Editor's Note: Today's Pre-Service Perspective piece was written by Taylor Ewy
It didn’t take too long for the dreaded defensive phrase to be used by a student at my placement. While my mentor teacher shared with the class how to organize their 3½ inch binders for all their classes (Wow, those binders arehuge!) I saw a student begin to work ahead and, unfortunately, was not organizing his binder correctly. I went over and asked him to be sure to watch my mentor teacher carefully, and then I heard it: “But I wasn’t even taaalkinggah.”
Now you may think “taaalkinggah” is not a real word, but it is, trust me. I refrained from replying with, “I didn’t even say you were taaalkinggah!” and instead I frowned, saying with some exasperation, “I didn’t say you were talking,” (Better, right?). It didn’t work. I had engaged in a power struggle where neither of us left with the amount of face we needed in the first week of school.
It’s a basic rule of classroom management I learned in my Sprick text in Core I a year ago – do not engage in a power struggle with a student. How can we avoid these? Robert McNeely, in his article “Avoiding Power Struggles with Students” for the National Education Association, shares some excellent points that I need to remind myself over and over again. These include:
From his larger list of do’s and don’t with power struggles, these two are where I struggled in this instance and I see myself having issues with in my future. These two struggles come from my weakness (or perhaps misguided strength for a more positive outlook) of controlling a room more than I should. For example, I know from being the oldest child in my large family and working with many young children that my number one pet peeve is when someone uses a tone of voice I might perceive as having some whine to it. It makes me cringe and react too quickly without the kindness the student deserves as I quickly try to end the whine. When the student reacted to my redirection with a whine and some defensiveness, I did not initially react in a way that allowed him to save face as I tried to gain control for myself, not for him. Ultimately, I was looking to have the last word and let him know I was in control.
McNeely quotes Christopher Perillo under this section of advice in his article sharing Perillo’s brutal honesty on the topic:
“Teachers who insist on having the last word are bringing themselves down to a juvenile level. Students will remember this and that teacher’s value will be diminished” (McNeely).
To say the least, I need to find a better method for working with students who are not reacting how I hoped instead of engaging in the power struggle. My question moving forward is how can I provide an out for students so they can save face, but still get my point taken seriously? Also, how can I practice controlling a classroom for my students rather than for my own needs?
Luckily, the student and I were back on good terms not even five minutes after. I was sure to drop by his desk to compliment his organized binder. Though he was upset when I initially asked him to redirect his attention to my mentor teacher, after I got my last word in (shame) and left him alone, he returned his attention to where it needed to be and was successful in the assignment. It seems students are forgiving if you’re honest and kind, but how many times can a student forgive me if I keep engaging in power struggles where no one wins? Onto week three, that much wiser.
x Mrs. Ewy
McNeely, Robert. “Avoiding Power Struggles with Students.” NEA, 2015. Web. 05 Sept. 2016.
Editor's Note: Today's Pre-Service Perspective piece was written by Taylor Ewy
“Please tuck in your shirt,” I whispered low with a smile so only the student would hear. I assumed I was doing her a favor, saving her from having to be stopped by another teacher or possibly even sent to the office. I remember in my Catholic high school tucking my white oxford straight into the pleated green and blue plaid without any blousing to avoid the dreaded veteran P.E. teacher at the end of the lunch line. He was always ready with the “pink slips”, which were basically demerit slips on speed dial. Every teacher had them, but this teacher gave them out so readily that they were pre-signed with a stamp of his signature. When you got a pink slip from this teacher, the whole hallway knew it. His voice carried and he was about making sure everyone knew it was happening. Humiliating. An unforgettable experience. It happened to me twice my entire high school career and both times my skin was inflamed with embarrassment for the next hour, my makeup basically melted off from the heat in my face. I didn’t want that for this girl, though I’m sure there’s no one like the old P.E. teacher where I am now. So I bent down to her level to whisper while the teacher was instructing, “Please tuck in your shirt.”
