Wednesday, October 21, 2009

You’re Going to Lose It

When I was visiting schools I could potentially teach at in the city I observed a couple classes at a well-respected middle school in the West Village. During the visit I observed a teacher scream at a student in class for perhaps the first time since I was in school. I was disgusted by the behavior. The student then told me how terrible the teacher was and how she was always picking on her. I took the side of the student, of course, knowing for certain that there was absolutely no excuse for yelling at a student in class. I couldn’t even fathom what would drive a teacher to act that way and wrote the teacher off as a bitter, unhappy person individual with anger-management issues.

When I student taught in Germany I raised my voice in one of my classes with a hint of irritation on the very last day I was there. A student was enormously surprised by that, saying, “Mr. Lawrence has never yelled!” It was day two in Bronx when I unleashed my already healthy vocal chords on my class. It was the first time they listened to me in two very long days. I screamed at them as loud as I possibly could, the order to take their seats ripping out of me like I’d never directed speech at a human before. Sure I’d gotten angry at each of my five siblings and my parents and had yelling matches with them. This was different though. I stopped short of throwing things, but barely.

There was a day last year when I’d given the students a project, which they’d been asking for, and it ended with hundreds of colored pencils covering the floor at the end of the day. After reaming them out about it, getting them to pick up several of the pencils and sending them home, I walked around putting chairs up- slamming them onto desks- irate that another carefully planned lesson had been so wholly rejected. Our English teacher at the time asked if I was alright because I was visibly shaking. All I could say was, “I can’t even give them colored pencils!” and kept slamming desks.

There are a thousand things that you can tell a new teacher about getting angry. If you teach in the city you’ll probably hear a lot of them. The important thing to remember is that screaming at the students in the long run is not effective. Yes, it will gain attention and can actually be effective if used properly once a great while. In fact, in order to gain your students' complete respect you’ll probably have to prove to them at some point that you have a set of vocal chords simply to show them you mean business. Be careful though, as yelling at all frequently will make it lose its potency. Students will stop responding and stop listening. It also goes back to the idea that you need to show your students that you are in control of your classroom. If you’re yelling and screaming all the time it shows you can’t control yourself or your classroom, which will lead to even more management problems and probably more yelling.

To cut to the point, you’re going to yell. You’re probably going to scream. You will get so angry that you’ll shake and be unable to speak. There will be days when you go home and “banging your head against the wall” ceases being a figure of speech. When you take the train or bus home some days you'll feel like the last place you ever want to be is back in the school. Remember that you're fighting the good fight and that it will get better. Remember that you chose this field for a reason. Hopefully that reason was the students. If it was, you'll head back to school tomorrow for another go at it.

Today's Wine: Santa Cecilia Malbec 2009. This is a great wine, as agreed upon by three others I shared it with, and I picked it up for less than $10. Couldn't really find a review online for it, other than this one of course.

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