I have a tendency to speak out against teacher tyranny. I emphasize that we do not have rules in my class so much as we do rituals. I mention that I don’t have seating charts and time-out chairs and other structures that schools use to keep students well-behaved. I’ll tell a teacher, “It’s time that we moved away from focussing on behavior and moved toward a focus on the cognitive process.” Somehow if I say “cognitive process” instead of learning I end up sounding smarter and in the moment I feel like people listen to me a little more.
Then the beginning of the year hits and I realize that I don’t have classroom leadership all figured out. I realize how hypocritical I can be in my speech compared to my actions. The truth is that we have some fairly rigid classroom procedures and I can be a hard-ass in how I enforce it. Case in point: I have a student who talks when I’m talking. While he often offers great insights to class discussions, but I get frustrated with his talking. The classroom is hot and we’re both tired – tired of the room and the heat and honestly a little tired of one another. I’d love to say it’s not personal but it is. It’s deeply personal. It’s relational conflict and it’s unspoken until he speaks out again and I tell him, “You’re robbing the class of an education and you’re robbing yourself as well. You’re brilliant, but you’re wasting learning time.”
The class is silent. It’s not the tone or the volume, but the words that wound, especially when he doesn’t get a chance to save face. It’s only the fourth day of school and already I have humiliated a child publicly. It’s not exactly a Teacher of the Year moment.
Minutes later as they work in pairs, I pull him aside and we talk. I apologize and he awkwardly accepts. He talks about how easily he gets bored and how he talks without thinking and how I might as well get used to the fact that I’ll have to send him out of the classroom because it’s just the way things work. We talk about why it’s important and about empathy and on the most basic level it becomes a conversation about ethics.
I’ll talk to him again today and slowly he’ll begin to trust me and I’m guessing the he’ll never completely quiet down and if I’m honest I don’t mind a few interruptions because it reminds me that I don’t have it all figured out and that I have no business telling people how to lead a classroom when I still stumble around it myself.
I used to hate discipline. I thought it was a waste of time. What the beginning of the year teaches me is that it is a part of the learning process. It’s not an issue of teaching children how to behave. Instead, it’s a chance to get to know them and to help them think through their own thinking so that they can act respectfully. It’s a messy process filled with apologies and conversations and bad analogies, but it’s also a part of life-long learning.
I need to remember that discipline is one of the best parts of teaching because it is a very real, practical, human part of the learning process.
photo credit: Candie_ N’s Photostream on Flickr Creative Commons