Saturday, March 15, 2008

"Do we have to...?"

Back in the pre-historic times, when I taught and had my own homeroom almost all day, there was one saying I had to ban. It was, "Whatever". To me it was aggravating and usually killed the spirit of inquiry and learning for that individual student and anyone who overheard it. (most of the class) It was an attitude indicator that was not conducive to "caring" about one's work or the assignment. I warned them and then put their "name on the board" when I heard it. If this continued, I called the parents and in some cases, they also gave back the same attitude, if not the words, "Whatever". This, to some degree, must be congenital or inherited or part of the "upbringing" in many a home. When life is already depressing, or bad in the home, this becomes a "coping mechanism".

Now, subbing two to four times a week, I continue to see signs of this motivational problem; especially with the older ones. It becomes a "badge" or "brag" of peer identification. "I don't care." (just like Pierre) Other signs I see around the classrooms are "Whining" (crossed out) and "No Excuses". Schools and teachers now days are so frustrated with the lack of support from the parents, administrators, districts and state that these signs are only the tip of the much bigger iceberg. Budgets are always being cut or the threat is there. Staffs are being cut (or the threat) and some of our most promising young teachers, the ones who still have idealistic visions, are put on notice. They then become unmotivated and may even be heard saying, "Whatever!" I talked to one new teacher this past week who was pretty sure she was going to lose her new house (foreclosure) because of a notice or "no contract guaranteed for next year".

Lately I've heard another disturbing phrase: "Do we have to...?" or "What is the minimum we have to do?" Forget about "extra credit" or bonus assignments, just show or tell us what is required to pass. This is especially exasperating to a teacher like me. I usually respond, "What do you want to do?" "How much do you want to learn?" "How much do you want to challenge your brain to grow and learn?" This really frustrates these "non-eagar beavers". They are stumped and don't know what to answer, especially if their peers are listening to the conversation. I often wonder what they would answer if their parents were there observing? Some wouldn't care because they got that attitude and idea from them. Sometimes I even escalate the response to a "higher motivation".
One particular school has the overall school theme, this is at the Elementary Level, that "College Is Our Goal". They have posters, pendants and signs all over the hallways where kids and parents walk that promote Colleges. Just in transit to my assigned classroom I saw: Biola, UCSB, USC and CSULA banners, and all the colors and mascots. At the opening of each week's classes, students, as groups, are encouraged to lead competitive cheers and yells about these grandiose goals. This is all fine and well intended...but at this level? Most younger ones don't even know what it takes to be accepted at a college these days...even a junior college like Crafton Hills which mainly does preparatory classes for EMT's Firemen and other entry-level, technical jobs. (and of course, we just voted to cut their Jr. College budgets)

Anyway, when I hear the questions, "What do we have to do?" I sometimes say, "Do you plan to go to college?" "Which students do you think they are interested in?" "Minimum doers?" Those with the attitude of "Whatever, just what's required, do I have to?" or those who have striven to achieve and accomplish much more that was given or expected? Or... I might say, "What will your future boss, where you want to work, want you to do for him and his company?" "The minimum?" Does that promote business or a profit? "Right now, your regular teacher is your "boss" what do you think she/he would want you to do?" This usually gets a non-response, a blank look or "I don't know." It is just too much to burden "childhood" with. Why can't they just be kids and enjoy exploring and doing what they choose? Yes, some would do nothing but play...for awhile...or they might escape through constant super-absorbed reading, even during class and other assignments. Then when they get a frustrating challenge from their peers or their "school life" they just have an absolute "melt-down". This happened yesterday in the 3rd grade class I was helping. The child, a brilliant, academically advanced child, who just lost it and cried for a long time unconsolably. After it was over, I talked with him and he said it was also about problems at home and his little brother, who he hated. He was just unable to cope with the slightest set back, i.e. being put out in a game and then teased. This is pretty normal for most kids. He could care less about college or the distant future. He was upset by his problems of today. (yes, he took the challenge from me and did the extra credit, bonus assignments with confidence.) He wasn't concerned about what he "had to do" but loved the challenge academically. Where he fell apart was with the inter/intra personal challenges from his peers and the class/game rules. RRR


Anonymous said...

Just a follow up comment about the the administrator of this school. It was starting to rain and the students had walked in line to the library outside door. We knocked. No answer. So we decided to go to the inside door but it wasn't an orderly line...a rather excited get out of the rain and go to their "favorite place"...a well-kept, motivating school library. Not so fast...intercepted by the "District's Administrator of the Year"! Wow! did they get laid into. The newspaper article did quite a spread on this administrator, origins, motivations, basic beliefs...improvement by assessment...let it drive the curriculum...not orderly lines, control and verbal intimidation. I was corrected very suscintly by "The Administrator of the Year" not "The Teacher of the Year" I prefer the later title. Principals are first and foremost teachers. RRR

Gary said...

As a former teacher and substitute myself, I can feel your pain. I've had the full range of parental, teacher and administrative attitudes thrown at me as well.

My ankles ended up dictating a new career path but now as a parent with a school age child, I get to see the other side.

Yes, there are always parents that pass on lousy attitudes. But sometimes the aggravation is with the choices of a Principal or Curriculum Director being way off-base. Rarely is the teacher to blame (but I know a few sucky ones) as their hands are bound by State, Federal and local restrictions and orders.

Complex problem that has been brought on by a combination of issues. Resolving them is possible but it requires all sides to get out of the trenches they have dug.

Keep up the good writing!