Friday, November 19, 2010

The Exception

I have a bad habit as a teacher. I make exceptions. On the surface, this might not seem like a bad thing, and generally it's not. However, there is such a thing as making too many exceptions. There have been times in my teaching career, as recently as this year, when I just don't know when to say no.

Now, obviously there are times in life when making an exception is the best idea. If a student's grandmother has just passed away, berating them for forgetting their homework is likely not a good idea. A student just joined your class on Monday? They probably don't need to take the quiz on Friday.

These are all given, normal exceptions that would fly in a workplace. The problem is when you start making extra exceptions; the type of exceptions that my boss wouldn't take. For example, I have two students who I've made too many exceptions for and now I've done them a disservice. The first is a young woman with anger management issues. I knew we were going to have problems when she gave me a ton of attitude on the first day of school. She's since been suspended from school three times. She always gets very emotional after being suspended and usually comes back and cries. When they return from suspension, they are supposed to complete any missed work. The first time, I exempted her from some of the work because it didn't make sense to go backwards and make her do vocabulary work from the previous week. I should have made her do it. Now, she expects me to exempt her from a large amount of work each time. While we're reading The Odyssey, that's just not possible for her to be able to understand the entire story. Now I have to go backwards to reestablish discipline with her, frustrating both of us.

Another student is a young man who has been on house arrest since last school year. He told me that he likes to talk at school because no one visits him at home and he doesn't get to talk to anyone. Since he "needs" to talk, I put him in a special seat by my desk that's at a table. He generally talks to me throughout the lesson, usually having to redo some of the work because he's been busy chatting with me. Again, he's having a hard time with his routine of redoing part of the work as we read a long text. He's frustrated. I'm frustrated. Again, I'm having to go backwards and reteach him discipline.

There's another problem with making exceptions. It's unfair to other students. If I let one student talk to me through the entire class, I should let them all. Of course, we know that would end in mass pandemonium and never ending noise. However, to students, all they see is me playing favorites. I'm not really playing favorites. What I'm doing is trying to make my job easier for myself. It's easier to let him chat with me during the lesson than to sit him in a normal seat and snap at him every two to three minutes. Of course, just because it's easier doesn't make it the best plan for everyone involved.

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