Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Glasser v. Wong

I spent most of last week out of school because of the death of my grandpa. My family is doing alright and the school was very supportive giving me the time I needed to be there for the family. My students, however, played their subs like a two-dollar banjo, as Toby would say.

I was reminded of passages both in The First Days of School and Teach Like a Champion where teachers ran such ship shape classrooms, the kids would work in the teacher's absence while the administration didn't even know the teacher was running late. Doesn't that sound like an amazing dream? Just get students to buy in to daily procedures and everything will run smoothly, even in your absence?

Here's my problem: I'm really uncomfortable with procedures. I'm not uncomfortable with them for myself. I like that every other Saturday is clean sheet day. I enjoy etiquette handbooks. I love organizing everything from my closet to my tax returns. But I can't wrap my brain around the idea of getting kids excited about how fast they pass in papers or sitting them in alphabetical order because I said so or even because it's more efficient for them when it comes to passing in papers.

I don't think school should be about having someone tell you where to sit and how to behave all day every day. The real world doesn't work like that. No one makes sure there's an alarm set when I'm supposed to get up or go eat. Sometimes I have to sit beside people that I don't like. Sometimes I sit beside people I do like and end up getting shushed in the library. I make choices and I have to live with the consequences. My ability to turn in papers quickly or even a larger ability to listen blindly to authority doesn't really do much for me.

I also continue to be affected by my experiences at the Glasser Quality School where I did a practicum in grad school. Students were quiet. They were orderly. They definitely learned. There were no detentions or raised voices. There were five minute breaks and CHOICES -- a program where students set down with specially-trained teachers to make plans for how they would get their act together in the classroom. This worked because everyone in the school bought in, the kids knew this was their last chance to graduate, and class sizes were small.

I knew that my classroom couldn't be exactly like the ones I saw at the Glasser school. But I thought I could incorporate some of it, mostly the respect that students and teachers showed each other and the way that students were prepared to live with their consequences. Just like in the real world. But it doesn't always work at my school.

Students take breaks, after two infractions they stay after in detention to write out a plan, we sign the plan, they get better. Two weeks later, however, they start going downhill again. I think I need to get serious about calling parents after they make their plans. I think I also need to get serious about handing out detentions to my eleventh graders. I know that I could have them passing alphabetical ordered papers in less than twenty seconds. But I also know that seeing them live in the sort of world where that's the behavior I reward would break my heart. And I'm not really sure what of value that sort of system would teach them.

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