He Just Likes the Class for the Pencils

I'm not the Nice Guy Teacher who hands out candy and offers free time (Isn't all education supposed to be an act of liberation?) and plays the pal at recess and lunch time.  I am strict.  I allow a large amount of freedom (we have tables instead of desks, where the students are allowed to eat and they may choose where to sit), but I will correct a child every time I see disrespect or laziness.

Somehow I get the reputation as the Nice Guy Teacher, though.  Thus teachers who have never visited my room often seem surprised by the lack of chaos and the serious demeanor that I have.  I want my students to enjoy learning, but I also want them to grasp the fact that it is a serious endeavor. So, I use some humor and try and develop a good relationship with them.  However, I expect full mental engagement.

I'm in a "behavior meeting," with a parent, a child and three other teachers.  Under the guise of "finding solutions," each teacher blames and shames until the boy cries. (Occasionally teachers will actually delight in this, believing that shame leads to a change in direction, when, in fact, it leads to perfectionism, rebellion and ultimately hedging your bets and wearing masks so that no one ever knows you)

"He's doing well for me.  I teach all the subjects except for the electives," I explain.

"That's only because of the pencils," another teacher says.

"I really think it's because he and I have found a way to get along," I add.

Another teacher says, "I wish I had a set of pencils.  Maybe he would behave for me.  I know he loves pencils.  I guess we can't all have it our way."

"I'm not sure the pencils are the thing that makes it meanin. . ."

"Don't get defensive, Tom.  He loves your class for the pencils.  At least he doesn't interrupt you with stupid questions. In gym class . . ."

His voice trails off and I check out.  Turns out this meeting was meant to shame and blame me. What he doesn't realize is that pencils will be exciting for a day.  Any new technology is like that.  We have a phonograph that the students fell in love with for a week.  We have access to a telegraph that we use on occasion.

Ultimately, though, it is about trust and purpose.  This child trusts me, because I don't shame him.  In fact, the one time I yelled at him, I apologized and he responded with humility and strength.  He trusts me, because I know him and I know him, because I take the time to listen.  This child sees meaning and purpose in what we do in class.    I try not to waste his time with meaningless work and in return he doesn't waste my time with meaningless chatter.

None of that requires a pencil.

When the meeting is over, the teachers walk out first.  The child is sitting with his face buried in his hands, tears streaming down.  An angry mother sits beside him.

As he gets up to leave, he says, "I don't just like your class for the pencils.  I like pencils.  But I like your class because it's fun.  No, sometimes it's really boring and, I don't know.  I don't know why I like your class, but it isn't just the pencils."

"I know," I tell him.

30 comments:

  1. Awww, I love this. I am not sure I have sufficiently developed a culture of purposeful learning in my classroom. The collection of round tables gets a bit noisy at tomes and too many are not time-conscious enough. We work on it, or I'm afraid I am working on it. So much depends on our being respectful. Anger happens, how we deal with it matters very much. I always consider it a huge failure if a conference ends in tears of shame. Tears are close to the surface of many people. I recall last year I had a grade five student who was prone to cry if he was disappointed. I felt bad for him, but he was simply handling the moment. We need to know our students.

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  2. This is amazingly well written. I hope that is the way that my classroom is. I think it's close. I think I'm going to post this somewhere for myself as something I want to strive for. Thanks for sharing this piece of awesomeness.

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  3. Yes! Amazing...thanks for this!

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  4. Wow! Love it!! Thanks for sharing!

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  5. I hope the blamers and shamers see themselves in this and decide to try your approach next time!

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  6. So many of the problems of life would be solved more quickly and smoothly if the parties involved worked on solutions, not blame. Behavior issues are another problem solving situation. How do we teach our students to approach a science problem? Blame the atoms first? No, they are encouraged to break the problem down, brainstorm solutions, try the solutions and evaluate how well it worked.

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  7. great... just great (like in a good way) ... wish all educators could see things this way!

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  8. So Awesome! You are what teachers should be! Thank you for ALL you do!

