Teacher's Desk: Feeling Feisty

(Hilton Head, SC – Mar. 25) Once at the Comedy Club, sitting up front, the comedian asked me why I wasn’t laughing. “I’ll laugh when you say something funny.” was my reply, to which he became annoyed. I remembered that scene yesterday when my husband asked me a similar question, then became annoyed when I answered him. I have students who ask questions, then don’t like the answer, too. Don’t ask the question unless you can handle the answer! (And need I say: don't cross this teacher.) So what? So here we are at the beach on spring break, and all those situations came together while dining last night at a jazz spot. The trumpet player reminded me of a bullying band teacher. He was in love with the brass section and harassed the woodwinds. I began to wonder if I make the same mistakes teaching. Mr. Mack took away my love for playing music by constantly belittling me during my middle and high school years. I had an art teacher who acted much the same way, so I stayed far away from drawing, painting, and ceramics as my confidence was dashed by criticism that was not very constructive. Have I done that? I began to wonder.

Before leaving Denver, I gave most of my classes, hour quizzes. I told my students where to place their finished quiz, what to do when they finished---and---I wrote it on the board. When Dee (not her real name), a single teenaged mom, finished, she raised her hand and asked, “I’m done so where do I put this?” I repeat myself too many times around these students, so I quipped, “Take it home and flush it down the toilet if you want.” It caught her attention and another student explained what she needed to do. I praise this young lady much as she has grown tremendously in skills, attendance, and attitude. She knows I’m proud of her because I have told her, but I wonder if I dashed her hopes and aspirations. I’ll check in with her when I return from spring break.

My colleagues and I speak often of our students’ innate ability NOT to follow directions in all situations. I write the week’s schedule of objectives and pages for the week divided daily on my back board. Inevitably, I hear, “What are we doing today?” I point to the board. Daily, I will explicitly read instructions, write them down on the front board, and show examples. I get, “How do I do this, or what do I do now?” High stakes tests are the worse, because my colleagues and I are proctors, not educators, and we must read the directions using a script. We cannot explain much further.

If students would go over in their minds what was done the day before in each class before walking through the door, I truly believe they will be more attentive to directions given and classroom expectations. If they will do that one simple exercise, it won’t be Groundhog Day (the Bill Murray movie where one day is relived every day) in every class, every day. And maybe the teacher won't always be so feisty.

Kathleen Kullback is a licensed special educator with an MA in Educational Leadership and a former candidate for the State Board of Education.