Tell Me How To Teach

This very plea invokes the image of master/pupil. One time I had a client who brought his kids in for counseling. Over several years the kids descended into gang activities, but eventually began to lead responsible lives. But in that time I became friends with the dad and he and I collaborated on a karate program that was adopted by the mental health center I worked in for all kids coming in for treatment. It lasted for years, long after I left the agency.

At one point, I finally acceded to my friend’s requests to become his pupil He bent me and twisted me and kicked me and made me yell with pain ? literally. I did everything he said, including things that scared me. I was 43 years old at the time. I still remember that relationship with affection and a wince.

Colleagues working toward a professional goal do not have such a relationship. We work together, each contributing from his own arsenal and gaining from others. To make such a cooperative relationship work, communication must be worked at ad nauseam. I remember the hours and hours of counseling groups my fellow students engaged in to the point that if someone said “process that? or “how do you feel about that? one more time, we?d puke. It takes that much work to fully communicate.

I hope those choosing to read this will work with me. I am not a guru or a master. None of you is either. we’re all in this together but we must be willing to shine a harsh light on our practices and attitudes. That was the purpose of the counseling groups for counseling students: how could you counsel someone if you did not know yourself?

Recently I subbed for 4 or 5 days in the same class, straight through. I had spoken with the teacher before-hand and noticed that she had about 5 remote controls that she rapidly went through with a “and then you press that one and then this one? approach. She had two VCR/DVD players, a Dokureader, an overhead thingamajig…….. all of which had to be carefully coordinated for anything to work.

The first day, first hour, I could not get anything to work. A student went to get the teacher across the way b/c he really knew technology. He spent 10 minutes and gave up. Of course, a student came in the following hour who set it all up in 5 minutes.

What I noticed, however, as I casually observed this teacher teaching was how much time she spent rummaging through things and horsing around with those remotes. Contact with students was lost.

This is crucial. It is crucial b/c as I took over the classes, I received dire warnings about certain classes and certain students. In the sub instructions, students as a whole were referred to as “dumb” and “lazy”. She also used these terms to me orally. She was having severe problems with some boys in her first hour class. She mentioned some boys in another class who were deemed trouble.

As I went through the day, I had to remind myself who the trouble-makers were. I made an error. About the third day, I mentioned how a particular kid had been helpful. She came in that night and read my notes and left me a blistering reminder of how bad this kid and his buddy were.

OK, I thought, I’ll just do this my way and when she gets back, maybe she?ll believe me or not. I can’t help it. But the next day, those two boys were summoned from class by security. They were kept by security through the class which was their last chance to work on a project in class, for the final. They missed that.

When they came back, they said the only thing security had told them was that their teacher had asked that they be pulled from class for the whole period. I knew immediately what had happened. My chief concern was that the boys not suffer further unjustified punishment. I went to the department chair and it turned out I had an excellent ally who promised to make sure nothing went further wrong.

Since finishing the assignment, I have received no communication from the teacher despite the fact that she had called me several times at home in the past. I don’t know what her feelings are, but mine are this: I doubt now the accusations she made against the boys in that first hour and I wonder how she fares with boys like the ones she had pulled out of class — big palookas with a crude sense of humor but totally without malice and willing to help, if you respect them.

This “earned” respect issue is one I would like to take up in another entry. For now, I would say that this teacher could stave off the many discipline problems she complains of if she could focus less on the technology and more on bettering relations with the students. She clearly gets into battles and confrontations with students which leave her angry and exhausted. it’s not worth it.

But how to avoid those or extricate yourself from them requires a lot of thought, insight, and effort. I had some nights where I didn’t sleep, I was so mad at a kid. Who did that hurt? Please let me know what you think. Obviously I am not going to be too detailed so as to maintain the privacy of the individuals but I would love to see what you think about this…… what this teacher could do to make things easier on both her and her students.

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