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.