Tag Archives: Education

The Bathroom Issue

This debate is one that often transcends any single plane of argument.  One minute it’s about logistics, the next it’s about ethics.  The situation starts as a simple hypothetical: A student asks to use the restroom in the middle of your class, at a time when you’ve just started getting your class into gear.  What do you do?

Online, I’ve noticed that there are several lines drawn here.  Parents almost unanimously cry foul at a teacher’s refusal, citing human rights for why their angels should be allowed to use the restroom whenever they feel the need, and that furthermore, they shouldn’t feel pressured to put themselves out in any way upon feeling said urge – the teacher needs to just let them go and suck it up, they say.

Students feel the same way – “We’re young adults, you can’t tell us what to do.  Just go, no matter what the teacher says.”

Teachers are divided: Half say “Don’t let them go.”  The other half says “Go, you don’t want to get sued, especially if admin won’t back you up.”  Sad truth.

I will first tell you my bathroom policy, followed by my responses to these arguments.

I tell my students that my class is like a car ride, and that they need to go before they get in the car.  If they ask to use the restroom, I use Classcraft to take 10HP from them with a preset called “Go on your own time,” or I say “No.” until they ask again.  I do tell them that they are at my mercy, as in my class I am the Morning and Evening Star.

Is this a power trip?  No.  I will explain.

First of all, this argument needs to be put into context so that I don’t have a swarm of Common Sense Media parents clamoring for my execution.  I teach high school.  Young adults, they’re called.  Not elementary students.  My policy is based heavily on this factor.  The three skills that I focus on in my class are the same that I would want my own kids to develop as young adults, and they’re the same traits that pushed me into adulthood and maturity.  Students find that mastering these three things is the only thing they have to do to be sure they will do well in my class – the rest happens by itself, usually.

Phan’s Trinity of Maturity
  1. Managing Time
  2. Managing Priorities
  3. Managing Communication

At my school, students are given a passing period to use the restroom, etc. and of course breaks and lunch.  If students don’t use the restroom during this time, then they are not managing their time, and they are certainly not prioritizing their own well-being.

What about a medical condition or an emergency?

The contingency I do allow is reliant on the 3rd skill.  If you have a medical condition or an emergency, you need to adequately and effectively communicate it.  That’s just survival.

My child shouldn’t have to humiliate themselves in front of the class to use the restroom.

Then certainly it’s their job – or at the very least the PARENT’S job if the student is determined to be helpless – to tell the teacher ahead of time and work out some kind of signal system if they have a condition… I mean, it’s not like effectively conveying need in an emergency situation in a quick and efficient manner is a life skill or anything.

Communication is the major skill here, because I’m not a robot!  If you can convey the gravity of the situation, you probably have nothing to worry about.  It’s about knowing why the system is in place.  The system says nobody can go, but the system is not in place to stop people with full bladders.  It’s to facilitate learning.

If you need to pee and you’re not just trying to escape class because you’re bored, then you’ll have no worries, because you’ll have no problem finishing the sentence you’re on before going.  You won’t have any qualms about handing over your phone while you’re gone either, right?  Since you’ll be right back and it’s not like you were going to call your friends or tweet for 45 minutes and come back when the bell rings?

It’s messed up to take points away for having to use the bathroom in class!

If you really need to go, you can’t control it, right? It’s like having bad weather that cancels your practice.  If you take the hit, then work extra hard to make up for the hit!  That’s being responsible.  If you accidentally break something, you still own up.  If you have to go to the bathroom, it’s not the teacher’s fault, it’s not your classmates’ fault, so obviously it comes down to you to deal with the issue – and sometimes that means taking the hit.  You know what?  Life will go on.  I don’t know what the aversion is to losing points for things that aren’t anyone else’s problem.  That’s life.  If I’m paid by the hour for a job and an asteroid strikes my car and keeps me from going to work, I’m not going to insist I get paid anyway.  No, I take the hit.  If your dog eats your homework, you take the hit and then in the future you take better care of your homework – and your dog.

And as for the student insistence that they have the freedom to just “go, no matter what the teacher says?”  That’s true, you have that freedom.  A teacher won’t bodily stop you.  I can technically walk out of the classroom whenever I want, too.

