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

The “Good School”‘s Burden


A colleague of mine expressed frustration with the fact that she and some other teachers at our school felt out of the loop when it came to board initiatives regarding assessment and evaluation, student success, literacy, numeracy, and differentiated instruction. She was told that the reason why our school was often overlooked was because students at our school consistently performed well on standardized tests and we have good records for credit achievement.

I get it. Our board has only so much money to spend and it would seem to make sense to funnel this money where it is most needed.

But if you consistently neglect the “good schools” might they not cease to be “good schools”? Might the “good schools” be “good schools” not because of good teaching–but in spite of bad teaching? If we truly believe that all students can be successful, then success is not just about credit accumulation and passing standardized tests–it’s about exploring gifts, and excelling, and challenging one’s self.

And if you keep funneling money into your car that keeps breaking down while neglecting the regular maintenance on your trusty Toyota (insert Toyota joke here), aren’t you going to end up with a gunked up engine and bald tires? (I really should avoid car analogies. Um… okay, so say I have two pairs of shoes…)

I also can’t help but think of the professional development opportunities I would have missed out on if my first teaching placement was at this school–not because of lack of support by admin, but because I wouldn’t have been chosen for many initiatives because of a perception that I didn’t teach “at risk” kids. The kids are the first priority, but it’s sad to think that there are enthusiastic, dedicated, open-minded teachers who are missing out on leadership opportunities because they teach at “good schools.”

On the other hand, maybe if you’re really looking for leadership opportunities you should seek out more challenging schools.

Still, I completely understand my colleague’s frustration. She just wants to do a good job and be kept in the loop which is hard to do if you’re not even aware a loop exists.