Caroline in the Delta

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
May 12 2011

I’m just try’na be cool, cool, cool. What you expect me to do?

INCONSISTENCY.

OH-EM-GEE.

Consistent is an ambiguous word, especially when it comes to teaching. Consistency, contrary to what you might expect, does NOT mean giving every child the same consequence for the same behavior. It is all about context and intention. If a student intentionally launches a pencil off his desk in the middle of a lesson, he deserves a consequence. If a student accidentally bangs his elbow into a pencil that’s in the hand of another student and sends it flying, it does not deserve a consequence.

If a student refuses to do her work, does it require an immediate consequence, or a quiet chat as you kneel in front of her desk and correct the behavior? What if this is the fifth time in one week the student has done this behavior? Or the fifth time in one month? Where does the line get drawn, and how beneficial is it if the behavior continues despite the consequence? Or despite 10 different consequences? Was it wise to attempt different consequences, or is that just more inconsistency?

That’s the real kicker. Or how about when your students write you essays about how much they enjoy the consequence? Honestly, yesterday I read an essay about one student’s memorable moment: getting on a desk and acting like a monkey on the first day of school. No joke. He included how he was sent to In School Suspension, and how he likes the peace and quiet in there, and the work is easier. Excellent punishment. Excellent consequence. Beyond the teacher’s control.

Trial and error, trial and error, trial and error.

Not knowing what to do is a supremely, completely, overwhelmingly frustrating thing to experience when it directly pertains not just to you, but to the 24 12-year-olds sitting in front of you, testing your endurance, patience, expectations and seriousness. They want to know if you will actually push them as much as you promised to. Deep inside, they want you to push them. You have to decide how.

HOW.

HOW?!

Two thoughts as I re-read this entry to myself:

1) This is interesting to think about if making an analogy to a political or social leader. How must it feel to be the Dalai Lama, where your decisions and “pushes” affect not just 24 kids for ten minutes or half a year, but affects millions of people for generations? Sobering thought.

2) This entry, and the last, had titles referencing JB again. Back in my after school groove. Win.

TOTALLY UNRELATED

Yesterday Eliese and I saw the Dalai Lama in Fayetteville, at the University of Arkansas, five hours away. For my sub plan, I had my students read two articles about the Dalai Lama and write two paragraphs: one about what they learned and one about how they would feel if they were expected to become a big social leader at the age of 15.

Today, our Do Now was to write everything they remembered from the article yesterday. Some classes had really excellent responses. It’s amazing how class culture affects an assignment like that. One class literally had nothing to say, and another class had a 30 minute discussion, asked me to pass around the program I brought to school with me about it, and asked if we can do an assignment about the Dalai Lama (?!) before school is over! That latter class also asked really engaging and thoughtful questions that left me genuinely impressed.

Oh! And a third class literally, literally gasped when I explained that Buddhists don’t worship Jesus Christ like Christians do. At the time I was a bit taken aback at their response, but thinking about it now I don’t doubt that they have never heard that in their lives.

Overall, interesting day. I’m reminding myself not to be stressed out. Big weekend coming tomorrow!

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