a follow-up with Mrs. Jackson

The principal pulls me aside and tells me ahead of time, "Tom, I'm not a counselor.  I'm not a psychologist. I'm not even a phrenologist, so you won't see me trying analyze the bumps on your head to see what you were thinking."

"Okay, so what's the matter?"

"I want you to know that Mrs. Jackson is in my office right now.  I didn't want you to feel like it was a trap when you walked in."

The meeting begins rough, with Mrs. Jackson yelling at me, pointing her finger at my face and telling me that I was being unprofessional.

"Kicking a student out for a name on a paper is also unprofessional," I explain.  I have the amazing ability to use words as weapons and I can tell this stings.  She responds with silence, not because she is angry, but because she is hurt.

"You have to understand that we can't coddle kids.  They have to know that in the real world they'll need to learn to get along and respect authority and remember details.  What boss would possibly . . ."

Finally our principal speaks up.  "You just said that in the real world kids will need to learn to get along and yet I'm having to hold a mediation in my office right now.  I find it strange that both of you attend the same church and yet neither of you has internalized the message of humility and forgiveness. I'm not a religious man myself, but I can certainly see value in a Jesus-flavored approach."

I look at her as we both cringe at the term "Jesus-flavored," as if our Savior has been relegated to a lollipop.

"As I see it, you're both right.  Mr. Johnson, you have every right to suggest that a child will be forgetful and that shame simply brings out anger and rebellion.  Mrs. Jackson, you're right that children need consequences and it is our job to prepare them for the reality of a world that doesn't look like a bunch of cuddly bunnies and 'great job' stickers."

It's silent again, but this time out of a shared sense of remorse. I offer an awkward, clunky apology.  Ms. Jackson holds out her arm for one of those camp-counselor-side-hugs.


Later that day, she says to me, "I guess I get nervous and uncomfortable with paper and pencil.  My rules change.  I get uptight.  That kid I timed out wasn't a bad kid by any means. I just feel like I'm wandering in a maze right now and everything that seemed normal five years ago is no longer enough."

Mrs. Jackson is a phenomenal teacher and yet her veteran status often works against her.  People see the pencils and papers in my class and call me "innovative" and "forward thinking," and they pull her aside for condescending discussions about the need to move into the twentieth century. The reason she was acting out of character had less to do with student behavior and more to do with her own discomfort.

Here's the rub: Pencils geeks need her.  So, she gets a little nervous around a pencil sharpener.  Perhaps she grows uptight when kids forget names on papers.  However, she is not easily wooed by a shiny gadgetry.  Instead, she is impressed by learning and hence she has a contagious love of literature that her children seem to catch.  

What if we changed pencil-integrated professional development so that she became one of the experts?  What if, instead of sending her to a pencil workshop, we used job-embedded training that allowed her to use her expertise on pedagogy coupled with another teacher's expertise in pencil-based strategies?  what if we redefined "innovation" to be less about technology and more about what works in a system that is broken (even if what works looks, on the surface, to be pretty low-tech)? 

1 comment:

  1. As a relatively-recently-retired teacher, I can only hope that someone still active in the profession is reading and thinking about these ideas. Keep it up, please.