Thursday, February 18, 2010

Most annoying teaching pet-peeve

Photo from here.

I've been told that having a blog and being a teacher isn't the most brilliant idea on earth. One teacher I met last semester told me she thinks teachers blogging about teaching is bad because she "wants to keep her job."

I had several questions for her, including: 1) Does she really think blogs are for complaining only? 2) Why would she want to teach at a school where the education philosophies don't align with her own, not even a little? and 3) Why are you still in teaching if you have such quantities of deeply negative stuff to say about your job?

She never really answered those questions. She probably doesn't know the answers to those questions. It's ok, because I don't either. But that's why I blog - to make sense out of this sometimes senseless line of work. Still, she has a point. Thus, I'm generally guarded about what I put on this blog.

Fast-forward to today. Because today, I'm going to blog about something that might not exactly put me in a good light with the higher-ups in charge of hiring and firing. Appearances are everything in this field.

However, that's not going to stop me from talking about the single most annoying teaching pet-peeve. EVER.

More than my pet-peeve of disorganized teachers who regularly lose student work.

More than my pet-peeve of teachers letting their classrooms go so that it resembles a natural disaster more than a classroom.

More than even my pet-peeve of people interrupting my teaching for non-urgent things.

I'm talking about socializing during teaching. This is just not professional. I do it on a rare occasion with parents/administration because they are parents/administrators. The administrators will generally get out of your hair after a few seconds of how-do's. They WANT you to not be unnecessarily distracted while teaching. Similarly with parents, I can say a polite, "excuse me, I need to get back to the students, but I'll talk to you later." Parents get the hint and they, too, don't want to take away from their student's instruction by being in the teacher's face.

No, I'm talking about other teachers. You'll know it when you see it: a cluster of teachers huddled together and chit-chatting while their charges are mainly left to their own devices.

Big. No. No.

This is fine at an actual social gathering, where adults should have precedence over children. Where it's ok to tell your kid, "Kid, I'm talking to another grown-up. Unless it's an emergency, don't interrupt please."

However, in a teaching situation, no. Just no.

I hate this habit in teachers. From what I've seen, it happens the most with female teachers age 20-30, the ones who have only been teaching for a very short time, to a very limited demographic on very limited topics. They probably are not credentialed. These women tend to be recently married, without kids, as well. I don't know if that's just a coincidence or not.

I suppose I should cut them some slack because they haven't had the training, haven't logged that many teaching hours. It takes lots of work over lots of time to become even just a half-way decent teacher. Don't I know it.

However, they only have themselves to blame when they are so self-satisfied that they spend more effort visibly preening in public than in actually trying to teach well.

They are the ones who will most likely say, "Oh, it's ok that the student didn't color the background. If students don't want to color, then they don't have to."

Riiiiiight. So if students don't WANT to go to school, does that mean they don't have to? If students don't WANT to aim for excellence because it's too hard (or whatever their half-baked reason is), does that mean they don't have to? According to this logic, sooner or later, students won't be doing much of anything at all, because they didn't want to.

I overheard one of these self-satisfied, preening teachers whisper to another of the same ilk, "Ms. B is INCREDIBLY unsocial, isn't she?" The other replied, "Totally! She's so unfriendly, and such a slave driver." A fit of hushed giggling followed as I passed by their corner, their bangles and rings jangling and gleaming as they moved to hide their condescending smiles.

So they entertain themselves with comments about me, standing around leisurely, as I run around dealing with obstinate students who "don't want to" finish their task, students who are playing light-sabers with the markers, students who haven't managed to focus on one task for longer than five minutes, students who get discouraged/tired/bored because they are used to quitting without truly trying - without many opportunities to push their limits in order to expand them.

Actually, I don't even mind it when those other teachers are standing around leisurely. I don't mind doing more of the teaching - I prefer that they stand on the sidelines and I take charge. They do serve a good purpose sometimes: they hold down the fort when I'm dealing with behaviors, or leading the students out to the pick-up zone, or answering questions from parents and school staff. I kind of wonder what goes on when they are left to be "in charge" of the room. I wish I could see them stepping up, because that would be encouraging.

I don't mind their benign presence at all. What I do mind is when they expect me to join their circle - and then tell me I'm a bad teacher when I don't.

This kind of criticizing is probably what the teacher who doesn't like blogging means. It is dangerous to speak poorly of colleagues, because perhaps I don't know the whole story. It is dangerous to be too out-spoken against the industry in this industry, because who knows when a colleague will become your boss. Most dangerous of all is taking any action which might change the status quo - perhaps for the better, perhaps for the worse, perhaps it'll get worse before it gets better. Whichever way, it's too great a risk. I don't know why.

So what do I know? I know that my boss relies on me to make my classes pleasant, to give my students a sense of well-earned success, and to teach them ways to take their art to the next level. I can't do that while standing around, blowing the breeze with other teachers.

I know students who walk into my classes with behavior issues, hating life/school/teachers/art/themselves, then later, walk out with an entire portfolio of drawings and an attitude that any teacher anybody would approve of. I can't do that with lax standards or permissive discipline.

I know students who walk into my classes as shy as a pill bug (and with personalities just as small), then later, walk out head up, shoulders back, unashamed of their accomplishments and ready to show the world how sweet and awesome they are. I can't do that by being inattentive to their introspective needs.

Granted, not every class is a success story, and not every student I've taught has grown exponentially like that, or at all. But there has been enough to make me think I'm doing something right.

So go ahead and gossip about my methods and my "mean teacher" ways to your cronies, dear colleague. In the end, I would have done my job and done it well. Can you say that about yourself?


Paul Ruth said...

I feel that bogging as a teacher is great. Anytime a teacher has something interesting to say, it is worth hearing because it can lead to an advancement of teaching itself. The internet should not be a stranger to education. Great post. Also, I have a new site that you and your readers might be interested in. A site seeking to improve the system through opening the lines of communication.

bun2bon said...

I agree. Although it's probably a good idea to stop speaking for a bit when it becomes talking for the sake of being interesting, rather than the other way around.

Thanks for the link!