Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Warm but demanding

The articles we were assigned to read for this week ("The Teacher as Warm Demander" by E. Bondy & D. Ross and "Understand the Symptoms" by M. Tate) struck a resounding note with me. It's good that I've read these articles now and not before I started teaching; I don't think I could have really grokked them until I had some actual classroom experience under my belt.

"Understand the Symptoms" talks about four of the most common causes of student misbehavior: needing attention, needing control, boredom, and feelings of inadequacy. I've seen cases of all of these in my class, and some cases where I'm not quite sure I've identified which of these the root cause. To be sure, they often go together: a student who feels inadequate to understand the material might stop trying, get bored, and act out in order to get attention. Another student might get bored because he understands the material perfectly well and wants me to get on with it already. The tricky part is identifying root causes, and I suspect that comes with getting to know your students better. I've already gotten valuable insights on a few of my students by talking to Romeo, who seems to know a lot about everybody (which is probably part of his job description, come to think about it).

"The Teacher As Warm Demander" highlights the kind of teacher I try to be: one who communicates clear expectations but also clearly conveys an affection for the students. Being human, I sometimes have problems with conveying "unconditional positive regard" for students who are frustrating me, but I think I'm getting better at it. One of my students who was causing a lot of disruptions early on, C.R., has gotten a lot more on-task since I made an effort to slow down the pace of my instruction and explain things more clearly. I gave him one-on-one help when he was working on our drug education project, and I think that helped to show him that I did care about seeing him do well in the class.

One passage in this article that I found interesting was about learning the cultural context of students' actions:

"Gaining insight into cultural values and habits helps teachers monitor their reactions to student behaviors that they might deem "bad", but that are considered normal or even valued in the student's home culture." (p.3)

Leaving aside for the moment the thorny question of whether all cultures are equally valid/healthy/productive for their members -- particularly in a global 21st-Century society -- I'm curious about what sorts of behaviors would fall into this category for my students. What are the cultural mores and expected behaviors of Latino and African-American culture in the East Bay? Which of these manifest themselves as "bad" behavior in the classroom?

On the whole, this article was challenging for me. I saw some things in it that I'm already doing, some things that I want to do better, and some that I still need to implement. Being consistent about discipline is one area where I need some work: "Many teachers believe that they are showing students they care when they continually give 'one more chance.' Unfortunately, giving 'one more chance' demonstrates that a teacher does not mean what he or she says, and this practice could be interpreted as a lack of caring." Ouch!


Victoria said...

I appreciate your willingness (as I said before) to be honest about your strengths and your challenges in your teaching. I fully agree with your first comment-- in fact, one of your blog entries from the summer expressed a bit of relief that we were "finally" getting to the lesson-planning bit and off the procedures/management bit. Ah, experience. What a wonderful teacher.

Your other comments are right-on. Knowing one's students is SO important in terms of being able to identify what certain behaviors could mean. And you're right-- acting out could be the material is too easy OR too hard for the student, and until we actually know our students as people and learners, it's hard to diagnose their actions as evidence of one thing or another.

I look forward to a more thorough discussion about culture in the classroom with our collaborative group. If it doesn't happen this seminar, it will definitely happen during 110.

Carry on!

Deana said...

Chris, I think you ask compelling and thoughtful questions about the way we need to approach a diverse student body, being mindful to honor and understand the different values at play in different cultural backgrounds while also holding strong to certain non-negotiable classroom expectations (giving that 3rd chance is sometimes so tempting!)
I read your and Claire's blogs back to back. I read from her that she learned a lot about root causes (at least potential root causes) of student behavior by conducting home visits. This allowed her to see students' behavior and personality in the context of their homes. It seems to me that this simultaneously builds stronger teacher-student relationships by having more insight on students' home life, but also bolsters relationships between teacher and family or school and family. It seems to me that forming that net around students - working to have adults who care about them holding them accountable in every facet of their lives - serves to help students know that we're in it for them and we mean it. This is mostly hypothesizing here, as I have been on only one home visit so far, but it leaves me wondering if this is something we could norm into our practice by setting goals to meet a certain number of students' families in their homes this year. Hey, it might also help to break down that image of a teacher as a robot who lives in the school and probably has be plugged in at night...?