I just attended a two day training called Right Response, and it was worthwhile after all, though I went in with fairly low expectations. Not sure why I did–I guess because of my attitude problem. Which can be a problem but which can also help me sympathize with young people with attitude problems of their own.
The room was full of quality people, most with a good deal of experience–teachers, para-educators, a campus monitor and coach who left police work because he didn’t want to carry a gun any more, two bus drivers, both of whom were in the habit of thoughtfully filling backpacks with special supplies that distressed students might need, counselors, a school secretary, special ed teachers, several educators who were parents of kids with behavioral issues, and a few substitute teachers, both new and experienced.
The leader of the workshop had been a teacher in a classroom “of last resort,” as well as at times in other roles, including administration, and now does these workshops for an insurance company, because people rightly trained are less likely to cause or allow situations to escalate and then get sued. So there’s the positive side of insurance companies: their emphasis on safety and dealing properly with conflicts. The pressure from the other direction, to give every student a chance to get a quality education, balances things out on the other end so the “problem kids” don’t just get kicked out.
Many of the folks taking the class had experienced confrontations, some, threats, and a few, minor assaults (even from little kids). Others had an interest in working with at-risk students, and knew they needed more training. That’s where I might be heading, with my special preference for working with students who aren’t at ease in the system, who have spirit but sometimes poor relational and coping skills, and need help developing a vision for their lives, and a plan for their education. Not sure if that will mean a regular classroom or working in some other role. Another year of subbing is okay too, as it gives me a broad range of experiences, as well as lots of flexibility.
It’s not that I learned anything really new (other than how to get out of a ponytail hold or respond to a scratcher or grabber), but that it came up fresh again, and to tell you the truth I was getting slack in applying at home what I naturally do at school. At school, I show respect for a student’s personal space, give them time to comply with requests, treat everyone as if they are capable of great things, don’t take anything personally, and so on. At home, I order people around, nag, make negative assumptions, push too hard and fast, and get offended. After the day or two it took me to notice this dichotomy, I started being more pro-active in responding rightly at home, and things are definitely more peaceful. Now, though, there’s the problem of the kids getting on each other’s cases, following my old example.
One of the really freeing things I’ve learned over these years is that I don’t, after all, need to be what I’d call a “policeman” in my classroom. In fact, though I’m glad some people do that job in necessary situations, I don’t ever want to work in a classroom in which behavior management has replaced teaching. There’s a place for telling students what’s required, and giving consequences to students in order to bring them around as well as maintain a healthy learning environment for other students. But I and my students work best on the assumption that they are ultimately responsible for themselves, and that they want to be responsible for themselves. It’s really cool to work in those little teaching moments where I remind them (or sometimes tell them for the first time) that when they choose to work hard and push themselves they are developing themselves, that their abilities, their intelligence, their “potential” are not fixed entities. As I have been reminded by a writing coach, more and more I want to remind my students that if they want, I can help them with what they want and need to learn.
I guess those idealistic views may no longer have a place in the mainstream classroom. From what I hear, it’s a real struggle to keep the focus on meaningful student learning facilitated by good teachers using their gifts and watching each other’s backs. Maybe that’s why I want to work where not many are willing to go, where there can be a certain flexibility of approach, and I can develop my own high expectations instead of trying to meet up with someone else’s, as defined by an HQT rubric written by a consultant working for a corporate-funded think tank which has an eye on the cash cow of tax payer’s money and wants public servants to fail so they can step in.
My plan to get more connected here in my district is to go visit the nearest “alternative” high school and let them know I am seriously interested in subbing there. I’ve already emailed the teachers there but didn’t get any response. The alt school in the district to the south is still an option for subbing–in fact I remember those students and hope to move to the next stage of trust and see if some of the tough fellows can become a little more willing to work on academics. But it’s a drive rather than a bike ride away, and my goal is to be able to bike to work some day. I have no idea what the turnover or the need is locally, but it’s worth a try.