I do like to look at the positive side of things, and I try to give people the benefit of the doubt in most occasions. Not that I don't go negative from time to time - even daily - but I try to keep things positive. And I'm getting better. No really, I am! Stop looking at me like that.
I believe that a properly engaged student is the learning student. That means she is engaged with the material before her, as well as with the peer sitting across from her or beside her. And that means our classroom is not always so silent you can hear a pin drop.
I had a sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Langham, who insisted just that: the class was to be so silent we could hear a pin drop. And then she would pull said pin out of her industrial teacher tesk and proceed to drop in onto the tile floor. If she couldn't hear it, the class (yes, the entire class, even the ones of us who adhered to her edicts) would stay in for recesses, writing 100 very, very long sentences.
The pin dropped often.
And we often had to write those paragraph-long sentences.
It made people strongly dislike this lady, who probably was very amiable in her life outside of the school; either that or she was akin to the evil queen in Sleeping Beauty!
What was she thinking? Did she have any idea what she was doing to us?
The only things I remember about her class were:
- This kid, Duane, had a very curved backbone, and he was kind of a jerk, but that he was the best sixth grade artist I can remember in a school that didn't have art classes.
- Someone took another kid's yearbook and scribbled and drew all over the pages during Langham's class. I confess that I was the one who subtly reported to the authorities who it was.
The silence this teacher demanded was for her and not for us. We weren't allowed to share conversations. We weren't afforded opportunities to learn from each other. We weren't expected to greet one another - or her - with kindness or gracious smiles. She just wanted us to be quiet. And that's not the saddest part of this tale: the saddest part was the manner in which she got our attention to tell us to be quiet enough to hear a pin drop. This teacher would take a deep breath, attach her lips to her playground whistle, and blow a long, hard, and shrill note on the instrument before yelling at the class to be quiet.
And the word that comes to mind now is: stifling. Our spirits were drowned in her negative demeanor.
We all have those moments, sometimes more often than we would like to admit, but thankfully, there are not very many teachers who have sunk to the level of my bleach-blond sixth grade teacher.
The fact remains that we should be talking to our students. Not over them, not at them, around them, and not through them, but to them. We have to recognize them as individuals and not simply as a conglomeration of little humans from the neighborhood. We have to treat them the way we would like to be treated.
Don't we preach that? Then why would we not expect the same from ourselves?
Those little humans must develop their social and language skills - not just written language and a working knowledge of good manners. Rather, they must use integrated and fully-implemented social and language skills throughout their days, developing a more robust vocabulary along the way.
Our classrooms, hallways, and cafeterias may be louder from time to time. Does it mean there is never a time when we don't ask for quiet? No. There are times when the hallways should be quiet so students can hear instructions from teachers. There are times when it becomes impolite to talk in the cafeteria. And there are certainly times when it is better to listen to wisdom than constantly spout foolishness. Students must be made to rightly judge when it is appropriate or inappropriate to have social conversations, thoughtful discussions, educational discourse, and respectful silence.
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This video from the Atlanta Speech School makes some incredibly accurate points about the subject. When you watch the under-four-minute video, the cynic in you might be inclined to laugh it off as fake. You may think the contrast in the attitudes and the responses are unrealistic, that it couldn't make that big of a difference, but you would be wrong. The message here is straight up as real as it gets.
Last year, my students, being trained and well-practiced in the art and social grace of looking people in the eyes, delivering firm shakes of the hand, and expressing gratitude, did all of that with one of the adults overseeing an activity. When the sour-pussed adult scowled at them and refused to shake their hands, some of my students were distraught. They didn't know what to do with this.
A parent standing nearby witnessed the situation. Upset that the adult was not a partner in teaching these kids proper manners and would not accept thank you's, the parent expressed her displeasure with me. What was I to do? I suppose living on a planet with other human beings means that some of those beings are not as nice as others. The sad part is that I have to teach my students about those people, as well. They need to be ready to be shunned and shut down by people, all the while not squelching their own enthusiasm and positivity in the process.