You see, freedom comes only to those who accept the consequences.  If a teacher forbids you to go, and you need to go, then by all means go.  Then take the referral the teacher writes you, serve the detention, whine about it to your mom, and sleep soundly knowing you were in the right.  Then use your knowledge of your teacher’s jerk attitude and the system to avoid having to go in their class anymore.

As for getting sued… well, honestly, no teacher can do anything if they fear being sued.  My advice for that is usually just to be smart, be transparent, and always do your very best to do what’s right in your heart, and the world will have a hard time condemning you.

Yeah, sometimes I’m more naive than the students.  I don’t really see how anyone who isn’t an idealist in some fashion or another can become a teacher, though.

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Yelling at the Ocean

During a staff collaboration, our department head showed us a TED talk by Eduardo Briceño that discussed the reason why people’s skills at their profession tended to plateau in skill despite large amounts of time being invested into their improvement.  Specifically, he said that the average person has two zones:

  • In the Learning Zone, people are relaxed and situations are very low-stakes.  The emphasis is on becoming better.
  • In the Performance Zone, the emphasis is on execution and evaluation, and the stakes are higher.

Briceño then stated that the problem is that most people almost always place themselves in the Performance Zone, and are seldom in the Learning Zone.  This is apparently impressed upon us at a young age: we are taught that school is evaluative through grades, and are often punished or docked for mistakes, enforcing the principle that mistakes are bad.  Furthermore, because the Performance Zone is one of judgment, not of improvement, the mistakes made are not used to improve any skills.

The first thing that came to mind when Briceño discussed a low-stakes situation Learning Zone was my time playing soccer.  More than any teacher making me spell and write repeatedly, my time playing soccer – especially with my father – taught me the importance of practice.

When I started playing soccer, I was typically awful.  However, about two or three years into playing the game, my skill level spiked suddenly.  This was not just due to maturity, or finally understanding the sport.  My kicks were powerful for my age, and I was able to aim the ball precisely – almost with x, y, and z-axis precision.  I was able to trap almost any ball flying toward me at my feet with a technique involving my shin.  These skills made me a valuable asset to my team, despite my lack of precise ball control as a dribbler.

SONY DSC
Demosthenes projecting his voice over the ocean.

As I reflect now, Briceño’s words color my experience with a new significance.  His example of the Learning Zone was made clearer by his reference to the orator Demosthenes, who practiced posture by suspending a sword blade above his shoulder, who spoke against the ocean on the beach to perfect his projection, and who put rocks in his mouth to master enunciation.  Individual skills were perfected and honed in ways that far surpassed the difficulty of what he was practicing for – but the situations were low stakes.  Nobody would know if he failed during these exercises but himself.

Soccer practice ran similarly.  No matter how much we begged for a scrimmage (essentially a simulation of an actual game), both my coach and my father would instead focus on drills, which were little tasks that perfected individual skills in preparation for the game.

“There’s no point in a scrimmage if you have no skill.” said my dad to me once in the car.  Essentially, using a soccer game to practice for a soccer game was limited in usefulness because it was a performance zone.  Drills were specialized in practice: We practiced dribbling.  We did sprints and liners to practice changing direction.  We did the Give-and-Go.  We juggled the ball with our feet.

When I reflect now, I realize that the things I spent the most time practicing with my dad (mostly because we couldn’t really run around) were my kick (shooting the ball with my father as the goaltender – he was better than any elementary kid would be) and my trap (my dad would always expect me to trap the ball – no self-respecting soccer player would do otherwise if a trap was possible.)

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Soccer practice was low-stakes but higher in difficulty.  If I missed a goal (you know, because my goaltender was a full-grown adult), I just had to try again.  Every time I missed a trap, I just had to run and get the ball.  There was no punishment. I practiced for way more hours than I ever played in a game.  I realize now that my father kept me in the Learning Zone.  Every time I tried to shoot a ball past my father, I was Demosthenes yelling at the ocean.  The drills that I performed faithfully improved my skills.  Accordingly, the drills that I performed less diligently – like running laps, dribbling, and ball-handling – did little to help me.

