Sunday, January 05, 2014

Engage Me vs. Engage Myself

In a Facebook discussion the other day, SH and I were discussing corporal punishment.  I am still on the fence about it, but I find his arguments interesting.  And, I agree that we need disciplinary options that currently aren't available or aren't working.  For instance, the favored disciplinary option in the US seems to be either lunch or recess (if there is one) detention.  After school detention usually isn't available in the US, at least where I have lived, because of bus schedules.  Even recess detentions are problematic, with the already too short lunch period (frequently just 35 minutes) and the demise of additional recess times. Add to that the complaint, usually valid, that the kids who earn the detentions with their behaviors are also frequently the kids who need recess the most, and there is a real problem.  What options do teachers have?

I am, as I said, on the fence about corporal punishment, but I am very concerned about the lack of other disciplinary options. I have had some very bad experiences subbing in high schools, middle schools, and even some elementary schools, all three of which needed some more consistent and more frequently enforced options for controlling student behaviors. The favored mantra in most schools now is "Get the students engaged and then they will behave". But I am not convinced that that is the proper causality. More and more, I am thinking that we need to get the students to behave and they pay enough attention to the lessons to actually become more informed and more willing to become engaged.

SH pointed out that the mantra "Get the students engaged and then they will behave." puts all of the responsibility for students' behavior on the teacher.  The student is not given the primary responsibility for his/her behavior.  If they misbehave, it is the teacher's fault for not giving them something that they can take an interest in.  But, in my experience, the students are misbehaving well before the teacher even has a chance to give them something to take an interest in.  And, on top of that, some of what they need to learn in school will inevitably NOT be highly engaging.  School is not an endless video game. 

I was subbing in 3 beginning German classes several weeks ago and they were a "challenge". The students would not listen, would not even attempt any of the work, and actively tried to do everything they could to disrupt the class and prevent anyone else from learning. I taught (full time) in a class several years ago, where about 10 of the students (out of 35) begged me to ignore the impossible behavior of around 6 of the students, so that they could actually learn the material. The discipline in the building was impossible. (long story) In both of these cases, the student misbehavior was high, in spite of interesting projects and attempts to make the material more relevant to the students.  I think it is high time we acknowledge that students also need to take responsibility for their behavior and for their engagement in the material they are to learn.  

Kids will sometimes tell me that I have to EARN their respect. I don't know how they got this into their heads, but the respect should be there BEFORE they even meet a new teacher. If the teacher does something to have that respect taken away, that is another issue, but the respect should be given to the position and the authority until it is "un-earned".  Similarly, the students should have an open mind about the material to be learned.  They may find it much more engaging if they actually make some effort to understand it.  

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