“I’m not allowed to,” she whispered quickly, shifting her eyes. “What?” I said a slightly louder, seriously confused. “I’m not allowed to!” she whispered urgently, her eyes wide. This was obviously embarrassing her, so I nodded knowingly and walked away. I couldn’t figure it out, but later, after confirming it with my mentor teacher, I learned she was not allowed to tuck in her long sleeve shirt for religious reasons. I felt like I just became the old P.E. teacher because though I was whispering, her eyes looked at me like I was shouting.
The next day I walked over to another student who was sitting during the Pledge of Allegiance. “Next time, let’s be sure to stand up all together,” I whispered, again with a smile. “I’m not allowed to,” he whispered back. I must have let a quizzical look slide because he quickly followed with, “My family is Jehovah Witness.” “Ah,” I said as I walked away. Second day in a row, assuming and losing.
Third day! I’m prepared to be unassuming. One student starts joking about Justin Bieber, referencing rumors that a few others chimed in hearing about. “Let’s focus on our article,” I offered, but the conversation picked back up again less than a minute later. “Does it really matter? It is none of your business. Let’s enjoy his music” (one of his new songs was playing softly in the background). “It matters,” said one student, “because it’s against Jesus.” I am just about offending everyone this week.
My K-12 education was Roman Catholic, being in one building for K-8 and then meeting my 250 graduating class for high school in the same school my parents went to. I was taught by several sweet sisters (different than nuns, by the way) and knew that what I believed everyone else in the room also believed, or at least was taught to. I could make assumptions about my classmates. For many reasons, I am not able to make nearly that many assumptions with my students this year.
Religious diversity has been the first hiccup of my Core III experience. Though the situations I shared weren't that bad, I knew I had personally made an assumption that everyone was the same and was caught off guard when it wasn’t the case. I think I handled each situation well, but not being prepared for these moments was a slight failure on my part. My next step is to walk into the classroom without too many assumptions about my students beyond they all can learn and what I am sure of because of records. If I make the wrong assumption about a student, I hope that I won’t let on that I am surprised or confused so I don’t embarrass them. I had to go look up after class about why Jehovah Witness believers do not stand for the Pledge - I wish I had known that earlier so the student didn’t see that brief look of confusion on my face.
As this week comes to an end, I look forward to growing more in my relationships with the various students as I get to know more about them. I’m prepared for many more hiccups, but I’m also prepared to keep moving forward with what resources and knowledge I have available.
Keep up the good work, my friends!
x Mrs. Ewy
Editor's Note: The "Pre-Service Perspective" series continues with this post from Caitlin Doolittle
"Many students don’t see education as a privilege. They see it as a product. And if they don’t like the salesperson, if they aren’t impressed with how it’s packaged, they aren’t buying. But our kids have to learn to be self-motivated because at some point in every person’s life, either at school or in a job or in a marriage, he or she will have to buck up and say, 'This is hard. This is boring. I don’t want to do this. But I’m doing it anyway. And I’ll do my best.'" -Laura Hanby, "How to fix the apathy problem in schools", The News & Observer, June 5, 2016
We've made it through two weeks already, the students and I. Now we're all getting to enjoy a much deserved (or at least we think so) 3 day weekend. The biggest thing I have struggled with this school year so far is being present, and I think a few students have been having the same problem. The class I work with is first thing in the morning, and we're all tired. I'm able to become engaged very quickly, though, having years of customer service under my belt, therefore the training to put on a brave and cheerful face even when I'm exhausted. My worry is, though, if we allow these student to be taciturn, and write it off as just them being tired, will it change throughout the year... or are we just communicating the wrong expectations? We all want to work in a classroom in which the students are engaged and excited about their learning. So, it's our jobs to make lessons that are exciting, diverse, effective, innovative, informative.... the list of adjectives goes on and on. But should this weight really just be on our shoulders? I of course do not have the answers to this yet, but now is a good time to start asking that question.
