Thursday, January 04, 2007

Who shouldn't become primary school teachers

Pretty much the same people who shouldn't become parents.

To be a good technician, one needs to understand both the form and the matter. With respect to teaching at the primary level, the matter is the child, not just the intellect, but the whole person, especially how emotional development is linked to intellectual development, and character development to both. Moreover, before a certain age, children are not fully responsible for their actions and so teachers must be careful in how they respond to children when they do something inappropriate or even wrong.

So... i have good memories of my teachers for Kindergarten and 1st grade (who were in their late 50s), mixed of my 2nd grade teacher (who was rather young), good memories of my 3rd and 4th grade teachers (who were in their 50s), and after that, things generally go downhill. (High School is a different story.) Since I have experience teaching children and taking care of them, I think I have some basis for giving a critique. Would I tell a child, "Don't whine" without an explanation? No, and I don't consider, "It's annoying," to be a sufficient explanation. After all, in this age where self-esteem is so important, wouldn't such words hurt? I would think so. Such a response betrays a lack of sympathy for the child who perceives that there is a difficulty, is harmful to the teacher-student relationship, and has an impact on how children view authority. (It's like my complaint against teachers who admonish their students not to be a tattle-tale.)

Children whine because they are used to it, or it gets them attention or it gets them results. It can be just a more developed version of crying (with respect to that function). Setting the question of the validity of the whole "self-esteem" movement aside, what one must do is to create a new habit (or feedback/response loop, however one wants to couch it in modern psychological terms) through gental words of encouragement, which is the proper task of a mature adult. One needs to recognize that there is something causing the distress or sadness and address it, as well as establish some sort of empathy with the child, and showing both that recognition and empathy to the child in such a way that the child understands the adult is affirming it.

It seems to me that the war against boys was under way when I was in school, though it was not as overt or widespread as it is now. Boys may be very active or a bit chatty, and consequently be diagnosed with ADHD when it's just normal masculine behavior. While one should not go to the extreme and let them do whatever they want, trying to suppress such energy is just as wrong. Rather than be repressed, that energy needs to be structured and channeled properly (i.e. ordered), and boys need to be given times to "let loose" through play. Reason needs to be brought into the equation.

When I was working as a teacher, from time to time I felt compelled to punish a boy because he could not stay on task or was chatting. He wasn't bad or harming others, but I didn't want a negative evaluation on my work record, and I couldn't risk things getting out of control, even though personally I am fine with some noise in the classroom. I don't think a classroom has to be 100% silent at all times. I would regret giving the punishment afterwards, because the boy was just acting like a boy, within normal parameters. It is appropriate for the teacher to take such individual differences into account, but in contemporary American mass education, it is not possible--rather one needs to maintain control over the classroom environment, keep discipline, and maximize results by putting everyone into the same pigeonhole. Another reason why class sizes need to be smaller for intellectual formation. (Physical formation may be a different situation, but one can only supervise so many students, so there has to be a limit on number there as well.)

[A note to principals: classroom management is a skill that is acquired gradually through experience and the exercise of the moral virtues with respect to children--it is not a skill one picks up in a professional education program, and definitely not something that substitute teachers can acquire so easily. So instead of being a bureaucrat evaluating performance, why don't you help form future teachers instead by showing how it is to be done. Of course, it would not surprise me if they do not act as humane educators like St. John Bosco, but as classroom autocrats threatening punishment and enforcing it.]

I remember I was punished often during 6th grade, though I can't remember exactly what the cause was--probably for chatting too much. I think part of the over-socialization may have been compensation for feeling alienated from the rest of the students. Any friends I had in K to 2 were for the most part lost when I left the third grade during the middle of the year to go to the fourth. And then those friendships were completely severed when I changed schools for the fifth grade. I don't know why it became more difficult for me to make friends at the new school; things were going on at home during the time, so perhaps it is related to that. Also, during the 4th through 6th grades there was some measure of bullying. At least in 4th grade there was Chin-chi to stand up for me that one time, and eventually things did get a little bit better. Still, I didn't have many friends in that class. (All my dad did was to teach my how to roll after being pushed, not to hit back. Not that he would have gone to the office to talk to the principal and stand up for my right to self-defense if I had done so.) In the 6th grade there was another boy (I still remember his name, Devon) who would pick on me. At least the principal at the new school knew about the bullying, if only because we were both brought into the office after the yard duty lady found us fighting during indoor recess. Did my teacher know anything about what was going on in her classroom? I doubt it. (In a weaker moment, I would probably say she's a b****. A word with not just unpleasant but offensive associations, but at least its meaning is clear and it seems to apply in this case. A quick logic question: what sort of naming is this? Analogical, equivocal, or univocal? I don't think it's analogical or even metaphorical--though perhaps it is derogatory in so far as it dehumanizes the woman who is the subject of the insult.)

Chatting was a way to get attention, favor, companionship ,and affirmation--to not feel alone in the class--pretty basic reasons, I think. I remember participating in the bullying of another student (pulling his shorts down), just because some of the other students had done it and were encouraging others to do so, and I just wanted to fit in and be the "odd one" any more. Afterwards I felt ashamed and apologized to him, but I don't think I became completely free from peer pressure though.

Kids may be resilient, Dr. Laura thinks they can form new friendships rather quickly, and sure they can, because these are not the deep friendships of mature people. Hence she has no problem with people moving to new locations, and so on. Not that she has a developed view of politics, so one cannot expect her to respond to what I am going to say as if it were a critique of her. Nonetheless... Would it not be better for children of a community to grow up together and to associate and play with each other from time to time? Developing some sort of emotional bond between the children can be used as part of the basis for future civic friendship. If such bonds are destroyed because families do not settle in one place, will that not affect the identity, permanence, and stability of the community?

As for the benefits of socialization -- the much-touted argument advanced by those who would criticize parents who homeschool -- if other children are really "interchangeable"--if it doesn't matter with whom one socializes as long as one socializes, others become instrumental to one's development more than anything else, but socialization is not an end in itself, but rather for the sake of forming friendship. One should learn how to care for others, not in some sort of abstract way, but as concrete others living in one's community. (I don't see any problem with parents doing most of the instruction at home, so long as the children are brought into contact with other families and children as much as possible in order to begin their formation as members of a community. How much of education should be common is a question that does not seem to have been addressed by contemporary Catholic political theoreticians.)

(And socialization is not worth it, if it it comes at the price of the child coming under the bad influence, either of other children or from the school's curriculum, such as sex ed or naturalism.)

The Salesians

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