My skill plateaued eventually – and again, that’s easy to explain.  As I got older, I was shorter than a lot of my teammates.  When they did better than I did in practice, I was disheartened, instead of focusing on myself.  I practiced less with my father, and soon I only heard his feedback from watching my games.  Without realizing it, I had transformed my practice time into a Performance Zone.

Many parents make this same mistake with their child’s education.  Low grades are punished, average performance ignored, with only high performance receiving acknowledgment. – implicitly teaching that mistakes are bad.  If mistakes are bad, then everything is high-stakes, which makes school a Performance Zone, not a Learning Zone.

In addition, the social imperative mirrors this as well. For some reason, teenagers care what their peers think, to the point that their worst nightmare is to be caught in a vulnerable position.  The fear of becoming a social pariah as a consequence is about as high as stakes get, with teens tossing and dodging labels like “snitch” and “slut” in their day-to-day lives.  If you worry about what other people think, how can you be safe enough to make mistakes?

I’ve talked before about how we need to be uncomfortable.  In order to do that and get to sword-suspending and ocean-yelling, we need to identify our Performance Zones and our Learning Zones and treat them as such.  This is also why hobbies are a good idea: you can use the skills they give you in their assorted Learning Zones with your Performance Zone.  For example, rapping has been a low-stakes way of building confidence when speaking and demanding attention, which is something crucial when teaching teenagers.  It also expands my vocabulary and refines my pronunciation.  Blogging helps me with my writing skills and with expressing my thoughts in words, which is definitely an imperative for an ELA professional.

The concept of the Learning Zone is the rebuttal we’ve been looking for to the tired claim that you “don’t use what you learn in school anyway.”  Yes, you do!  Of course, problems aren’t like they were in school.  A school is a Learning Zone.  School tasks are drills.  School is yelling at the ocean.  Real life replaces the ocean with real people and raises the stakes – because now the waves can hear you or destroy you, and your words matter.

Why Teachers Need Hip Hop Education in the Classroom

Note: The following post was featured on the Classcraft Blog, and is simply reproduced here. You can see where it was originally published by clicking here.

Hip Hop Ed has become an ever-growing popular movement today, especially due to its cultural relevance and its tendency to promote—through its connection with students—an increased social and political awareness in an academic setting.

Simply put, Hip Hop Education is the use of hip hop culture, especially rap songs and lyrics, as classroom content— both in the creation of material to learn and in the delivery of existing material. #HipHopEd even thrives on Twitter weekly, with the movement inspiring teachers and students alike.

Speaking students’ language

From the 1970s to today, there is no denying the pervasiveness of hip hop in today’s youth culture. While it has been present and even popular for decades, with hip hop figures represented among different generations, hip hop culture has always—even as it has aged and matured—had an association with the youth of today. This in itself is an anomaly; how can something be about and in response to historical events, political climates, and even living conditions without dating itself?

The answer lies in hip hop music’s close connection to hip hop culture and in its ability to maintain a strong connection with its practitioners and fan base despite any shifts in technique, medium, or content. At the center of hip hop culture is something universal and integral to human nature: oral tradition. It’s a medium of catharsis and expression coming together and being spat out in the exact way it is meant, there to be admired for what makes it art—and especially for what makes it “ugly” to some listeners.

This steady relation to youth is a no-brainer as a way to connect with young students. It’s important not only to art but also history and even contemporary life. Most importantly, hip hop in education is a powerful way to teach students the skills they need to help themselves, at school and at home.

It’s about mutual respect

The academic world tends to recoil in response to any connection to hip hop culture. It’s uneducated, one might think; it’s not socially appropriate and promotes destructive behavior. In an essay accusing hip hop of destroying the “potential of black youth,” Jeffrey Hicks states that “hip-hop culture deadens the drive toward civility and legitimizes backwardness.” However, using hip hop in the classroom doesn’t mean I am turning a blind eye to all of the things that can make its presence in the classroom uncomfortable (although I do disagree with this “evil” portrayal). In fact, you should use hip hop especially if you’re not comfortable with it!

