Why can we not listen as teachers

Bird Droppings January 19, 2010
Why can we not listen as teachers?

I spent the better part of yesterday driving between Macon Georgia and home and back. My son needed some books and a few things from the house and to buy text books. Timing as it was banks were closed yesterday so I could not just transfer some dollars to his account and since his calculator was one of the items he needed the journey was nessasary. I have a way of going to Macon that involves literally all back roads and many images of rural life and humanity as I drive. It seems to me as I put on some music and observe driving along a two lane road that mush is there to learn and to see. I tried pondering how many images past by me and I past by. Millions of plants, animals, people, cars, houses and they are all just images as I drove along. But it does give me time to think ponder as I say.
When I first stepped outside this morning the stillness over whelmed me. All was quiet even if just for a moment, ever so still, nothing moving, the air was still and sounds were none existent as I stood listening. I could hear the clicking of my dog’s toes nails on our walk way and as I stood going deeper into the stillness in a spot perhaps further in the trees I could hear a coyote barking maybe it was just another dog. With the temperature warmer than the past few weeks a few crickets were chirping although slower than during the warmth of summer but still trying to get a song out.
I started thinking of a student I had now several years ago that was never listened too and listened too much all at the same time. He has tourettes syndrome, we as a society hear only his tics, the vulgar rantings that go on endlessly and never ask him what he thinks. I keep thinking of our national school policy of no child left behind and look at so many who are. Those kids who do not fit the mold maybe border line cognitive levels and more so severe behavior issues. So as a result it often pushes schools to quietly push these kids aside albeit leave them behind. It could be a developmental disorder such as autism, or even better a conduct disorder that actually is not even covered under state guidelines and there is no place left in our efforts to include everyone in our molded and boxed schools.
It was several years as I was sitting in a graduate class deep in South Georgia’s pines and farm land and the discussion was focusing around what is an ideal school setting. My immediate spontaneous thought was Swiss Family Robinson. Maybe it was not the book as much as the Disney movie. Culture and knowledge was taught by book in a home schooled setting, of course both parents were very well educated but the context was taught in survival in the jungles of their island home. Each of the children was excelling in areas of their own expertise but able to apply their knowledge in real life situations.
So do I see schools of the future designed around tree houses and jungles? Perhaps not but borrowing from great educational thinkers of the past and present we could build in context, we could elevate the knowledge we teach and try and embed relevance for our students. On that Saturday in graduate school as we talked about the history of education in the US various issues came up. One significant one was how teachers have become non professionals and how students have simply become product and somewhat less than human in terms of legislation and political motivation. They have become human capital to be manipulated and prodded and pushed in what ever direction policy dictates. Often in whatever direction capitalism demands consumers. A comment was made about the number of teachers and in being tied to consumerism. Sadly Wal-Mart employs more people in the US than education does. Think about it more Wal-Mart employees than teachers a very powerful idea, not really good or bad, just interesting in a society so regulated by political means.
Last block of the day Friday a student whom I have never really had walked in and I asked what was going on. He was complaining about a substitute teacher and how she did not get along with the class, she wanted them in assigned seats and took roll and wanted quiet. I am some days amazed at how some former students and often former student’s buddies end up coming by my room. That was the case here a former student from three years ago and this other fellow stopped in.

“The ultimate test of a man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.” Gaylord Nelson

As the day ended and students cleared the hall I headed over to chat with some friends. I stopped at several points that I normally do and the substitute teacher finds me and asks about a particular student and guess who it was that was very disrespectful to her and by chance the room we meet up at is another teacher’s who has this same student as well and similar thoughts, a very negative student, belligerent and very disrespectful. Knowing the student and that he had with some teachers excelled I smiled.

“To me every hour of the day and night is an unspeakable perfect miracle.” Walt Whitman

Perhaps a seemingly random thought as I look at this morning so far. I was cleaning up my email inbox and as I went various quotes and stories sent from friends and associates I was copying and pasting to word documents to save. So this is a random quote simply pulled from the thin air or for whatever reason not deleted many days ago or is it coincidence that each quote and story today really is applicable. As I look at the teacher and substitute teacher and the student are they looking at life as Whitman suggests? Why is this student reacting the way that he is?
My good friend Dr. James Sutton a psychologist in Texas addresses many of these types of teacher student issues in his books. Sitting here in the stillness and quiet I just had a great idea we could have for teachers a 900 number to call for help with difficult students. I wonder if anyone would pay to use it. But in reality there is a mind set with teachers and students often from day one. Something is there with that student that is blocking or keeping him or her at a distance and the result is turmoil between teacher and student.
Everyday I have other teachers come by can you do this for me. I emailed a friend I need to put a sign out by my room you need testing done, essays or papers written, send your students here, whatever stop in. Then it dawned on me many of these students will not do anything for some teachers. One comes to mind and it is a certain type of teacher this students does not like he will literally fail because of his personality and conflicts. But what about in order to fairly evaluate get that essay written or test done in an unbiased place with someone who is not fighting with or in tension with that student, actually not a bad idea, I wish I thought of it. I need to email that teacher or two or three and commend them.