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  9. My daughter came home with a note in her hand writing that said, "I took a time out today because I was talking while Ms. Smith was talking."

    All to often teachers use humiliation and coercion as a tactic to force compliance.

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  10. I enjoyed your article very much. It made me pause and think. Teachers aren't perfect and we make mistakes. But, if the main goal at the end of the day is to be the kind of teacher you would want your daughter/son/ granddaughter/grandson (or niece/nephew or loved one) to have as a teacher, then it usually is a positive day. I would want my child in your class, for the pencils, for the learning and for the experience.

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  11. Your posts are among my favorites. Enjoy your honesty and your depictions of how you're changing kids' lives!

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  12. Hi,
    My name is May Krasovich. I am a student of Dr. Strange's EDM 310 class at the University of South Alabama. I have to say that I really enjoyed this post. There should be more teachers who think the way you do! Blame is no way to handle any situation, and a teacher should know, practice and understand this concept better than most. Thank you for sharing your views.

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  13. Hi John, My name is Jennifer and I am a student in Dr. Strange's EDM310 class at the University of South Alabama. Wonderful post! It is refreshing to hear that you are not only compassionate about your students but work with them to help them succeed to the best of your ability. The other teachers should be asking for your advice!!!

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  14. Hello, my name is Mattie Bearden and I am a student in Dr. Strange's EDM 310 class. This post was incredible. It is the sad truth that this type of interaction is more frequesnt than anyone really likes to believe. I love that you stuck up for the student. It is so important to have a good relationship with your students. This relationship shows in the mutual respect that you will gain for one another. Thank you for posting this experience. It is always wonderful to read or hear stories from the inside!
    Thank you,
    Mattie Bearden

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  15. Hi John,

    My name is Caitlyn Lord and I am also a student in Dr. Strange's EDM class. Dr. Strange had us read several of your posts and told us to make sure we comment on at least one. I read 4 different posts of yours, and this one really stuck out to me. I think it is incredible that you developed a good relationship with your student. I think teachers often forget that should be part of their duties. My mom has been a teacher my entire life, and I've seen this same scenario a thousand times over. But every time I hear another example of it, I smile. I am glad to know there are teachers who take time to actually listen to their students. Thank you. By the way, your student was definitely telling the truth, forhim, it's not just about the computers. He trusts you, and that is a beautiful thing.

    Caitlyn

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  16. Kayla from EDM 310: WOW! I love this post. It really shows that teaching starts with respect (techer to student/ student to teacher) and meaningful student/teacher relationships. I truly believe that the first step in getting a student to listen is through respecting them and forming an understanding relationship. I also must say that I like the way you run your class. I have a feeling my classroom will be similar- freedom if you obey and strictness is sometimes necessary. I recently had to stop working at a daycare (loved my job and kids,I just needed to be able to provide more money for us), but while I was there I learned a lot about kids. They would always come to me if they got hurt or if someone was being mean to them. Why? Because I realized that those things are important to them and if they just need someone to listen I am there. They know that if they are in the wrong the time-out bench is waiting for them, but embarrassing them in front of others or demeaning them (like the teachers you referred to) is not the thing to do. They need respect in order for us as teachers to receive respect from them.

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  17. Hi, my name is Cassandra Steele, and I am from Dr. Strange's EDM310 class. This is a great post. It was a great story. I agree with Kayla in the previous post. It is really important to connect with your students. Students get so much more out of their education if they love and trust their teachers.

    I wish more teachers were compassionate about the students and their education. I went to a very small school, and some of this was expressed there. We were all from a small town. Everyone knew just about everyone in the school. The teachers knew who your parents were, what you did over the weekends, and what you had for breakfast. If there was ever something to come up in a classroom, teachers knew the students well enough to know how each student would react. They knew our personalities better than some of our friends.

    Respect is a key thing in the teacher/student relationship. Listening is part of the respect. Having a friendship with a teacher is all well and good as long as the teacher knows when to be strict. I like the way you run your classroom. I hope to have the respect of my students one day. Thanks so much for this post and all of the others. I find it very heartfelt that you use personal experiences as lessons. You do a great job with your writing.

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  18. Hi,
    My name is Abby Smith. I am a student of Dr. Strange. I really enjoyed reading some of your stories, this one in particular. This story has a great message. It's sad that there aren't as many teachers as there should be with the same perspective on how students should be treated. I think that when a teacher takes the time to listen to the students it shows that that teacher really cares about the students and their success. Thank you for sharing your great stories with the rest of us!
    Thanks
    -Abby Smith

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  19. Hi,
    My name is Ali Reynolds. I am student in Dr. Strange's EDM310 class. This was a wonderful post. So many teachers are guilty of the whole blame and shame game. I work at a daycare and I am guilty of this too. I do also understand that we should not do this. There should always be respect for the teachers as well as respect for the students. I know that when a student comes to me, I will listen to him or her. As a future teacher, I want my kids to be able to come talk to me because they know I will listen. I never want to shame a student for not understanding something. I think that if you do this, the student will block out everything that is said.

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  20. Hi,
    My name is Ryne Baxter and I am in Dr. Strange's EDM 310 class. I really enjoyed this post. I think that having a close relationship and having the students trust is one of the greatest things about being an educator. I hope I can have the same kind of relationship as you do with your students. Great Post!

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  21. Hi, John!
    I really appreciated this post. Sometimes I think that teachers expect their students to behave like robots (sit still, don't talk unless spoken to, raise your hand, do your work, etc.). While your students should follow rules, they're still kids especially at the elementary level. I believe that mutual respect is the foundation of ANY healthy relationship, and it feels good to know that there are teachers out there like you who strive to bring out the best in their students. Thank you for sharing this post. It was great.

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  22. HELLO! My name is Kindra Blackwell and I am in Dr. Strange's EDM310 class. I absoulutley loved this post! I believe that every teacher should take the time to get to know their students. Trust is such a big thing for children! GREAT POST!

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  23. My name is Christie and I am one of Dr. Strange's EDm 310 students as well. This post was my favorite. No, the boy does not like the class just because of the "pencils" or the "technology" or the "fun stuff". It goes a lot deeper than that. I also agree that you must keep a close connection with your students. You have to have trust, respect and understanding. If you can listen to your students, you have a much better chance of getting through to them.
    Thank you for sharing this!

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  24. My name is Krystin Pavey and I am also in Dr. Strange's EDM 310 class. I loved this post! I think that trusting and connecting with your students is important. Thanks for sharing!

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  25. My name is Tiffany Morris. I am taking Dr. Strange's EDM 310 class. This was a great post. I think it is great that you take the time to get to know your students. There are many teachers who go about their job and cannot tell you anything about their students. I have had teachers in the past who didn't care to know anything about me and teachers who actually cared. I really hope that I can be the type of teacher you are. You care about your students and that shows.

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  26. My name is Alissa Logan. I am in Dr. Strange's class. I hope the other teachers in that meeting realized the reason why the student likes your class more than theirs is because you actually make time for them. Don't ever change that!

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  27. Hello i am Sharon Barrow from Dr. Strange's EDM 310 class. This story is so touching. Learning can be fun and just because it is does not mean nothing is being learned. Connection with students should always be a priority.

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  28. Hi, my name is Robin Garland and I am in Dr. Strange's EDM310 class. I think so many times teachers either loose sight or just do not care that students are human beings with feelings too. It breaks my heart to see a child hurt or sad. I substitute at a school and I see how some teachers treat their students. In order to receive respect we must give it. Thank you for being such a great teacher. I admire you and hope to make a positive impact on my student's lives as you have.

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  29. Hi, unfortunately I am not in Dr. Strange's EDM310 class, but wanted to say I enjoyed your post. As an educator with a few years under my belt, the best tip for new teachers is to focus on building trusting, safe learning relationships with your students. Students will care more about that than the fancy pencils or tech used in the classroom and it will be what they remember years down the road.
    Thanks again..

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