I Never Did That When I Was in School!
by Jan Fisher
"We sure didn't argue with our teachers!"
"I wouldn't have dared not do my homework!"
"When my teacher said to be quiet, believe me, I was quiet!"
Sound familiar? I hear teachers make these statements every day. I make them myself! What is going on? Why is class management so difficult today? It sure wasn't like this in the sixties. Or the seventies or eighties for that matter. Are we, as teachers, going to sit back and let this situation escalate or are we going to get control? We are in charge, after all.
We are in charge, it's true. But this is not the 60s or the 70s or the 80s. It is nearly 2001 and the world has changed. So have the kids. And, as teachers, we had better follow suit. We need to look at the world our students are coming from and the world they will go into after their schooling is complete. They need different things now than we did. And, the world needs different things from them. This is not the "Father Knows Best" time of the 1950s and 1960s. We have moved from the Industrial Age to the Information Age. Teaching an Information Age kid with Industrial Age strategies can be disastrous for the country, the teacher, and the student.
The Industrial Age of the mid-1900s had different goals, different values and different relationships. Many of us were raised in suburbia. Uniformity was the goal. My family's life was indistinguishable from our neighbors. We all attended the high school football games and the homecoming dances. My parents had gone to school with my friends' parents. Our families took the same vacations, read the same books,shared the same interests. Security and cohesiveness and routine were important. Authority relationships were power-oriented. My father was the breadwinner; he called the shots. No one questioned this arrangement; all families operated that way. It was a comfortable and uncomplicated world. People, for the most part, were happy and satisfied with their lives. It was a static and stable environment.
In times of little change such as those many of us experienced as kids, success is pretty predictable. The following four list of skills and attitudes were needed for the Industrial Age: (Chance, 1986)
- Following instructions
- Recognizing the authority of the supervisor
- Working on monotonous tasks for long periods of time
Our families, schools, and churches did a good job of instilling these prerequisites for success in us. As long as the environment remained stable, we could be reasonably sure that we would make it in the world. Those were the good old days! Things have changed. We moved from static and stable to chaotic! Our social institutions did not make the necessary adjustments. Looking to the past for the secrets of success is like driving by looking through the rear-view mirror. It won't work for long.
The new century began in the midst of a technological revolution and a whole new way of life. Innovation, communication, negotiation and interaction are the skills required in the workplace. Workers are not interested in security. They won't stay in the same job long enough to need it. They want individuality, empowerment and potential for growth. Stock options are in; good retirement plans are out. Families are more "rearranged" than traditional. Community life and neighborhood barbecues are pretty much a thing of the past. People do not see "fitting in" as important. Personal fulfillment is desired instead. People change jobs, homes, and spouses fre quently--- stability and security are not core values of the Information Age! The prerequisites for success are completely different. We can't even identify the conditions that will enable our young people to be successful (Pruitt, 1997). The good news is that human beings are inherently pliant and modifiable. They can acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and attitudes necessary for success if we provide the right kind of learning experiences for them.
So what do these 21st century kids need to learn in school if they are to be ready for this very different world? If we expect them to be happy and productive---and we do---then they need to learn to take initiative, to be proactive, to make good decisions. They are no longer just listeners and "obeyers." While they need to respect authority and to be courteous they must be skilled in networking and negotiation. That will be their way of life. Maybe they'd better practice with us!
They will need to be go-getters capable of constantly upgrading their skills. This requires ambition, planning, self-determination and autonomy. Our classrooms need to reflect this kind of environment; they should, as much as possible, simulate the new age. Running our classrooms like our industrial age teachers did is neither prudent nor practical. The kids will be obsolete before they graduate!
Risk-taking is valued now. Our students need to try new things, to innovate. Instead of the "don't make waves" philosophy of our youth, they must learn to express their feelings honestly, responsibly, and without disruption to others. The value system is personal, not community-based . My small town had a code of behavior that we all followed. Everyone watched out for everyone else. It was easy and comfortable. It is not so today. Kids must develop their own value system, one that works for their particular situation, then they learn to operate under it without violating the rights of others. It is individuality, not conformity, that is valued. A big job for them? You bet! And, for us, as well. Many of these skills are learned in the classroom community.
Young people are on their own from an early age. Both parents work and often commute long distances. Family meals and vacations are rare. Extended families are spread out across the country. Everyone needs and wants to be independent and able to take care of himself. Skills of independence need to be taught and promoted. Guess who does that? You're right---it's the teacher.
