It’s nice to think that I have written enough blog posts that I may be repeating certain memories or ideas from time to time. I may have told you about this one…
During one of my teaching practicums, one of the teachers I worked with told me it would be in my best interest not to make a habit of apologizing to my students, or asking them to do something and finishing the statement with “please”. The teacher explained that we need to maintain a sense of order in our classrooms and we won’t be keeping the room under control if we aren’t firm with our students at all times. I remember choosing to not add that to the tools in my teaching toolkit, but it helped me be aware of the many different styles we all have as educators.
In my day to day dealings with students I have noticed a fear expressed by some when it comes to questioning a staff member. My advice to students has often been to be sure to voice their concerns in a respectful way, at a reasonable time and place and once the situation has cooled to a reasonable level. When I provide this advice, I come from my own point of view, and I welcome students questioning me on pretty much anything: my teaching, my classroom management, my opinion (on most matters), my history, my own experiences in school etc. I have never really thought that some teachers may not be comfortable with a student questioning how they handled a situation in their room, or why they are teaching a certain concept a certain way.
Reflecting on this, I thought I would provide my own point of view on dealing with students who question your teaching or challenge your decision making. Here are some thoughts on why I think this is a great thing to motivate our students to do.
1) It promotes independent thinking – As much as we may enjoy the total dependence of our students on us to provide them knowledge, it isn’t healthy for them to take every statement a teacher, or anyone, makes as fact just because they are at the front of the room, on television, or their supervisor at work. We need to teach our students to think critically and ask questions when they don’t understand. We need to empower our students to seek out multiple sources of information to truly educate them on different points of view on any topic. While our egos may suffer a little bit, our students will benefit from a teacher who allows an open dialogue on their subject area, and who inspires students to seek the knowledge out themselves.
2) We can create a two-way understanding – So many situations that breakdown between a student and teacher do so because a lot of the information is missing. As teachers we are unaware of what has happened in the student’s life the night before, that morning, or often even in the last class. We don’t always know the bias a student might be bringing to school, maybe due to parent, grandparent, sibling, friend or other connection the student has. We often haven’t connected with the student to find out the motivation behind the action, and how the student feels about our teaching style, our classroom management or our interactions with them in the past. On the flip side, students often don’t know why we take the steps we take to manage situations in our classrooms. They don’t know the impact their actions may have had on other students in the room. They may not know why we take their actions so seriously. They may not know that we care about them and that we take these actions for the good of the classroom environment and not out of spite or a need to “pick on them”. By allowing students to question us about how we handle discipline or difficult situations we will help both sides communicate, gain a better understanding of each others perspective, and to build a stronger relationship.
3) We can model for our students how to handle difficult situations – its not always easy to be questioned on our decisions and practice, and it is easy to get defensive, but we need to see these interactions as an opportunity to model. We need to take the time to show our students that we can take criticism, that we can reflect on a situation and at times, we can take the steps necessary to handle things a better way. By showing our students that we make mistakes, and that we are able to admit them, own them, and rectify them, we model for them a skill that will help them in every relationship they will ever have. We gain strength in our relationships with our students by showing them that we have weaknesses, that we are flawed and that we are human.
We need our students to believe in us the same way we believe in them, and our students are too smart for us to stand at the front and demand their respect simply because the door has our name on it. We need to show them that we have strengths and weaknesses, that we overcome obstacles and more importantly we make mistakes. Let them question us when they feel unfairly treated, let them argue our methods of discipline and let them cynically analyze our lessons. Let’s empower our students to take ownership of their education and in doing so cement our relationships with them. For a lot of our students, their teachers may be the best role models they have, and for us to not show them that we make mistakes and can admit we make them would be doing them a disservice.