Friday, June 17, 2011

Us Vs Them in the Classroom

Humans are competitive animals. It's true. We enjoy doing better than others, proving others wrong or generally being the best at something. With this mindset, it's easy to see random people as working against you. It's easy for both teachers and students to fall into this mindset, which eventually becomes a downfall for everyone involved.

I wake up every morning and look in the mirror. "I hate children," I say to myself. "I hate children. That's why I became a teacher, to torture children." I get dressed and remind myself that I hate children. I eat my cereal, drink my coffee and think about how much I hate children. I drive to work listening to music, but changing the words to how much I hate children. I park my car, get out, lock the door and skip into the building thinking about how much I hate children and delighting in the various tortures I shall put them through today. As my kids file in, I watch their eager faces ready to crush their dreams and souls with my hate filled lesson. The bell rings and I play a mental game of eeny meeny miny mo to see which child I shall be out to get today. I find my victim and begin my day of being out to get them.

I swear this is what some students think my morning is like. They must imagine that teachers spend their entire life thinking of ways to "get" our students. Sorry to say, that is not true, kids. When I wake up, my first thoughts are usually of coffee, not various torturous exercises for my students. Honestly, I don't know any teachers like this. It would make for a pretty miserable life to spend so much time focused on hatred. For some reason, students view attempts to teach and assess as a teacher's own personal form of systematic torture for individual students. It's simply not the case. I became a teacher because I like children and want to do my best to help them succeed in life. However, teachers are not immune to turning themselves into victims.

Every morning, Tommy wakes up and thinks "I hate Mr. Smith." He eats his cereal and drinks his Red Bull thinking about how evil Mr. Smith is. Waiting for the bus, Tommy has mad a mix of songs that can easily incorporate the words "I hate Mr. Smith" into the beat. As Tommy walks into the school building, he spies Mr. Smith from a distance and whispers to himself "Today is the day, Mr. Smith. Today I'm going to make your life miserable. I'm here to ruin your life. Today, I'm going to get you." Tommy pulls out his to do list and checks it over to make sure he's prepared. "Ask  Mr. Smith an annoying question. Eat chips loudly in Mr. Smith's class. Make a joke about Mr. Smith's tie. Deliberately fail Mr. Smith's test. Annoy Mr. Smith the most of all my teachers." Today is going to be a good day for Tommy. It's going to be the worst day ever for Mr. Smith.

I know it's hard to realize when you're up in the front of the classroom, but students don't plan their days around terrorizing you. Sometimes they do rude or obnoxious things, but they'd do that to anyone. You have not been specially selected to be tormented. Students are not out to get you. They're too busy being adolescents to spend much of their free time thinking about you. If you think that students go home and think about you at night and how to be terrible to you the following day, well, you're a bit egotistical, aren't you? Once the final bell rings, you are the last thing on their minds.

Both students and teachers need to get past the victim mentality. We're not their to work against each other. In a battle of wills between a teacher and a student, there is no such thing as a winner. Students, you're arguing with someone who has authority over you and your grade. Teachers, you're arguing with a child. Is it any achievement if you win the argument?

Teachers and students need to be cooperative partners. Students, you really can learn from your teachers. Teachers, you really can learn from your students. You can get your students to trust you by building relationships with them and, most importantly, explaining why you are doing everything. We don't take tests because it's Friday and that's test day. We take tests to see what you've learned and what needs to be retaught. We don't do assignments to waste time. We do assignments to teach a skill or assess a skill. None of education should be torture for students. Explaining to them what you're doing is the first step to getting them to trust you. Taking the time to understand them is the most important step. 

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