that your kid is making their own choice between two alternatives of YOUR selection.  One of the choices should usually be unpleasant and quite possibly cause the child to lose face; the other choice (the one you really want) is a better choice that allows the child to save face.

When you pick the two choices it is important to avoid side issues and remain goal oriented.  In this case, with Nicolas my goal was to keep him in class (if possible), get him on task, and to assert my authority without dispute.  The choices I made were based on years of experience.

You might wonder why I didn’t get on his case right away with his ‘faggot’ comment.  I felt that if I drew attention to that, he could always argue that I didn’t hear him correctly or he could have derailed the issue by countering with, “Why?  Are you gay?” a response which almost always sets off the class in a direction that is counter productive.  I kept it goal oriented by insisting he get to work.  This rationale governed my responses to each of the vulgarities.  He was thus unable to claim that I didn’t hear him correctly or that I was picking on him.

You might wonder why I didn’t just throw him out of class after his ‘nigga bitch’ comment.  Here he could claim he was only responding to me yelling at him.  I would contend that yelling was necessary to gain his undivided attention.  Unfortunately if we went that route we would still be off topic.

We know that our students are volatile.

We are constantly told to keep them calm with our corrections.  Also we are mandated to limit suspensions either from school or class.  I have no problem with suspending disrespectful or disruptive students.  Star Trek fans will recognize that I subscribe to the philosophy, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.”  But I also know that as a school of last resort there aren’t many places to send our students if we kick them out.  And as An Oasis of Second Chances (see What Happened to David) we have to give them the chance to correct their behavior.

By making one of his choices, “Yes I was intentionally disrespecting you.”  I was on solid legal ground.  He’d have to admit to willful defiance and there could be no ambiguity as to guilt.   I didn’t want him to go but if he was going to be disruptive, the needs of the many would outweigh the needs of the one.  By making the other choice, “Momentary deafness,” Nicolas could save face with his friends, get to work without argument, and assert my authority without dispute, all the things I wanted from the start.

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What Happened to David

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4 thoughts on “Two Choices Technique and the Gangsta’”

  1. I agree we give choices. However, the choices should not be centered around me the teacher but the student.

    I think you drew first blood when you called the student out in front of the class the first time. Calling out a student by name and correcting in front of the entire class causes embarrassment. If we want to maintain relationships with students and foster trust and discipline that humanizes we avoid calling a kid out in front of his peers.

    Second, the problem started in this class when the curriculum and teacher were established as the authority in the class. You said,

    “In this case, with Nicolas my goal was to keep him in class (if possible), get him on task, and to assert my authority without dispute.”

    The goal was not to engage Nicolas. The goal was not to inspire Nicolas. The goal was not to connect Nicolas to a greater understanding of the world. The goal was center the curriculum and assert your authority.

    I would challenge you to reconsider this. I would like to challenge you to be more student centered because school is about the learner, not the curriculum or the teacher.

  2. Aaron, your ideas are wonderfully idealistic, but this is a school populated almost entirely by felons and hard-core kids who’ve been tossed out of every other school they’ve ever attended, so good luck with that. I’ve taught in inner city schools, including a large comprehensive high school and two continuation schools. We never saw kids like these, because by high school they’d either been incarcerated or tossed out. Have you ever taught the felons and the gangstas? If yes, please describe a situation where your softer class management technique diffused a potentially violent situation.


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