Monday, March 8, 2010

Kids in Power?

Last year I was intensely paranoid about giving students power. I wanted to micro-manage and I was terrible at it. On the one hand I wanted the students to do the things I knew they could and should be able to do (behave in class, work in groups, pass a stack of papers from the front of the room to the back, etc.). On the other hand, by this time last year the idea of giving an ounce of leeway- to say nothing of the amount liberally taken from my students on a daily basis- made my stomach turn. I felt that giving any responsibility to a student in class would end in a larger headache than before. Even with the good ones I'd flash back to an instance when they'd made a bad decision and my trust in their ability to come through with anything would vanish.

These fears are pretty normal from what I can tell. Most of my peers coming out of the school of ed had control over most aspects of their lives and were pretty secure with who they were. Six months into the year many of them and I had been jarred off of our foundation, well out of our comfort zone. The prospect of giving up control to the classes that had done this, even of passing out highlighters, was certainly something that got to me. What is important to point out is that at this point in the year it should be very obvious that much of teaching is not at all intuitive to the rookie teacher. Many good teaching practices when presented to me last year at this time were counter-intuitive. When a veteran teachers told me to give power over to the very students that had been making my life hell for months I'm sure I gave them more than just a stink eye.

The fact of the matter is that a bunch of your students, however crazy the lot of them are acting, want you to give them a job that they can perform to help you and make you proud. Doesn't mean giving them A's on mindless work at the end of a period, but letting them participate in the process of teaching them. Giving them roles in the classroom, handing over some of the management and power, is really reinforcing your own authority. Think of it this way: you've probably fought them tooth and nail all year to do what you wish- academic tasks. Getting the class to go along with me for anything was a chore last year. Instances where they're ready to help out is like greasing the wheels for future cooperation with directions.

At this point in the second year I'm trying to delegate as much as possible. My students and I have enough of a rapport that when I ask for volunteers to hand back papers, pass out materials or come up in front of the class to help prove some fantastically relevant historical point, a good handful of students are ready and willing. What is more is that I don't throw up a little in my mouth when I hand over a bucket of scissors or highlighters to my scissor/highlighter monitor of the day.

It's tough to micro-manage if you can't manage a damned thing. The biggest on-the-job-training piece for new teachers is classroom management. It is by far the most difficult thing to learn from a textbook and most schools of education I've heard of. If you want to do larger projects with students that involve a lot of intricate planning, supplies, movement in the classroom, etc., it's nearly impossible to do so without the help of the students.

Today's Wine: BV Coastal Cabernet. A lot of restaurants carry this one. I've had it before and it's a pretty solid bottle for the table. It was at or a bit above room temperature where we ordered it tonight, which was not preferable, but it went pretty well with the italian cold cuts and prosciutto and fig pizza we ordered.

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