First of all, actions speak louder than words. Using hip hop in the classroom is an action that has a huge effect on what students receive from you. They see you reaching into a world that they are familiar with instead of pulling them into your world. They see you playing and engaging with them instead of retreating in fear. Not only may you accidentally show them another thing to value about your curriculum, but even the mere attempt to connect is so visible that it can’t be ignored. Whether you mean it to or not, you are showing respect for something that is theirs in your classroom.

Every teacher knows and acknowledges that there are actions, items, and concepts that are inappropriate for a classroom setting. What this can sometimes manifest as, however, is an environment in firm denial of the existence of anything “inappropriate.” The class becomes a “safe space” but then morphs into a bubble of disrespect, teaching students to look down on any other environment not mirroring the same ideals. If you instead show them the relevance of what they’re learning in the context of the culture they themselves appropriate, you are doing something incredibly important by example.

Hip hop forces discussion about race, poverty, identity, family, hate, and the Man—all of which are things students worry about daily when they’re supposed to be thinking about your step-by-step tutorial on Shakespearean sonnets. You have an opportunity with hip hop to acknowledge pain, hate, anger, and injustice instead of denying it and further losing respect from students, who go home to these real issues and face them instead of your homework. You can show them through hip hop staples (rhyme, repetition, storytelling, catharsis, reflection) how to handle these issues and even use them to navigate another discomfort: your academic world.

Another thing that lends hip hop culture well to a classroom atmosphere is its intolerance for silence. Hip hop is about taking life’s problems and putting them “on blast,” whether it’s coming up with solutions or even just spreading awareness of the issue. Subscribers to hip hop may profess that “snitches get stitches,” but the truth is that hip hop culture is about snitching on life and the world.

Incorporating hip hop into your teaching

By reflecting this “take the good, eschew the bad” ideology with your handling of hip hop, you are modeling how to take what life gives, incorporate what is useful, and filter the rest. You are showing students that the proper response to adversity is not flight, despair, or dismissal—it is action, discussion, and collaboration, all ideals heavily promoted in hip hop culture and in academia alike.

You aren’t encouraging mindless adoption of hip hop ideals, as Hicks suggests, resulting in young people “applying for a job with unsightly cornrows, baggy clothing, and using less-than-acceptable English.” Discussion of hip hop culture as a connection or even a medium for learning is not the same as adoption of hip hop culture.

So teach a verse that helps them remember the quadratic formula, but also includes how much you hate remembering it. Have them make a diss track against whoever they think is responsible for the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. Anger is healthy but should never be coupled with indifference; this distinction is important in discouraging destructive action versus angry expression.

In 2016, I created a unit that focused on the human reaction to times of trauma, something that a depressingly high number of students are familiar with. Framing an examination of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, students had to compare the way O’Brien and his self-named character within the story dealt with trauma, both in the depiction of himself and in the actual creation of the stories. By the end of the semester, students were examining methods of catharsis for their own lives.

After that final project, I had students reflecting on assignments who, instead of responding with the first semester’s “I learned how to read and write better,” now wrote things like, “I learned how poetry could help me cope with my sister’s death.” I was emotionally drained, but one thing was for sure: There were some students that had needed the hip hop presence in my class to know that they could answer problems themselves.

For all of its ugliness, I felt I had brought them something through hip hop that they hadn’t gotten before and might not have had the chance to learn otherwise. I realized I had given them something integral to living and coping with life—all this through an English class.

Fear as a call to action

If you are worried that the chance to express oneself will result in a wild classroom of students, then don’t you have a responsibility to go through the process of expression with them, offering constructive guidance so they don’t unleash that energy recklessly?

In other words: If you don’t teach them how to handle their own lives and cultures despite their fear, then you end up passing on something to be fearful of. What does it say if a student can handle school but not life? Why do we not want to show students where their own cultural identity fits into all this?

Hip Hop Education is a chance to engage students not only with your classwork, but with their own lives. My students had a reason to study metaphors, and they had reasons to look at how Tim O’Brien dealt with the death of his friend Kiowa—because through hip hop, these elements of English curriculum were now yielding secrets that provided clues to their own problems.

I found that hip hop didn’t just make my students care about the content; it gave me new reasons to care about it, too.