An excerpt from that wonderful treasure, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery:
“That is strictly correct,” I said. “But why do you want the sheep to eat the little baobabs?”
He answered me at once, “Oh, come, come!”, as if he were speaking of something that was self-evident. And I was obliged to make a great mental effort to solve this problem, without any assistance.
Indeed, as I learned, there were on the planet where the little prince lived–as on all planets–good plants and bad plants. In consequence, there were good seeds from good plants, and bad seeds from bad plants. But seeds are invisible. They sleep deep in the heart of the earth’s darkness, until some one among them is seized with the desire to awaken. Then this little seed will stretch itself and begin–timidly at first–to push a charming little sprig inoffensively upward toward the sun. If it is only a sprout of radish or the sprig of a rose-bush, one would let it grow wherever it might wish. But when it is a bad plant, one must destroy it as soon as possible, the very first instant that one recognizes it.
Now there were some terrible seeds on the planet that was the home of the little prince; and these were the seeds of the baobab. The soil of that planet was infested with them. A baobab is something you will never, never be able to get rid of if you attend to it too late. It spreads over the entire planet. It bores clear through it with its roots. And if the planet is too small, and the baobabs are too many, they split it in pieces . . .
“It is a question of discipline,” the little prince said to me later on. “When you’ve finished your own toilet in the morning, then it is time to attend to the toilet of your planet, just so, with the greatest care. You must see to it that you pull up regularly all the baobabs, at the very first moment when they can be distinguished from the rosebushes which they resemble so closely in their earliest youth. It is very tedious work,” the little prince added, “but very easy.”
And one day he said to me: “You ought to make a beautiful drawing, so that the children where you live can see exactly how all this is. That would be very useful to them if they were to travel some day.
Sometimes,” he added, “there is no harm in putting off a piece of work until another day. But when it is a matter of baobabs, that always means a catastrophe.
The honeymoon is over, and the students are starting to get comfortable and a bit rowdy. Things have gone well, and you haven’t had to be too strict to keep the class well under control.
And then it begins. The little baobabs start to sprout right there in your classroom—your world, your planet!
They come in many forms—a loud burp, a tossed pencil, a gum pop, a glance on someone else’s paper, an “accidental” curse word, a comment spoken out of turn, a student asking to go to the bathroom in the middle of a lecture, etc., you know the signs.
The question in the teacher’s mind is do I stop my momentum for those who ARE listening and cooperating to address these tiny baobabs that as yet have done little harm? The Little Prince thinks it both obvious and urgent—YES, YOU DO!
As a teacher mentor (and parent of three), I have to agree with the Little Prince. No question but that if you address minor infractions as soon as they appear, they are easy to uproot—a simple request or comment will usually do it (Oh, okay, this teacher means it). If you wait, however, and hope they will somehow uproot themselves, or think that if you ignore them, they won’t get nourishment, experience says you are wrong.
They are, in fact, nourished by your lack of attention to them—like weeds.
But take if from the Little Prince….