I've kind of gone to war this year more than previous years. I realized I wasn't abiding by one of the core axioms a mentor passed on at one point: "Keep your head down, treat your kids well, and walk into the teacher lounge from time to time and ask, 'Am I being too hard on my students?'"
I've placed myself diametrically opposite to the school of thought that see children as either being good or bad, without much potential for change. The class I received this year had one of the worst reputations in the school's recent history. The amount of times I heard "good luck" was particularly unsettling. As I near the end of the year, I am pretty sure this has been my easiest year yet in terms of classroom management. I don't have stress dreams with these kids or any real issues. The stuff I hear them doing outside of class and at home is nuts, but in class, they are a dream. This isn't hyperbole--I dont have real issues with these kids in class. The worst I have had to deal with is a student not finished work because they don't know how to do it, which is my issue.
Question: how responsible am I for their behavior (and conformity to rules/norms) outside of class? I keep finding myself in these awkward situations where another teacher or administrator wants me to punish or reprimand a kid for something I didn't witness and didn't affect the class environment. A good deal of times, the kid just made an adult uncomfortable for good reason. For example, one of the auxiliary teachers uses way too many words that are beyond their comprehension ability. They sit for 20 minutes listening to directions that could have been given in 3 (again, no hyperbole. We timed it). When this happens the kids start getting antsy and fidgety, then the teacher gets mad. I'm then brought in to discipline them for something that feels more like the fault of the educator than the child.
I am very tired of bad instructional choices and an adult's failure to read and care for a child well being passed off as the fault of the child. My principal sat me down with one of my students the other day because he had found a can of graffiti remover in the bathroom and sprayed it on some graffiti to see it it really worked. As I get the, "What do you have to say to him, Mr. Fereday," I realized that I would have done the same thing. I would have wanted to see if it worked, especially if it was just sitting there in the bathroom. He doesn't need punishment--he needs a conversation to understand the situation and identify what need he was trying to get met. He was curious--the conversation is around how to pursue curiosity in right ways and what the right response is to finding a can of chemicals in the bathroom. How did that can even get there to begin with?
I asked one of my students, the one that has the worst reputation, to be one of our graduation speakers. He has shown great improvement after realizing that he is actually able to act on and shape his world. He wrote the most amazing speech about how he has always been "the bad kid," but doesn't always want to be in trouble. He wrote about how he had grown up without a dad and the difficulties of that. I cried after I read it.
My principal doesn't want him speaking a graduation because he doesn't represent our school well. But shouldn't school be known as a place for redemption and improvement instead of affirming perfection? Why should this student be barred from speaking at graduation because of his conflicted upbringing and genetic dispositions? The student that is a great example is partially that way because early on, their behavioral and genetic dispositions aligned with what the school valued. That alignment was continually affirmed as she got older. My student had conflicts early on that also continued to reinforce themselves.
School has to be a place known for breaking cycles and allowing children to redefine themselves.