Sunday, November 15, 2009

Today’s Meet the Press has a segment on education. They played a sound bite from Obama reporting that his daughter says she does well in school because she just likes having knowledge. At breakfast today at Knapp’s Pat told of being at the aquarium watching kids excited to learn things about the ocean environment they didn’t know and comparing it with having kids in a science class who truly could not have cared less about knowing anything about the ocean or any other subject in biology. I have to say I have real trouble understanding that portion of our student body that is not only uncurious, but even openly disdainful of learning, knowing things. To be smart would be anathema.
When the administration of the school offered to support a committee to discuss discipline in school, despite being really busy, I jumped to join it. We call it the Safe and Civil committee. After the last meeting, another member expressed appreciation for my presence on the committee basically because of my ability to be blunt. It’s one way I deal with discipline in my own classroom. I just like to cut to the chase. Whatever the situation, instead of dithering through discussion or argument, I want to discover exactly what’s going on, get to the bottom right away. Time is too precious. Sometimes that makes me appear confrontational, and I get in trouble sometimes. Why mess around?
My father influenced me a bit in this regard. He’s scrupulously honest, even returning extra change to a clerk. Another influence comes from my fundamentalist period. Matthew 5:37. Let your yes be yes and your no be no, anything else comes from evil. Don’t bother lying or prettying up your prose or adding obscenity or swearing to your discourse. Tell the truth and tell it plainly. Emily Dickinson notwithstanding (tell the truth but tell it slant), I’ve worked hard to try to speak plainly and honestly. Do I never lie? Well, not never, and I don’t always tell everything I know, but I do speak plainly about what my students are doing. If they’re mocking me, I let them know I recognize it. If they’re trying to control the classroom, I’m going to let them know I understand their need for control, but that I have to run the class. During my very first year of teaching, I had to confront a student who had erased other students’ work from a floppy disk (remember those?). At one point he said, “Are you calling me a liar?” Of course I did not want to admit that I was indeed calling him a liar, but that’s exactly what was happening. It was a horrible feeling.
That situation taught me a lot. Later that afternoon I called his mother. She was very grateful for the call. Her son had planned to go to a party that weekend that she did not want him to attend. She thanked me for giving her a reason to say “no” to him. I was shocked. To be fair, I don’t have kids of my own so I do not know how difficult it is to say “no” to my 14 year old son when he wants to go to a party where I suspect there will be drinking. His behavior in class was consistently poor: talking, ridiculing others, refusing to stay on task, bullying, insubordinate, surely his mother saw some of this behavior at home!
The way teachers are treated by kids completely shocks my 80 year old parents. My dad looked forward to school; he respected his teachers. I loved school, although I did not respect all my teachers I certainly did not treat them badly (except Mr. Jensen, but boy is THAT another story). Some of my students still like school, come to school ready and willing, desirous of learning and treat their teachers very well. They are not the majority. If they were, education would not need fixing. Teachers are being asked to motivate the unmotivated, move the immobile. Lots of people are talking about extending the school day or school year, but forcing unwilling kids to endure more of something they hate or are not prepared for makes no sense. Am I too blunt? More to follow…

1 comment:

Stephanie Frieze said...

I never would have considered speaking to any adult the way some students speak to teachers and support staff. I believe that many parents let go of the reins when their children were little, part of the "everyone's a winner" theory of parenting. Their attempts to regain control at a time in a child's life when they are supposed to be spreading their wings are met with sulleness and behaviors.

Children thrive on structure and you provide structur for students. Sure they are going to complain, but keep it up. You locked my son out after break one day. He got mad. I bought him a watch. You're still his favorite teacher. Keep calling it like you see it.