Is this rude?


Photo by Jason Wun

I’m not talking about what I do with it. Just the device itself.

Is it rude?

I realize that people can use it in rude ways, but does that make the thing itself rude?

I ask this question because after sharing my experience that my previous post describes with some colleagues, the reaction I got was something like “Oh, well … I mean, that’s unfortunate, but it was a cell phone.”

And when I ask, “So if it had been a lap top, or my iPad, or a piece of paper, would it have been rude?” the response is “No, I don’t think that would be considered rude.”

So what is it about the cell phone that immediately makes some people automatically attach labels like “rude” “unprofessional” and “off-task”?

I think this is a case of residual anachronistic perceptions about what cell phones are used for, and at the risk of sounding ageist, I think it’s (sometimes) generational. I’m not sure when the last time was I actually used my iPhone as a phone–actually yes I do. I used it to do a Facetime call with my friend who lives in Alberta. The rest of the time I use my phone to text, send email, blog, enter information into my calendar, listen to music, search the web, and jot down ideas.

I suspect that those colleagues who winced when I said “cell phone” are the same people who, if they own a cell phone, only use it as a phone, and therefore have a hard time understanding how it can be used for learning purposes. And this is not an ageist thing, now that I think about it because I have a colleague who is younger than I am and she also winces a bit when I talk about cell phones in the classroom.

My friend Royan ominously commented on my previous post that:

Seriously though, I think your little experience has touched on a growing divide in our systems. I think there’s something of a quiet civil war occurring.

A quiet civil war? Yikes! I’d hate to think that’s really happening. Don’t we have more important things to worry about than the devices students (or teachers) use for learning? Shouldn’t we be worried about the learning itself?

How to Shut Down a Learner: Intention and Perception in Classroom Management

I had a pretty earth shattering learning experience today that I feel the need to reflect on it in the hope that this profoundly negative experience can have a positive outcome.

I was at a PD session today, and in the interest of respecting the privacy of the people involved, I won’t mention names or specific details. As the presenter opened the session and discussed “housekeeping” issues, she mentioned the process for supply coverage. Being a naturally disorganized person, I’ve learned that the best way to deal with new information is to act on it. So I pull out my iPhone and jot down a quick email to my secretary (because that makes her job easier and I respect her professionalism).

And then there’s silence. Crickets may have chirped. But I thought, nah… she’s not seriously doing the disapproving teacher silent treatment. Then it got awkward and I looked up and yep, that’s exactly what she was doing. And so, silly rational girl that I am, I quietly and politely explained what I was doing, to which she replied, “Your secretary can wait until tomorrow.”

So I stared for a moment, baffled and humiliated while all my peers watched and waited, and I said, “Okay…” and put my phone away mid-email.

So here’s what I learned:

I can not and should not assume that all PD facilitators are comfortable with the ways in which adult learners (and frankly… any learners) use technology. Some people still perceive technology use by participants as disrespect. They may be wrong, but I still need to remember that my colleagues in real life are not the same as my colleagues on Twitter.

But more importantly, I learned first hand how students feel when a teacher decides to “make an example” out of a student. You want a sure fire way to incite antagonism, conflict, anxiety, anger, and humiliation? Mission accomplished. Not only did I feel demeaned and misunderstood, I lost face in front of my peers. I could feel the gaze of 40+ pairs of eyes boring into the back of my head as they wondered, “Who is THAT loser?”

Did I ever tune out and shut down. She lost me for the rest of the day. I gained some useful information in the afternoon after I could vent to some friends, and I did have a fairly unproductive conversation with the presenter at break. She seemed to be under the impression that we were in cahoots and she thanked me for letting her make her point about cell phone use. I tried to politely but firmly explain how she made me feel and that in the future she might want to consider that adult learners (just like student learners) have different learning styles, and just as some people need to take a moment to jot down information in an agenda or on a sticky note, others might use technology. That didn’t seem to have much impact. She thanked me again and reiterated her respect for me, which left me angry and even more demeaned.

So, students, do I ever get how you feel when a teacher decides to make an example out of you and I SWEAR to never do it again. I’d like to think I don’t do this very often but once is too much.

This really isn’t about technology; it’s about how a teacher can effect the climate of a classroom and a students’ willingness to take risks and participate. If you want quiet, demure, compliant students (who are seething with rage and resentment) go ahead. Humiliate them. Make examples of them. Center them out. But I don’t think that’s what you want. It’s sure not what I want.

