In a recent comment, I asserted that a lot of stuff that matters to classroom teachers nowadays (and to me when I first started) doesn’t really matter. I asked a bunch of rhetorical questions, one of which Sarah picked up, mentioning that her school has Seven Universal Rules, one of which is no gum:
So at this point, when someone comes in chewing, I say, “Go ahead and spit it out.” If I notice it in class, I bring the trashcan around. I’m trying not to make it a big deal. But at the same time, what do I do with the rules forced on me?
Postponing any answer for a second, your last paragraph is great. “Go ahead and spit it out.” Nothing snide or demeaning. It’s pretty much 100% about attitude/tone in these situations and not about what is said.
Guaranteed: there is at least one teacher at your school — probably someone on the Seven Universal Rules committee — who takes those rules and wraps herself up in them.
- They give her leverage with her students when she couldn’t buy any by being fun, interesting, or clear.
- They give her a sense of self-definition when she couldn’t define herself by being fun, interesting, or clear.
- They give her a simple goal to work towards (the consistent enforcement of all seven) when she couldn’t grapple with more worthy, but complicated, ones like becoming fun, interesting, and clear.
There are a lot of smart folks on this here blogowhatever who would suggest in error that she craves power and control over her students. These people miss the greater point that she is scared. She craves freedom from fear. Power is merely her means. The eradication of fear is her end. Dismissing her as power-hungry offers no rehabilitative recourse except to take away her power.
Those are the teachers that every student dislikes except those who are similarly afraid. Power cures the teacher’s fear. That teacher’s structure cures the student’s.
The other students — those more psychologically put-together than their harried teacher — get a boring instructor who is professionally miserable (even if she wouldn’t self-report that misery) who has made a list of her seven largest anger buttons obvious and public.
My word. The fun those students will have at her expense.
You wanna see that teacher? One of her students took video of her awhile back. That sequence three minutes in which a student takes her box of Kleenex and she goes after it? The metaphorical significance of that box (which, to her, doesn’t just contain Kleenex) is unmistakable. Her student knows it and goes after it.
But if you aren’t afraid of your students then you’re in the best possible place.
You can enforce rules with calm detachment ’cause there’s no you in the disciplinary equation, only us and how much we can learn in a two-hour block.
You can also turn a blind eye to infractions ’cause that student surreptitiously chewing gum in the back doesn’t scare you. She isn’t chewing gum to piss you off, which is kinda the default assumption of the scared teacher.
Then two weeks before your evaluation you tell your students that we are getting absolutely crazy about these rules. You start writing standards on the board. You get heavyhanded with cell phones. You start caring about food, drink, and gum. You get a little meaner.
Then the day after your evaluation you get back to teaching.