Variations on a Theme By Nag-anini: "I Didn't Do Anything!"

Fred Flaxman writes:

In 1820 an Italian violinist, unknown outside of his native country at the time, published a tune that was destined to drive audiences -- and composers -- wild ever since. His name: Niccolo Paganini.

The piece: the last of 24 caprices for solo violin. These capricci, which explore virtually every aspect of violin technique, are still the supreme test of the abilities of any violinist.

Liszt, Rachmaninoff, Szymanowski, Lutoslawski, Andrew Lloyd Webber and others wrote their own variations on this Paganini theme.

Rachmaninoff's is my favorite. Listen to this.

Meanwhile, this is one of the most unpleasant tunes ever written. "I didn't do it!" Let's call it Variations On A Theme By Nag-anini.

I Didn't Do It is a fairly frequent transaction in many schools. It has an unpleasant effect on teachers: it makes you feel like a nag when you pursue the kid who is denying the obvious.

You could almost create a whole course on this topic.

Teacher sees misbehavior. Calls student name.

Teacher: Jerome? Kid: I didn't do anything!

There are at least three other main variations of Nag-anini. Sometimes:

Teacher: Jerome. Kid: I didn't do anything!


Teacher: Jerome! Kid: I didn't do anything!


Teacher (mistakenly perceives misbehavior): Jerome Kid: I didn't do anything!

Of course there are scores of additional minor variations.

Now let's move from the classroom to the principal or dean's office. When a teacher sends the kid out for either continued misbehavior, or egregious misbehavior, what happens?

Administrator: Why were you sent out? What happened? Kid: I didn't do anything!

It's a tough place to start. Usually the student is asked to fill out a simple form. What happened? What could you have done differently? Etc. The form sometimes provides some built-in cool down time.

I'm listening to Jared, our middle school dean, handle one of these right now. The student is very upset. Every time Jared asks a question, she opens a new line of debate.

Quasi admission: Maybe I was rude, but so was the teacher!

Expanding the problem: I don't even like this school!

In our middle school, about 5% of the kids on any typical day might be sent out of class or tutorial at some point. Half of these are easily remediated. Five minutes, kid acknowledges what happened, fairly even keel, bucks up, back to class.

The other half require a deft touch. We have procedures where the teacher and dean/principal connect later and debrief.

This is also where having large, steady streams of proactive phone calls all year long, from each teacher to each parent, pays off.

If you've made the positive calls, they'll back you up on the Nag-anini situations. If you haven't, expect that the kids are making an excellent case to their parents that they, in fact, didn't do it. Good luck with that.