Jul 01 2008

How to say ‘No’ without feeling guilty

How to say ‘No’ without feeling guilty.

Students gauge a teacher’s competence by how that teacher exhibits confidence and decisiveness. To measure this, all a student has to do is ask a simple question. “Can I get a drink of water?” “Can I go to the bathroom” “Can I turn this in late?”

If you’re going to effectively control your class, you have to learn to decisively say ‘No.’ That’s ‘No’ with a capital ‘N’ and a lowercase ‘o.’ ‘NO,’ with two capitals reveals panic. ‘no,’ with two lowercases is too weak. When a kid asks you a question like “Can I go outside the room so I can blow my nose?”, or any other unnecessary question, you’ve got to stop and pretend to consider it for about a second and then you’ve got to look the student in the eye and matter-of-factly say ‘No.’ Then, and here’s the toughest but most important part, you’ve got to turn ninety degrees and walk away.

I call this “The ‘No’ and turn,” and have performed it thousands of times.

Turning and walking away seems like it would be disrespectful to the student but it is not. They asked a question and you thought about it and answered it. There’s nothing else to say or do. Compare “The ‘No’ and turn” to “The ‘No’ and wait.” Now the kid thinks you’re waiting for him to persuade you.

It’s hard to say ‘No’ sometimes, but it’s so important that I’ve devised some tricks that will help you. When a student begins asking a question, you can start mentally preparing to say ‘No.” “Getting ready to say ‘No.’ Getting ready to say ‘No,” I’ll think while the question is being asked. Then, one beat after the question is finished, ‘No,’ and turn.

Another strategy to use when a student begins asking a question to which you should probably respond ‘No’ is to pretend that the kid asked something else, something totally outrageous. Though he asked, “Can I go to the bathroom?” pretend he asked “Can I do a backflip off the teacher’s desk?” Though he asked “Can I get a drink of water?” pretend he asked “Can I get a drink of Jack Daniel’s?”

If you’re at an institute right now, I recommend that you try “The ‘No’ and turn” five times today. Compare the student’s response to that against “The ‘No’ and wait” or the dreaded “Ummm, well, I’m thinking ‘No’, but is it really, really important, not just one really, but two?”

P.S. Check further down on this blog to see the New Teacher Workshop I presented at the New York TFA institute in 2003. I’m not doing this presentation ‘live’ at any of the regions unless you’re in New York (where the regional office has me speak at the post-institute training week), this is the only way you’ll get to see it.

2 Responses

  1. meli

    Cool! We’ll be seeing you later this summer then!

  2. Katharine

    This entry was fantastic. Thank you for posting this. I am going into my second year teaching third grade in Charlotte and this is definitely a skill I needed to use more frequently this past year. I’m going to try to take your advice and practice the “No” and turn from day one!

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By a somewhat frustrated 1991 alum

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