Monday, November 17, 2008

Teaching Journal
Day 48, November 17, 2008

Over the years, I’ve gradually come to realize that it’s ineffectual to fret about the kids who straggle in a little late for class. It’s a “choose your battles” situation. Yes, I could stand at the door glowering at late-comers, and perhaps even speak to some of them in the hall with a touch of menace in my voice. That was my strategy for many years, and indeed, it worked, I guess, in the sense that most kids dashed down the hall to get to my class on time. However, I started looking at the side effects of that kind of stern policy – the fear in kids’ eyes as they rushed down the hall, the disruption my glowering and lecturing caused, and the general rise in tension among the students. It soon became clear that hounding kids to get to class on time was causing at least as many problems as it solved – and the problems it caused seemed worse than the ones they displaced. So I slowly, over the course of the years, have changed my policy. Now I continue to quietly and firmly encourage the students to get to class as quickly as possible, and I continue to start each class right on time, but I simply allow the few latecomers to slip in quietly and try to catch up. It seems to be working. I actually believe I have fewer tardy students than ever before, and, what’s more important, the class is not interrupted by my severe looks and doctrinaire lectures. Education proceeds peacefully and apace, despite the occasional students who hasten in a few seconds late, books and papers spilling out of their arms.
For some unknown reasons, my 9th grade classes today moved forward, minute by minute, with the greatest precision and attention to detail. All the steps in my lessons were covered with care, and the overall lessons had a feeling of comprehensiveness, as if everything that needed to be said had been said. I really have no idea why this happened today. I prepared my lessons the way I always do, and I was the same teacher I always have been. Somehow, some way, the god of good teaching visited my 9th grade classes today. I only hope she comes back sometime soon.
To go back to the success in 9th grade today, one reason for my good fortune was my newborn ability to completely ignore the fact that I seem to be falling behind in my year long curriculum. Lessons that still need to be taught are piling up behind me, and I can feel the pressure bearing down to “get things done” – but today I simply ignored that pressure. “Get lost”, I said to the pressure. “I’ve got important things to teach. I’ll get to you when I get to you.”
At the beginning of one class, I overhead a girl sigh and say to a friend, “I want to go home.” It was suggestive, I thought, of the weariness and ennui all students feel at certain times. This girl was plainly exhausted and fed up (with exactly what wasn’t clear). She wished to be anywhere but sitting in a hard chair in yet another lackluster classroom for yet another tiresome class. It brought back memories of own uninspiring schooling as a teenager. I wanted to say to her, “I know exactly what you mean. I’ve been there.”

No comments: