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.