June 24, 2017

The teacher's quandary

Tom Abate, San Leandro Patch, 2012 - To get through the day I must “manage” my students’ behavior. It’s the crucible of most teachers. Books are written about it. Teachers are evaluated based largely on how--or whether--they do it.

To outsiders or to those rare teachers with overpowering personalities it seems obvious; adults are there to be in charge, kids are there to obey.

But there’s a fundamental contradiction in the process that doesn’t get acknowledged enough. To teach my students I must have a good relationship with them. I must be a combination of entertainer, coach, father-figure, and guru.

Yet every time a kid violates a rule I must cast off those other roles and become a cop. And each time I police their behavior I make those other roles increasingly unbelievable.

If the stars align and most of my students are quietly working on whatever the day’s tasks are, I can stay in character as Mr. Rogers.

But the rules of school say that students must be tracked; good kids in one room, fractious kids in another room. And in any class of disaffected teens there will be some kids who hate quiet and orderliness. They crave attention; they resent the teacher’s power.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is why class size is so important. I'm middle aged and I remember how my grade school (1st-8th) suddenly had a population bubble as I entered 4th grade. My 3rd grade class had 18 students, my 4th grade class had 24, and they had to add a third teacher to the grade, for the size of the grade had roughly doubled. The difference in class dynamics was huge.

In 3rd grade, the class was small enough that the teacher could give attention to each student individually throughout the day, so her students never needed to act out very much and all problems could be solved in homeroom. In 4th grade with mostly the same kids as last years class plus 6 more, things became fractious. Suddenly several boys started acting out constantly. The teacher often didn't have time for personal attention to each student every day, causing her to sometimes be brusk when students needed help. Even kids who didn't make trouble felt shorted in class because we felt the teacher didn't have time to give attention to the rest of us. As a 10 year old I could see how much class size effects teacher and student performance. Teachers today have classes of over 30 students, even with 1st and 2nd graders, it must be a constant war on chaos just to keep the class on track. Or as a friend of mine who is a teacher once told me, "I spend 40% of class time trying to get the class quite and to take out a piece of paper."

The saddest thing in all this is the writer of the article doesn't even seem to realize that class size is what drives his problem.