Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Choices We Have To Live With

Punishment is a tricky thing here at the center. The basic facts of the matter are that kids are kids no matter what part of the world you find them in. And being in the position of a teacher now, that also means inevitably my priorities (that they learn something) are going to clash with one of their most frequent priorities (that they get away with doing something they should not be doing). That said I always hated hearing that classic teacher’s diatribe about how “this is not a democracy and blah blah blah”…and wouldn’t you know I used it the other night.

Make rules and keep them consistent. Establish your classroom management. The advice was all there, and it all seemed so easy. And yet, I’ve learned in my brief time here, as a teacher, if there is anything that is my responsibility, it’s less about sticking with the rules I made and more about seeing these kids and situations through loving and logical eyes. For if kids are a tricky thing, so too are parents.

I confiscated a cell phone the other day. RULE= Items that have nothing to do with my class become mine for a week. And so, when a 10 year old was text messaging under her desk (something I did countless times as a student) I seized the phone. The girl stayed after class and begged for her phone. My response was simple. No. After my next class, she was there again, begging even more. No. Tears were almost in here eyes. But rules are rules, and I insisted, no.

And then near the end of the day, I started to process just why she was so desperate. It was nagging me, something about the way she looked at me. You get to know your students in a way where an unusual reaction stands out. Not exactly one of the teacher’s pets, this girl had already had her fair share of runs in and punishment with me, and never flinched before. So why now? I spoke with a colleague who put it into perspective. “Some of the parents here are still learning good parenting. And so, her mom might hit her if she comes home without a phone tonight.” There it was, clear as day, and complicated as all hell. Keep the phone and drive home my point of classroom management. But at what possible cost? It was my call.

Follow through seemed less and less viable but I didn’t want to let the girl walk off free of punishment for breaking a rule. And as the day came to a close, out of time and without an answer, I pulled the student aside from a class to speak to her. Maybe I am a sucker and maybe it will come back to bite me, but I gave her the phone back with nothing more than a talk about respect and a huge assignment: writing lines. I told her she was a great student but I needed her to be more attentive. Next time I wouldn’t be so lenient, but I told her I was hoping there would not be a next time.

I left school that day, failing at the one thing every expert told me was a must win situation: class room management. But I can tell you this. I slept a little easier knowing that in the everyday struggle to size up as a teacher, I at least had the common sense to look at the student first, the rules I created before I knew what I was doing, second. Would she have gotten hit by her parent? I don’t know, but I at least learned a little something about myself that day. Simply enough, whether she would get hit or not wasn’t a gamble I was willing to take over a stupid cell phone. That said, tomorrow it’s back to the routine rhetoric of “this is not a democracy… this is a pure and simple dictatorship.” (= Just kiddin, I don’t really say that… at least not the dictator part.

1 comment:

Cochabamba Diary said...

hello Pat,
Greetings from Cochabamba, Bolivia.
Steve Judd and I read your article in the Catholic Telegraph for October 12th.
The title being "Everyday Evangelists"

Keep up the good work.
Frank Dolphin