Thursday, September 9, 2010

Pencils & Bathrooms, or Human Dignity vs. Human Right to Learn

When I first started reading teacher blogs, Dan Meyer was on about a two-year extended rant about how edtech bloggers had their priorities all wrong.

I used to read his archives thinking "Big deal, move on! What's with the focusing on people I've never heard of?"

Then I heard of them. And read & subscribed to them. And quickly unsubscribed and rethought about Dan's posts. "Oh."

I stumbled onto one of them lately, and found myself responding to a comment left by Chris Lehmann (who is actually one of those ten out-of-the-classroom bloggers still on my blogroll, unlike long-gone Scott McLeod).

Here's my response:

>Chris: I'm going to push back here... and I'll focus on the 'pencil sharpener' piece...Could you say, "Please wait to use the pencil sharpener until there is no one standing at it?"

No, you couldn't.

Because in a class of 34, 29-33 kids will pay attention to that and be respectful of others.

And 1-5 will not. Because their lives suck in other areas, or they're immature, or they just don't like your shirt that day.

"What?!! Mtch! It'll just take a minute!"

"Oh my GOD, what the f*ck is your problem? Its MY pencil!"

"Oh I forgot." [15 weeks in a row]

And, most of all:

"Please wait to use the pencil sharpener until there is no one standing at it?"
"Please wait to use the pencil sharpener until there is no one standing at it?"
[other students giggle]
[first student turns accidental obliviousness into class act]
"Jose, I'm explaining right now! Please wait a second!"
[more giggles] [flow of lesson long gone]

Alec's comments, and the above "reasonable alternative" are a clear illustration why I have over 300 educator blogs in my Google Reader, but less than 10 of them are out-of-the-classroom "educators".

I have a class website, read blogs & write one, and started an afterschool Scratch programming club, among other tech uses.

So it's a good thing I don't read too many edtech people, because they would drive me back to slates & writing in the dirt."

But what IS the correct balance between respecting my students' human dignity, and their right to learn?

It's something I struggle with every day.

My classic example is my most unpopular classroom rule: If you want to use the bathroom, go to the nurse, or even get a drink of water during class, you have to come for 30 minutes of after-school tutoring. Every single time.

Honestly, I wince every time I tell a kid that. And they wince back - loudly, repeatedly, and often profanely.

But it WORKS.

I learned my lesson my first year. "M" told me she had a medical condition that required frequent trips to the nurse for female hygiene supplies. Eager to be supportive, I smiled and said "Okay, just bring me a note from your parents soon, okay?" "M" smiled back and said "Sure!" The months went by and the note never came, though I kept reminding her. Meanwhile her nurse visits became longer and longer, though as an exhausted first-year teacher I didn't really keep track. Still, sometime in January I became suspicious, because other students had started to ditch as well and it triggered a deja vu feeling. (Important background info: Our school has a split lunch so if you ditch 4th hour, you can blend in with your 4th-lunch friends and avoid security). One cold February morning I stopped in at the nurse and asked if "M" had come in every single time. She pulled up her records and showed me a blank screen for "M". She had never been to the nurse.

The next semester I gave each student 3 free BR visits, and killed myself keeping track of 150 students bladder movements. I lost papers, had arguments about whether the 3 were up, wasted class time writing them down.

The next year I decided to put it on the students! Yes! Make them take responsibility! I handed out 3 passes each. They lost them and whined. They stole them from each other and erased names. They yelled at me to retrieve them and return them and investigate the thefts. They asked if they could go and "bring it tomorrow."

So now every BR visit costs you 30 minutes of your free time. Because I honestly can't conceive of a kid who would rather wet himself than spend 30 minutes in my room (they can come during lunch, and bring their lunch to eat, AND bring a friend!) I cannot conceive of a girl who would rather risk a stain than text from my classroom for 30 minutes, though plenty have been surprised that the words "girl emergency" don't get them a freebie! (And how come those students don't, after arguing with me, go to the BR and deal with it? And why do those who DO have an emergency, argue far less and then go? Hmmmm....)

And my classroom runs smoothly, and I can focus on, you know, teaching.

But if it makes the small-l-libertarians who are going to start their own schools and change the world and restore human dignity (that has been trampled by the complacent, freeloading, public school union lackeys) feel better, I feel guilty every time.


Scott McLeod said...

Since you singled me out here as one of those non-classroom bloggers you pruned from your reading list, I'd love to hear any feedback you have for me about why. Just curious... =)

cheesemonkeysf said...

Your strategy is pure genius. Thank you for putting it out there.

Amy zimmer said...

Hi There, Here is me: My students like me, they just don't respect me--after 25 years of teaching math! I just don't have it in me to fight those who don't care...I am trying to find my fight again. I love teaching and I keep thinking, "tomorrow is another day." I like your after school rule--I'll probably cut to 10 minutes...what do you do when a kid says, "I can't, I have to catch my ride?"