Tag Archives: students

Integrity in the Face of Violence

My parents sometimes sent mixed messages when it came to fighting.  They were adamant that I not start a fight with anyone, to be sure.  However, they were – or at least my father was – just as adamant that if I were to get in a fight that I be ready to teach the attacker a lesson.  This wasn’t an official thing, but if I told my dad I got hit, I remember him asking if I made the attacker sorry.  

The whole fighting mechanism speaks to a frustration and inability to express oneself – specifically, the emotion of being upset.  I didn’t know this when starting as a teacher, but apparently growing up in today’s society automatically means that you don’t know how to express anger and frustration without beating into someone’s face.  Why is this still a thing?  It doesn’t make sense to me.  We have the words to express ourselves.  We have YouTube for comparison, gifs for emotions… why is violence still a thing?  Is there no replacement for the catharsis involved?

Or is it just… easy?  

About one in four high school students reports having been in a physical fight in the past year.

 

Social Media

Today, there are so many opportunities with social media to talk smack and say the wrong thing.  Push someone a little bit too far.  Something you post for one person can look like shade to another person.  Even the best of texts can be re-read by someone and reacted to the next day.  Worse, the immediacy of social networking means that the offense can reach scores of people and give every sleight a built-in audience.

Social media also rewards spectacle. A fight is a spectacle.  Social media has taught students to flock to spectacle instead of avoiding it.

My father had a saying. He said this: sometimes people want to bring you down to their level, and you have to treat them as you would treat dog poop; walk around it, not through it.  (My father is so poetic, I know.)

Lack of Problem-Solving Skills

It is important that we understand that some people have only been presented – either by example or directly – with a few options for solving the problems in their lives.  In fact, someone with only the most basic instincts will choose either fight or flight.  As a teacher, it is important to immediately make clear to our students that the time of fight or flight has long past – we are in an age of creativity and civilization.  Let’s build some pyramids!

Therein is the problem; peaceful solutions often require unanimous maturity, while violence does not.

If you have no idea how to talk about your feelings, or are unused to figuring out ways to talk about your feelings, then you’re way more likely to swing at someone.  Also, while it takes two to solve a problem amicably in these situations, it only takes one to fight; after all, if one person swings, there are not a lot of people that will not swing back and just take the punches.  Therein is the problem; peaceful solutions often require unanimous maturity, while violence does not.

dodge
Unless there are serious skills involved, once one person starts swinging most people are forced to swing back.

The List

Here are some options just off the top of my head for solving problems – feel free to copy this list for home use.

  1. Apologize for something. What’s that?  You’re not sorry?  Then lie.  He won’t know!
  2. Never talk again.  Be like my dad.  Walk around them.  Let the poop image guide you.  Stay in your lane.
  3. Write about it.  Catharsis!  Super important.
  4. Talk to someone you trust about it.  They can give you perspective.  Or just take your side and make you feel good without you actually doing anything.  Note: choose confidants wisely.  You want someone even-keeled.
  5. Speak plainly.  This made me feel _______.  This is why.
  6. Make new friends with someone.  Increasing your circle decreases the percentage of conflict.
  7. Listen to Linkin Park or something.  Or anyone with lots of guitars and sadness.

I remember the one time that I wanted to fight someone in high school, I remember a very clear voice ringing in my head through the red haze: “It’s not worth it.”  I’m not self-extolling, but the clarity of that voice highlights for me the problem: we need to make sure our students also have that voice.

It’s better to walk away and let them yell that you’re a coward, because all that matters is what you know about yourself.

Fighting is easy. All you have to do is make a move, and the rest is instinct and consequence, completely outside of your control.  This can feel liberating to a stressed, emotional young person.  It’s those with the strength to take control of the situation and bear the burden that will bring us toward peace.  In Chapter 9 of To Kill a Mockingbird, Scout beats up a boy for insulting her father.  It’s not a reaction to danger, but a response to her pride being threatened.  Her father stresses that hurting other people and becoming a person who hurts other people is too big of a change to make based on the small-minded whims of those who would insult you.  It’s better to walk away and let them yell that you’re a coward, because all that matters is what you know about yourself.  Your actions won’t match their slanderous words; they will match your true self.  You will have integrity.

A side effect also is that you’ll make them feel lame and insecure because they’ll be all noisy and blustery while you walk away like they’re no big deal.  Two for one!  

Works Cited

“Physical Fighting By Youth” Child Trends.org. 2017. Web. <https://www.childtrends.org/indicators/physical-fighting-by-youth/&gt;. 11 Dec. 2017.

Advertisements

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.

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.)

mgqo3r

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.