Teachers Are Individuals Too
(That is unfortunate, because it messes up a lot of standardized teaching procedures and classroom management strategies)
by Bill Page
With her long braided pigtails, effervescent personality, and permanent smile, I couldn't help thinking of her as a "girl" not as the fine professional teacher she was. Trish weighed barely 87 pounds, was probably five feet tall, 25 years old, married, and had four years teaching experience. I was absolutely certain she could have gone through any elementary school lunch line, paid student prices, and never be challenged.
Her principal as teacher of a research project that I headed had designated Trish. The project involved eight "low income type" junior high schools, of which Trish's school was one, identifying their lowest achieving seventh graders without regard to the reason for the low achievement. The research premise was that teachers needed to "change what they were doing to students rather that worry about what is wrong with the 'problem' students."
"What Would You Do With That Kid?"
One day, as I visited Trish and the 30 kids in her program, she questioned, "Well, what would you do with that kid?" That kid being, Tyrone, a six foot tall, lanky but muscular, seventh grader who was two years older and two feet taller than most of the other kids and who had served two hitches at Jardonia, Juvenile Facility. She described an incident in which Tyrone attacked a younger, smaller classmate. She assured me, "It wasn't a typical scuffle, it was a one-sided beating. I thought Tyrone was trying to kill Anthony."
A Definitive Answer
I responded to Trish's question, " I would grab Tyrone immediately by the shirt collar, stick my knuckle in his Adam's apple, put one of my legs behind his legs tripping him to the floor, kneeling with my knee in his back." Her shocked, surprised response was, "I couldn't do that!" To which I replied, "You didn't ask what you should do, you asked what I would do; and that's what I would do. I weigh 300 pounds, I played college football, had two years in the army, including a course in hand to hand combat and I have never seen a junior high kid I can't handle. (I'm sure there are some, but I haven't met one.)
How Would I Know What You Should Do?
I don't know what I would do if I were an 87 pound lady. I've never been an 87 pound lady -- it has been since fifth grade that I was an 87 pound boy. If my goal were to stop Tyrone from "killing," I would do whatever I could. Whatever it took. I explained that, "I don't have any idea how someone like you would act having that same goal." Do you run down the hall screaming for help? Run to the next teacher's room? Demand some of the kids help grab Tyrone? Pick up a chair and smack him across the back? Push the intercom button? Cry? Plead? Demand? Wait? Pray? (Oops, that's not allowed)" I really don't know.
Somehow in teacher training, they forget to allow for individual differences in teachers. Teacher trainers act as though all teachers have the same abilities, same communication skills, same personalities, same demeanor, same tolerance for noise, and that they should all have the same skills and competencies.
A Sad Milestone
One of the saddest days in my career was in my twentieth year of teaching when it really hit home to me that the school system did not regard me any differently at that point in my career than when I was a first year teacher, except perhaps for an insignificant yearly pay increment. I had the same number of students, the same amount of preparation time, the same supervision, the same unnecessary meetings, memos and school rules and policies. I could teach 500 kids then better than I could teach the 32 they gave me back when I started -- but every teacher gets 25 kids per class whether he or she is a first year teacher or a 40 year teacher.
I'll Decide What I Do
A skilled worker does not rely on a bag of tricks. A worker looks at the desired outcome and determines what tools or techniques will be needed. Of course, a big box of tools and ample resources are helpful, but we, as teachers, need to draw on our personal style, our own strengths, and our own personality, not on predetermined techniques that presume "one size fits all." There is an old saying, "If you know enough to distinguish good advice from bad advice, you don't need the advice." I don't need teaching advice. Just tell me what you would do. I'll decide whether that might work for me or how I might adapt it or whether I reject it and decide what else I might do.
It Is Too Bad Humans Are Involved
There is one major, over-riding, constant, problem with teaching; it involves human beings. The kids, parents, teachers and administrators are each and every one human. If they were not, we could apply the same procedures to all of them and have them all come out alike. Not only are we all human, but also the varied context in which teaching occurs would prohibit any standardization of procedures. Come to think of it, that is all really good news. Who would want all kids to be alike; all teachers to teach the same; and all teaching procedures standardized.
What Is Your Goal?
If we could, would we want every kid on the honor roll, and if so, would there not be a concern for those at the lower end of the honor roll? Even if every kid were on the top of the honor roll, wouldn't there be a concern for those who took longer to get there, struggled more to make it, or had "other" deficiencies, such as in personality, social skills, attitude, etc. Would "good looking" honor roll students be regarded differently than "plain looking" honor roll students? Would there be a need or interest in the honor roll if every kid were at the top of it? If we could would we have every one graduate from college? From graduate school? What goals do you think are worthwhile?
If schools were really effective, what would the kids who come from them be like? I fear that we would have a bunch of "well rounded" kids who know a little bit of this and a little bit of that, a little bit of music, a little bit of art. They would all have read the same books, memorized the same poems and scored a hundred on the standardized tests.
Comparative Physical Fitness
I remember when my older daughter, attending junior high, came home with a physical education report based on the national fitness test comparing abilities in physical tasks such as pull-ups, push-ups, sit-ups and at least two other tasks. As I recall, in the percentile rankings, she had one score of 38 and the remaining scores were lower. As my wife lamented the "miserable showing," I asked her, if she would like to have our daughter initiate a fitness regimen hoping to raise her ranking, so someone else's kid could rank 38? When rank ordering a hundred kids, aren't some kids going rank high and some low? Is everyone expected to be above average -- aaahh, Lake Woebegone Rules?
I Thought I Would Never Get Average Teacher Pay
I also remember my first teaching contract, which with two steps up for two years in the army, called for an annual salary of $4,600, a figure way above average. I started with
the third highest paying school district of St. Louis County's 27 districts and considerably higher than the surrounding counties. In the succeeding years as my salary increased by the $200 automatic pay increment at each step, it became obvious to me that I would never receive "average teacher pay,' because every year as my pay increased so did the average. Were it not for the top paid teachers retiring and new teachers coming in, I could never have made it to average pay.
I'm Glad I'm Different
I'm glad there are people who want to communicate with computers, and become proficient dealing with technology. I'm glad there are the accountant types who can figure their own income tax and are willing to do mine (for a fee, of course). I'm glad there are people who are content delving in grease or blood up to their elbows. My schools failed in their efforts to make me into what they thought I should be, and I'm glad they failed. By utilizing my strengths, I became a unique successful teacher.
I'm glad nobody in my career path demanded or even expected me to be a proctologist, a funeral director, a bad debt collector, a prison guard or thousands of other occupations, careers, or professions I could name. I'm glad humans have great differences. I'm glad I am different. I like being different. I like being me. I like me!
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