Up against it
I usually blog about the good stuff. The wins. Not to inspire (oh, please) or get clicks, but purely to somehow commit to my and public memory the bits I and many of our colleagues are here for. This time, and encouraged by an old time edu-friend Tony Loughland I am writing about the fails. Plenty of those. When teaching, especially mine … sucks.
Imagine being largely or completely ignored in a room full of people. You have to somehow persuade them to do something mandated by the powers-that-be and which you may actually find valuable, interesting yourself. However, the people in front of you, about twenty of them, neither like it, want it and/or see little if any purpose in it. They are extremely skilled at resisting, avoiding, changing topics or simply ignoring you and tending to their business. Plan A (which you spend considerable time and effort planning for) – fails, Plan B. Just as Plan C starts to take shape, something happens and that flicker of attention is out the door. Plan C restart or Plan ‘whatever the letter’. Plan G looks promising but involves a piece of technology to work. You guessed it… What was planned is slipping away fast, the unplanned ‘winging’ that sometimes works best is failing too. You can go down the procedural path for ‘dealing with disruptions’ but you know it’s a bit of a Faustian bargain because you believe, and are even known for, your ability to build trust, understanding, accepting stuff, not just dishing out detentions and stuff some of these characters have long stopped responding to. You could raise the voice but knowing that is doomed too because chances are they will make you yell louder next time until you hit the top. Traps of a kind, both of them.
JUST as you reconcile all this and keep a calm exterior, someone charges in to your class and demands a piece of you. Commotion. A student refuses to move afterwards. You think “shall I dish out detention and sacrifice eating my lunch of 15 minutes in peace or shall I simply ignore the behaviour and in this way condone it?” Technology still not working … Next door colleague comes in asking if you “…need all the laptops?” You feel bad for hogging the lot. An expletive is heard. Someone is trying to steal the lollies that you dish out for good reasons, going through your stuff. You refer to class rules. Repeat requests. Suddenly, you have everyone’s attention, an inch to squeeze in. You explain what needs to be done, 30 seconds max! As soon as you finish, two kids ask: “What do I need to do?” You help the two while losing most of the others. You glance at a beautiful example brought in from neighbouring class by a colleague: “Geez that looks good, should be able to do something in my class … is it me why we can’t?” Guilt. A shout “this is boring”. A teaser, nonetheless. Three kids completely ignoring you and pulling out their phones. It occurs to you “shit, absentees list needs to be done, behaviour sheets ticked.” A kid heading for the glass tank to play with soldiers. “The heck with content for this one, I know he can’t handle it and needs a bit of space every now and then”. Ten seconds later “Why can he play with soldiers and I can’t? That’s not fair, I am not doing work” … Little bit of pack mentality developing – ignore it at your peril. You know only a fraction of what you planned will probably get done. ‘Learning?’ What learning? What did they learn? Bit more guilt, right there. Wasn’t there (the millionth…) an article about how our ‘education is failing’ this morning? Yawn.
Still breathing, dear reader? What I described is about ten, fifteen minutes of ONE of my lessons today. I had five of them. Not all are like this. Some are much better, some are … worse.
Someone reading this may say – that guy needs better classroom management skills. Better organisational skills. Better boundaries. More of the nebulous’ quality’ in his teaching. More engaging activities (hey, we shoot Nerf guns in my class, go treasure hunting, run around to work out time zones, chop watermelons to explain latitude & longitude, fake Moon landing conspiracy to explain critical thinking and more …)! Less teacher-centred practice. Tighter teacher-centred practice. Better … something. Sure! You’re right. While at it, bring out the teaching standards, ‘engagement’ talk and curriculum will you please.
I build my practice on trust, on repeating but learning from failure. I build on hope the kids will muster the care, respect for each other, us, myself even, and recognise the effort on display and at least. I look for signs of understanding another person, a classmate or teacher, and their needs. I am a pretty damn mediocre teacher when it comes to teaching the content and producing pretty-looking assessment items. But I am damn good at one thing: more than for mere docility, compliance and curricular hoops – I look for care. I can’t spank this stuff into someone, anyone. It has to come from within. I look for it, really hard, and try to draw it out. Because I want to live in a community that gives a damn beyond ‘what’s in it for me?’.
But there is something prevalent I am hampered by, what I am battering against and which I fight my biggest ethical battles. I’ll give you a hint – it ain’t the students. Nope. They are but the messengers. It ain’t my school nor its management (and I don’t say that because my Principal is on Twitter and she will probably read this).
Care to speculate what it is? If you do, even briefly and privately so, the post was well worth writing.
PS This was my little therapeutic catharsis. Don’t worry, I am going back to work tomorrow. Still happy to do so 🙂