“Never think that I believe I should set out a “system of teaching” to help people understand the way. Never cherish such a thought. What I proclaim is the truth as I have discovered it and “a system of teaching” has no meaning because the truth can’t be cut up into pieces and arranged in a system.” Diamond Sutra

Not a good rationale for curriculum perhaps that is why I am enjoying my major in graduate school of Curriculum theory. I do think in terms of life and relationships this very definitely applies however. Far too often we tend to look at life as all is this way. If I go over here it is the same if I go over here it is the same. I remember a teaching job in Macon, I was expecting little nice 12 year olds and when I got there the average age was 15 and in those days EBD wasn’t sorted out they were just all in that class. I survived day one to plan for day two and all went well, although I forgot to mention I took an eight foot boa with me on day two and those rough and rowdy 15 year olds had a great fear of snakes at least when I first pulled my buddy out of the gym bag. We then proceeded to talk about snakes and each student by the end of the day had handled and held the snake. I did not have another issue for two weeks and was offered the class full time and almost took it, however my studies at Mercer were to start in a week.
It is so difficult to try and treat every thing in education as neat and clean. Trying to understand a student that is different in terms of the “nice” perfect kids is not going to work. So what truths do we set down, what principles can guide us in dealing with a kid who is disrespectful?

“If there is any kindness I can show, or any good thing I can do to any fellow human being, let me do it now, and not defer or neglect it, as I shall not pass this way again.” William Penn

Sitting on my desk on a 4 inch by four inch board decoupage to the board and cute burnt edges is this quote. It was given to me over thirty years ago in Macon, Georgia by a student from that first class of hooligans.
We have all heard the saying about do not complain till you have walked a mile in my shoes. Howard Eubanks and also another former student of Dr. James Sutton’s seminars and an EBD teacher in North Georgia emailed me this story a few years back.

“Did you hear about the Texas teacher who was helping one of her kindergarten students put on his cowboy boots? He asked for help and she could see why. Even with her pulling and him pushing, the little boots still didn’t want to go on. Finally, when the second boot was on, she had worked up a sweat. She almost cried when the little boy said, ‘Teacher, they’re on the wrong feet.’ She looked and sure enough, they were. It wasn’t any easier pulling the boots off than it was putting them on. She managed to keep her cool as together they worked to get the boots back on, this time on the right feet. He then announced, ‘These aren’t my boots.’ She bit her tongue rather than get right in his face and scream, “Why didn’t you say so?” like she wanted to, and once again she struggled to help him pull the ill-fitting boots off his little feet. No sooner than they got the boots off he said, ‘They’re my brother’s boots. My Mom made me wear ’em.’ Now she didn’t know if she should laugh or cry, but she mustered up the grace and courage she had left to wrestle the boots on his feet again. Helping him into his coat, she asked, ‘Now, where are your mittens?’ He said, ‘I stuffed ’em in the toes of my boots’” Author Unknown

How many times each day with students do we forget to check the toes for mittens? We want everything just so, perfect little darlings, all in rows and little cute name tags and all in cute little outfits and quiet and neat handwriting and so forth. We really are trying to pull boots on everyday and every class with mittens in the toes. In a high school class it is hard to walk in and with a wave of the magic teacher wand, “poof” all is well. It is hard for many teachers to check all the cowboy boots for mittens. When you think there is a problem try and you try and build fail safes, have a core group of teachers you can check with. Maybe there is an issue with that kid maybe his mittens are really stuck in there deep.
So many teachers would much more rather write a referral and teach by referral. If all my students are in “In School Suspension”, I will have a really great day. I will have to admit there are students when I see they’re out I cheer but I do it under my breath and to myself. But I am finding many teachers just do not want that chance, they do not want to look for mittens they might soil their hands. School custodians will always provide paper towels and for the squeamish use the gloves in your first aid kit. I am being literal in a symbolic thought.
Many months possibly a few years ago a friend sent this email note:

“Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, Champagne in one hand – strawberries in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming WOO HOO – What a Ride! ”

I am not sure where or who said this but a slight alteration and paraphrase.

“Teaching should NOT be a journey to the end of the day with the intention of arriving safely with perfect attendance and all the “A” students all in order and lesson plans in an attractive and well preserved lesson plan book, but rather to skid in sideways, Ideas in one hand – Creativity in the other, energy thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming WOO HOO – What a Day! ”

I bumped into another teacher after school last Friday and they asked how was my day and I said “I had a blast,” I really should have said I think I found about a dozen pairs of mittens. Please my friends keep all in harms way on your mind and in your heart.

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