ONE TEACHER’S ALPHABET
L is for Law
Not too many years ago, I had a very self-centered view of “law” in my classroom: I was it. In fact, I occasionally would remind my students that my classes were not democracies, but dictatorships. I was front-and-center, autocratic, and supreme. I made the rules, I enforced them, and I disciplined any imprudent student who contravened them. As the years have passed, though, my attitude has radically altered. I now see classroom law not as a list of subjective rules based on my personal inclinations, but rather as a code of principles based on morality, conscience, and nature. The law in my room is not founded on what behaviors I like and dislike, but what behaviors are right and wrong. I have come to believe that my students (all of them, all the time) are thoroughly good people, that they know what is right and wrong, that they want to do what is right, and that, given an orderly but loving environment, they will do what is right. In this way, I have resigned my role as supreme law-giver and executor, and have become instead a colleague and collaborator with my students as we try our best to see and do the right thing. We let our consciences, instead of “Mr. Salsich’s rules”, guide us. Mind you, this is not to say that I don’t have clear guidelines for demeanor and behavior in my classes. From the first day, my students clearly understand the kind of deportment that is expected of them, but it’s an expectation, not a commandment – and there’s a significant difference. I expect them to behave like the good people they are, and because my expectation is so strong and, I might say, irresistible, the need to issue arbitrary commandments has disappeared. I expect my students to behave properly in each class in much the same way that I expect the sun to rise each morning. The sun behaves the way it does because it’s natural for it to do so, and my students try to do what’s right for the same reason. In my young scholars, there’s always way more good than evil, way more right than wrong – and that’s why all signs of dictatorial law have disappeared in my classroom.