I hate to be the one to break the news to you, but illegal activity will happen in your room from time to time. Keeping close supervision over your class will dramatically cut down on the number of incidents, but you will not be able to eliminate them altogether. As an administrator, I spend a significant portion of my day “solving mysteries”, like who stole David’s cell phone, or who wrote graffiti in the boy’s bathroom. Over the course of my eleven years as an Assistant Principal, I have developed a system for finding out who did what in the least amount of time. When something goes missing in your room, follow these steps in order:
*If Step 1 doesn’t work, announce to
the class that an object has disappeared from your room, and you are
launching an investigation to find out who took it. Tell the class that if the perpetrator
comes forward privately and confesses to taking the object, you will give
the student a reduced punishment.
“Henry, I have received reports that you took my phone. I don’t know if you took it or not, but I am giving you the opportunity to tell me the truth now. If you took the phone, and you tell me you did and give it back, it will save me the trouble of interviewing people, collecting witness statements, and carrying on with a long, drawn-out investigation. For saving me all of that time and effort, I will be very grateful. Of course, we will still have to deal with the decision you made to take the phone, but we will take your honesty into consideration when determining your disciplinary consequence. If you took the phone, but tell me now that you didn’t…and I spend a whole bunch of time and effort conducting the investigation which ends in me finding out that you DID take the phone…I will be in a much less forgiving mood the next time we talk.” You would be amazed at how many times the speech has worked. It gives the student the opportunity to confess while still “saving face”.
*If Step 3 doesn’t work, tell your class that you will allow them to leave the stolen object on your desk, or they can leave an anonymous note on your desk telling you who perpetrated the crime. They can do this after class, inbetween classes, or after school.
*At this point, you need to assess how badly you want to solve the mystery. I can tell you that I wouldn’t follow four steps to find a stolen stapler or tape dispenser…I will just tip my hat to the thief and say, “You got away with it”. Each crime is as insignificant or severe as the victim thinks it is. I do follow all of the steps when I am searching for a cell phone stolen out of a substitute teacher’s purse, for example. The important thing to remember is to not let the class think that the crime is negatively affecting you in any way. If you do that, you are letting them win! If you do that, prepare yourself for more stuff to happen in your room. Once students see that you are still going to be positive and carry on with your life and teach your lessons…the illegal activity will taper off. The illegal activity will also taper off when you are successful at solving the crimes. If you are still wanting to solve the crime, there is one more step – offering a reward for the item or information leading to the conviction of the perpetrator. I would recommend using a reward only as a last resort, and only after you have followed all of the previous steps. If you skip steps and begin your investigation with offering a reward, students will begin stealing your stuff just to turn it in for a reward…you don’t want that!
*Things not to do – Here are some strategies that usually backfire…yelling at the class about what terrible people they are is at the top of the “Don’t” list. Why yell at the entire class when it is one or two people who are making you mad? This also feeds the negative behavior because students are entertained by your rant. Most of the kids in your class will think it is funny that you are so upset. Another no-no is conducting a search of the students in your class. I discuss this in the “How To Not Get Sued” section of this website. If you really must search the kids, ask an administrator or your campus security officer to conduct the search…they know more about it than you do. Also, don’t get cute and pull the “No one leaves this room until I get my phone back” ultimatum. Most kids don’t want to go to their next class, so they will be more than happy to sit and stare at you as you lose control of yourself. You will not endear yourself to the administration or your fellow teachers by using that technique, either. The ultimate slap in the face would be the administrator who enters your room, asks what is going on, then releases your class without your approval. Your authority and credibility is up in flames at that point. Finally, don’t accuse anyone of the crime until you are almost 100% sure that they did it. And by 100% I mean that you have one or two students who saw the perpetrator commit the crime. If you accuse a student of something, then find out later that he/she didn’t do it…you will have trouble with that student (and his/her parents) for the rest of the school year.
Good luck…and happy hunting!!