Personal responsibility has replaced the dependence on a leader in the workplace. An individual takes the blame for a mistake. Many of our students will be self-employed, working out of their homes, entrepreneurs. They will be their own bosses. No foreman to help---or to blame. Self-efficacy, goal setting, optimism, intrinsic motivation, and self-regulation are competencies for the 21st century. All of these changes that are upon us affect the way our students behave and believe when they come to school. They also must affect the way teachers behave and believe. We not only have to live in the 21st century ourselves, but we have to prepare our students to do the same. We must teach to meet their needs and society's demands And students and society are vastly different. This presents a challenge for all of us.
What changes do we as teachers need to make? The most important one is in the kinds of relationships we have with our students. While those relati onships used to be authority-based, they now need to mirror the kinds of relationships the kids will experience in their out-of-school lives. Negotiating rather than commanding is the basis of the relationship. The teacher needs to encourage self-enforcement rather than to promote teacher enforcement. We do this by giving students many choices, within limits, and allowing them to experience the consequences, both good and bad, of those choices. Teachers need to share the control with the students. We turn their problems over to them to solve. We give them the responsibility for studying, for doing homework, for getting to school on time, for following the rules. But, if we are going to make them responsible, we had better first teach them the skills.
The foundation of the relationship between teachers and students is trust. The teacher believes the students can and will make responsible choices and that they can function well in the absence of authority. If we spend time teaching decision-making and problem solving skills and then giving the kids opportunities to practice, they will be successful.
The double standard is out. No longer can we, as our teachers might have done, humiliate, embarrass, or manage by intimidation. We model the behaviors we want our students to have. If we model respect, we get respect; if we model trust, we get trust. If we model power, we get a power struggle; if we are rude, our students are rude.
These new kinds of authority relationships are reflected in the discipline goals of our classrooms. We no longer control students but we teach them to control themselves. Appropriate behavior is a subject we teach, model and provide time for students to practice. We teach them to make good decisions---and then let them make them. We teach them to solve their own problems---and then let them solve them. We empower them to control themselves. Every time we take one of their problems and solve it, we lower their self-esteem a notch. We should not see student independence as a threat but as a support to a more cooperative relationship. This frees us to instruct, to guide, and to facilitate the learning of students.
The focus in the classroom is on the positive, not the negative. In the 21st century world of independence and self-reliance, rewards and consequences will be logical and natural, a result of the person's own effort and skill. They will not be provided by an external source. Our classrooms need to operate the same way. It is a disservice to our students to hand them a note or an M&M every time they do something right. They should be allowed to experience the intrinsic reinforcement that comes from doing a job well. Otherwise, they will never recognize success or failure when they experience it. They will depend on someone else to say, "Good job" or "Not such a good job." They are in control of both success and failure by the skills they acquire and by the effort they expend. If we label those internal forces as the causes, students will be able to manage their own destinies. Our specific feedback to students is important, both in quality and quantity. We make it specific and timely. "Your hard work really paid off in terms of your writing; your piece is well-focused and organized' replaces "I'm proud of the work you did." The former gives the credit, the good feelings, and the control of success to the rightful owner. He will be able to self-monitor and self-evaluate his own progress which is what will be expected of him when he is in the workplace. The 21st century class climate is cooperative, not competitive; proactive, not reactive; encouraging, not controlling. Students have strong relationships with their teacher and with each other. They have some say in what they learn and how well they learn it, they take---and enjoy---the responsibility for their own behavior. They have confidence in their ability to act in their own self-interest.
That same personal responsibility that we expect and teach our students in this 21st century is also expected of us. Remember, the double standard is out! We accept responsibility for the behavior of our students. Yes, they come from dysfunctional homes. Yes, they have parents who have not taught them right from wrong. Yes, they come to us with behavior problems. But, we are professionals who have the skills to deal with these students and also the responsibility to do so. The only attitudinal difference ever identified that distinguishes an effective teacher from a less effective one is efficacy (Hunter, l985). Efficacious teachers believe in their capability to plan and implement a program that will affect change in the behavior of every student. And, they work continuously to accomplish that. They do not entertain excuses. Changing behavior is their job and they do it. In the 21st century, though, they "negotiate" behavior change, not demand it! We can be very successful as class managers and as teachers if we are willing to examine our old values and practices, to clarify our goals, and to learn and implement strategies that meet the needs of the information age kid and prepare him for the world he will face when he leaves school. That world may have changed, but the power of a great teacher has not! We still are the major influences in the life of a child, and, as such, key determiners of how successful they--- and the world they inherit---will be.
Huitt, William G; The SCANS Report, Revisited; l997
U. S. Department of Labor, SCANS Report; 1991
© 2000 Jan Fisher & Teachers.Net