“Josh” was in second grade. He could have been described as “all boy,” full of life and energy. If you looked closely, you’d also see a loving heart and a deep desire to do the right thing. Thirty seconds into our conversation one Sunday morning, he had already informed me that he hated his new teacher. As our conversation progressed, I began to understand the source of Josh’s dislike for his teacher–compliance-driven behavior charts.
After a few seconds of our conversation, I quickly realized that Josh was, in fact, trying to do what he thought was right, and it seemed that his teacher was looking at his behaviors instead of his heart. While his heart was in the right place, his behaviors looked like discipline problems.
While this conversation happened last year, I still worry about Josh. I worry that teachers will mistake his big personality for a personality defect and try to move him toward a compliance without respecting for his heart and his personality. I worry that he’ll turn into a sullen child with low self-esteem after spending years in classes where his behavior doesn’t match expectations because his personality is too big. I worry that he’ll just give up and become a “drone” by the time he reaches middle school. You know what I mean, that kid who’s merely going through the motions although he hates school and sometimes himself as well.
More than that, though, I worry about the students in my own classroom. How can I balance their needs for self-expression with the curriculum demands of 7th grade? How can we coexist in a classroom that honors everyone’s personalities while also learning at high levels? It is much easier to maintain order and work on “classroom management,” than to have 25 large personalities teetering on the edge of chaos, but sometimes the cost of compliance is too high. When we teach in ways that don’t value student individuality, their personal interests, and their personalities, we lose the students. They tune out.
For me, I’ve found that it’s about perspective. If I look at the curriculum, then student behavior and personalities can be road blocks to my instruction–trouble that needs to be stamped out. However, if I first look at my students, then their personalities become stepping stones that I can use to move us through the curriculum. Behavior issues that come up can be viewed as mistakes rather than deliberate attempts to sabotage the classroom.
I’m not perfect (just ask my students), but I work hard to see them as they are and to honor their personalities. After all, we’re on the same team.
***Disclaimer–Regarding “Josh,” I have only heard one side of this story, but, in reality, it is the student’s perception that matters most. Also, I have used compliance-driven behavior charts in the past.