As education majors, we are taught many ways to shape and change our lessons so that they are accessible to each students' learning style. This is valuable information, as it is of course true that we all learn differently, and what we are taught as education majors has to do with communicating that learning to each kind of student. But just because we know how to teach, does not mean that our students know how to learn. So it does seem like some of the weight of the classroom experience is on the students' shoulders. This just means that we cannot do all of the work for them. That if something isn't getting through to a student, they may need to come up with a new approach, a new way of looking at the problem, or to seek out new resources... just like we have to as teachers. But it seems like less and less does society hold students to these standards. When a student is having trouble, it can be an easy out to just blame a teacher and say they are ineffective.
But to get back to the main point: sometimes it's hard to get students engaged, especially when it's first thing in the morning, on top of being the beginning of the year, when not every one knows each other yet (or you for that matter). As I start to design lessons and make my own efforts to get students fired up, I should use this time to advocate some good learning habits to the students. Right now I'm a bit of a bystander in the classroom, which, as I see it, is the perfect position in which to be that voice in the students' ear that guides them to be more and more independently motivated. I can give encouragements from those sidelines as the teacher is in front of the class doling out that useful learning.
A great article by Laura Hanby called "How to fix the apathy problem in schools" is what initially got me excited about this idea. She talks about how to start small when it comes to encouraging students to become more motivated in their classes. It's ok to start by only giving 100% in one class and by doing this through good note taking methods, organization, or by finding study buddies. These are all things we can easily guide students into doing. Then through these efforts, students may start having success in classes that they otherwise found boring or too hard. "Success breeds success, and success is an excellent motivator."
I highly recommend checking out her article here, it's a very good read.
As the year continues to go by, I'm going to make more of an effort to try self-motivation techniques with students, and promote these ideas as a regular topic of conversation. Then, hopefully, by the end of the year no one will have to be putting on any brave faces. I will report back here both successes and failures!
"Not only does success motivate, but it can also inspire, and here is where we move from sheer determination to passion – the true goal of education." -Laura Hanby, "How to fix the apathy problem in schools",The News & Observer, June 5, 2016
Anticipation, trepidation, and outright terror. Those were some of the mindsets that I had while preparing to become a teacher. There was also, enthusiasm, optimism, and passion. All of those initial emotions, and a plethora of additional ones have stuck with me in some measure (some more than others) as I've continued my career.
When I was a pre-service teacher I had a ton of conflicting emotions. I was equal parts eager and anxious to actually get into a classroom to see if I'd actually be able to stand in front of a group of 25 to 30 students and try to make them learn something. I was proud of the career, lifestyle, and even professional path that I'd set myself upon, but I felt intimidated by "real" teachers who had their own classrooms, and I also felt like because I hadn't done it yet that I shouldn't feel too proud. I remember my intense desire for content and pedagogy knowledge, while despairing about what I didn't yet know.
But then, you're a student teacher in a classroom and you're petrified, but you stand in front of 28 15-year-olds anyway. You ask them a question, and it's silent. SILENT. We are talking church, grave, pin-drop quiet Those few seconds of wait time (of which you should give them at least 7) seems like an eternity; more than enough time to ponder whether or not you've made the right decision for your career and life in general. But before you can seriously contemplate putting in an application to Truckmasters Truck Driving Academy or enlisting in the Army, students raise their hands and answer your question. After that you feel like you can do it. You mess things up. You learn. You get better. You get confident. You really mess something up. You learn more. You finish the semester. You graduate. You get a real job. You get your own classroom. And that's where the real learning begins.
The beginning of the year is an exciting time. New students. New teachers. New problems, New opportunities. New perspectives. In the interest of perspective, it's important, from time to time, to look back and reflect how far we've come. It's just as important is to look towards the future as well.
So, at the beginning of the year, we will take a look at the thoughts of people who are at the beginning of their careers. For some of us, it will be a look towards the past, while for others it will be a look towards the future. I'm calling it "The Pre-Service Perspective." For the next week we will get that perspective from people who probably have many of those same thoughts and emotions swirling around as they embark upon their own exciting, terrifying, and exhilarating journeys in our profession.