Sunday, June 03, 2007

I Wish I Didn’t See Myself in This

I got a really neat book from the IRA a few months back titled How We “Do” School: Poems to Encourage Teacher Reflection, by Karen Morrow Durica. It’s a great collection of school-related poems, some poignant, some thoughtful, some hilarious. The one that gave me the most pause was called The Bully:

School was a dreadful place for me.
He was there every day.
Loomed over me;
Made me feel small
No matter how I tried to please.

He delighted in my embarrassment,
Pointed out my flaws;
Gave little or no care
Of who might hear my limitations
Or see me wince at his words.

He oppressed me with his power.
Daily made sure
I knew my place,
And had no illusions
Of moving into the accepted crowd.

I ached for his approval.
He gave it to a favored few.
I was tormented knowing
I never shone in any way
But in his disappointment.

I could not retaliate.
My impotence was guaranteed.
He was bigger than I;
Older than I;
Smarter than I.
He was my teacher.
I have to catch myself sometimes, because I could really see myself coming off like the guy in this poem. The thing that gets to me most is the kid who won’t try. One of my little guys writes 7 to answer any addition problem that he doesn’t immediately know the answer to. I’ve told him to slow down on his timings, I’ve shown him several ways to get to the correct answers, I’ve spent the time; he’s made a conscious choice, here, to be lazy and not try.

The other day I stopped him mid-timing and asked to use his strategies—to try. He shrugs and carries on like I’m not even there. After the timer went off I took his paper and put it in the garbage can.

“Why aren’t you going to grade mine?” he asked.
“What would be the point?” I asked back. “You didn’t try hard, and you know it.”
“I did too!”
“Aaron, here you told me that 2 plus 1 is 7. Here you told me that 8 plus 0 is 7. Here you’ve told me 5 plus 5 is 7. What is 2 plus 1?”
“So why the 7?”
“I don’t know.”
“I do. And that’s why I’m not grading this.”

Looking back, I was sharp with him. I bullied him. I told him his work was garbage, and I meant it.

But was I wrong?

At what point do you set aside patience and make the student responsible for their own work? When they fail in this responsibility in a spectacular way, how many opportunities to succeed are they owed before you let them own their failure? Can “being nice” get in the way of letting the kid solve his own problems?

I’m thinking about this lately because I’m reading Rafe Esquith’s new book, Teach Like Your Hair’s On Fire. Esquith is a magical writer and the classroom he describes is the one that I wish I had, but as I read I just marvel at the grace and dignity that seems to come as naturally to him as breathing does to the rest of us.

He has grace; I have grump.

I’ve got to do better.


Blogger Marie said...

I've got a class full of "Aaron"s. I think you acted correctly. I do similar things and truly hope that one time, what I do or say will sink in and they will actually try...I've never had a class like this before. We are dealing with children who don't have consequences, I believe, but there's got to be more to it than that. It is definitely frustrating!

7:06 PM  
Blogger Jim Anderson said...

I figured I'd fight poetry with poetry.

10:33 PM  
Blogger Clix said...

I think I might've called his folks to find out if they know of any reason for this - more often I've seen kids skip what they didn't know.

Have you read/heard Taylor Mali's poem called (I think) "What Teachers Make"?

1:49 PM  
Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

And yet-- why play the game of letting him think that that level of "work" is in any way acceptable? Getting away with it before is probably why he is trying it now.

Like, I have students who think they deserve partial points for the completely wrong answer because "at least I didn't leave it blank." What a practice like this does is actually hurt the kids because they have to get fewer right to pass. I am here to help my students. And even save them from themselves and their less-than-wise impulses.

Here's a news flash: Laurel and Hardy did not attempt to fly at Kitty Hawk. No points.

Don't beat yourself up over this.

4:31 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

You can change you.

You can do that.

Children aren't lazy, they are resistant. And that is a defense.It might help you to do some work on motivation, both in theory and in rooms and also to work on finding different ways and modalities to approach tasks. Then to i'd problem solve with the child. it could be a task initiation issue, and need a starter strategy. It could be difficulty processing, it could be the child has a difficult life or abusive one. And I'd seriously watch how I approached parents. It could be the child has a learning stlye not working with yours.

But if a BULLY poem resonates with you then you need to stop and consider something. What canthis child teach you. Perhaps yu are not realizing these kids are gifts. From them we learn how to do our work. I'd seriously sit with this bully thought.

I've been bullied. I know that as a learning technique. What it does is assume things about you that you are required to believe and accept that somehow inside you know are not exactly right.

Labeling a child lazy is bullying by definition as is some of the support you gathered here and some of what you state. It might be you need to sit a long while with what learning should be.

In such times I pull away and think, if you listen to these hard behind comments you are missing the subtlety and art of the job substituting the hammer it can be.

Listen to your intuition. Think, pursue those that are able to hear that this might be a warning you need to heed...deep water....


10:32 PM  
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6:56 AM  

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