And once the awkwardness and humiliation has faded, DON’T bring it up again just before you depart for the day, thanking the clearly unwilling and humiliated learner for allowing you to make that point you felt you needed to make, and then wait for acknowledgment from the defeated and raging learner while the entire “class” fidgets awkwardly or gawks at the learner. That’s just cruel, and rubs salt in the wound.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Don’t smile ’til Christmas

grumpyPhoto credit

At the risk of jinxing myself, I’d like to take a moment to talk about kindness. Why might I be jinxing myself? Well, I had some great classes this semester, and I suppose it’s possible that my personal philosophy about kindness may go out the window if I have a group of hooligans next semester, but one can hope…

This year I decided that one of the things I would very conscious of was being kind to my students–even when I didn’t receive kindness in return. That may sound easy, but oh, there are days. . . . Basically I felt that for some students, kindness from a teacher was the only form of kindness they received all day. And I also thought that it was important to remember that students (like all people) might have very challenging, stressful, terrible things going on in their lives that have nothing to do with me. Now some may say that I’m a push-over, but I don’t really think I am. I still expect students to earn their marks and I expect certain standards of behaviour, but when I deal with those issues, I don’t think I gain anything by being sarcastic, or negative or domineering.

The bottom line is, if I scare students into behaving, I may have a quiet orderly classroom, but I’m not going to have a positive learning environment. I went to a Marcia Tate workshop where she discussed brain-compatible learning, and felt pretty vindicated because she shared statistics that showed that when students were under stress or feeling anxious, they aren’t able to learn effectively. So I think we should do everything we can to help students to know that they are respected and cared for, and that they can take risks without fear of humiliation or being centered out.

I figure, if the worst thing a student can say about me is that I’m a push-over or a softie, I can live with that. I don’t think it’s true, but even if it is, it’s  better than living with the thought that I caused some student unnecessary pain or humiliation because I felt I had to maintain the upper-hand in some power-struggle.

Teachers coming out of teacher education programs get a lot of advice about “not smiling until Christmas.” If I could give some advice, I’d say:

Don’t let anyone try to tell you what type of teacher you need to be, and never lose sight of the big picture.  We are not factories churning out widgets. We are human beings trying to help other human beings learn, and they can’t learn if they feel threatened.

 And now, I’m going to record some of the notes I got from students at the end of their exams–not because I’m trying to boast or because I think these notes make me candidate for teacher of the year, but because soon I’ll be faced with a new group of students, and I’m going to need these reminders to get me through the tough times. I also want to add, I marked their exams before I read any notes! And I will resist the urge to correct the spelling and grammar.

Thank you Ms. Barker for a wonderful english class. This is probably one of the classes I will most miss from this semester, and perhaps even this year. I really liked the use of technology and I liked the way you taught us. Thanks. Good luck next semester. -Alex

Thanks for an amazing semester. You did an awesome job with this class and I feel I have learned so much from my experiences here. you made getting up for this class every day enjoyable. I can honestly say although I’m glad to be leaving high school behind me, I’m sad to be done with this class. Thank you so much for everything you do! -Sara

I don’t think you should change anything about yourself or improve your the best English teacher I have ever had. I learned a lot being in your class and I love you as a teacher.-Shannon

Usually in my English class I wouldn’t get involved because I felt my opinion didn’t really count. But you showed the entire class it’s perfectly fine if you don’t understand the text or have an opinion that people might not agree with. In college we as adults need to know where we stand in life. You taught the class to be unique and to stand up for what we felt is right. I will never forget the second day of class having us decide to agree or disagree to questions that really mattered. Those questions got us thinking not only in the answer but what we believed. Thank you for showing not only me but the teachers and students that English can be fun again. -Celine.

And now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go get some tissue.

It’s all good in theory….

I’ve been learning so much lately in my job and I’ve really enjoyed being able to talk to and learn from the the teachers I’ve been working with. I never really felt all that passionate about or interested in pedagogy and I spent the first five years of my teaching career coming to the conclusion that there wasn’t a whole lot that I could do as a teacher that would make a difference. Kids wouldn’t show up for class because they had family/psychological/social/motivational (whatever) issues and so there was nothing I could do about them, and the rest of the students were either too lazy to try or were only motivated by numbers on a page. That’s just the tip of the iceberg of course. There’s all the administrative pressure to submit marks. I couldn’t control the fact that students were late all the time without consequences and on and on and on. So why would I be motivated to think about pedagogical theory?

It’s a really amazing opportunity to spend a year outside of that situation to be able to think deeply about these ideas and discover things that you are passionate about without the day to day pressures of the classroom (not that there haven’t been pressure this year–don’t even get me started there!).

I feel like I’ve got a tonne of strategies for helping struggling and reluctant readers and I feel so much more confident in my knowledge of curriculum, assessment, and instructional practice. I have so many things I’d like to try when I get back into the classroom but– and here’s the big but– what if I get back into the classroom and I can’t or don’t implement any of the things I’m thinking about right now? It’s so easy to lose sight of the big picture when you’ve got a kid in your class telling you to f@*# off, or when you’re dealing with a parent who really doesn’t care whether or not her son attends your class. How am I going to maintain this energy and optimism when I’m back in the classroom? How do I make sure this year isn’t a waste? 

Any ideas?