Monday, October 03, 2011

Taking Responsibility

One of my seminary teachers in high school used to flip his tie over his shoulder when he went "off-book."  It was his signal to us that he was explaining something from his point of view as opposed to the CES/GA/Official Church Doctrine point of view.

I've wondered sometimes if I need a similar signal with my students.  Not to indicate informational sources, but rather to indicate when I'm angry.

I yelled a lot as a first year teacher.  Then I figured out that my students only took me seriously when I yelled because that's the signal their parents taught them.  I wanted to teach them to recognize the nuances of emotions beyond the black-and-white I'm-Happy-I-Like-You/I'm-Angry-I-Hate-You.  Plus, it always confused them when we were in the auditorium.  Our stage at DPJH was so huge that I had to project loudly to give directions, and the kids often misread my volume as anger when it was simply volume.

So I worked on not yelling, going in the complete opposite direction by training myself to go silent when angry.  I came up with some signals, too - looking fixedly at my watch a la my high school drama teacher, drawing a Box of Doom on the board, sitting down and waiting silently until then shushed each other, etc.  It saved my voice and it made for better classroom management.

This morning I didn't quite yell at my students, but I did raise my voice.  I was frustrated, I was trying to explain my frustration with their behavior, and they were laughing it off.  Not because they're mean - they just didn't understand that I was being honest about my frustrations.

I was annoyed because of their flakiness.  Last Tuesday was a semi-Day-of-Remembrance at our school.  Students have the option of missing school for the day in order to volunteer for service projects of their choice.  I like the idea quite a bit, actually, and am happy to support it.  What annoyed me was that more than 50% of my class was absent that day, and not a single one of them had thought to give me a heads up.

"But it's an excused absence!" they protested.

"But you knew in advance that you were going to be absent and you didn't have the decency or the courtesy to let me know beforehand," I explained.

They looked confused.  They didn't recognize that that choice made a difference to me.

"We had rehearsal scheduled for that day," I said.  "You knew that.  And because so many of you were absent, we couldn't rehearse.  If I had known in advance, I could have made plans to accommodate.  But none of you bothered to tell me."

Really, it wasn't that big of a deal.  I knew that.  But then on Friday my assistant coach drove all the way to school to work with the eight students who had signed up for after-school practice, and not a single kid showed up.  Yes, there was a pep rally and I know that sort of thing empties their brains like Etch-a-Sketches, but I was frustrated that not a single kid thought about the time and arrangements Paula and I had made to be there for them.

To top it off, I've been fighting to get this New York trip off the ground.  I need 10 kids to sign up for the trip to happen.  After a lot (a LOT) of asking and pushing and prodding, I had firm commitments from 12 students by the deadline on Friday. I had halted the registrations because the company would not refund any deposits from registered kids, even if we didn't get enough students signed up.  I didn't want anyone losing $100 because our group was too small, so I paused all the registrations until we had more than enough committed.

Friday was the deadline to register.  I refreshed the trip website over and over again Friday night, watching to make sure the students all got registered.  Midnight came and went, and the group enrollment stuck at 9.

I compared lists, figured out which students were missing, and hunted them down via texting, email, at Homecoming, and at school today.

Each one said their parents changed their minds at the last minute.  Each one looked sad, but not too bothered.  So I explained to each one that we were short students now and 9 of their friends were going to lose $100 each because they made a commitment and then flaked on it.

To their credit, they looked abashed.  I talked to each one about their options, about ways to talk to their parents or come up with the money.  I made a lot of phone calls and talked the company into extending the deadline.  I hope at least one of them steps up and honors their commitment.

In general I'm opposed to the idea of character education in schools.  I don't like the expectation that public schools are responsible for teaching students ethics and morality in lieu of parents providing such lessons and examples (let alone the lack of regulation for what defines "good character").  Yes, I know they're teenagers and forward-thinking isn't a strong skill yet.  And yes, I know that it's good for them to get in these situations so they learn about responsibility and the consequences of their actions.  I'm just tired of taking the brunt of the negative consequences and of the extra work I do to teach them lessons that have absolutely nothing to do with Theater, English, Humanities, or Speech.

1 comment:

  1. I'm in favor of character education being taught _everywhere_. If more people had a good, solid moral character - maybe there wouldn't be a tour company who would steal $900 from rural families.