Speaking for Others, V

Voice.  It seems so simple until you start thinking about it.  Everyone (well, almost everyone) has a physical voice, and everyone (again, almost everyone) learns to use it quite early.  But if you’ve spent time working in organizations, you know the organization itself has a voice, a culture, a world view.  As you become part of The Team, you start speaking with that voice … and that’s not necessarily bad.  But if that voice suppresses your voice – if it encourages you to suppress and silence dissenting voices?  That’s a big, but common problem= – one that Emily addressed in her blog post Thursday.

At Monday’s faculty meeting, communication was on the agenda.  Someone In Authority was frustrated because some Ms. X’s and Mr. Y’s – the same ones who scream at students about “responsibility,” “no late work,” and “getting a zero” – consistently turn things in late themselves, pleading “I didn’t know,” “I got busy,” or “I forgot.”  In all sincerity, Someone asked what else could be done to communicate deadlines … and of course Ms. X and Mr. Y were silent.  They couldn’t hear Someone’s sincerity; they just heard the Voice of Authority yelling and labeling.  Communication and promptness might be on the agenda next month, too.

If Ms. X and Mr. Y looked at the school calendar , they were probably dreading Thursday.  Our students would be participating in a local TV station’s lip-dub video contest for schools, and everyone would be involved.  There was a detailed plan in teachers’ mailboxes Tuesday (communication!), but it didn’t explicitly say to share with students.  When homeroom classes met late Thursday morning for the rehearsal – and after lunch for the filming – my seniors were frustrated.  “Why was the communication so bad?”  they asked.  “Why is it always so bad?”

Somehow the video itself came together – and the rough cut was amazing.  Proof of the power of voice, of what young people can do when we adults get out of the way and creativity is flowing.  Proof of the power of a joyful community where all are free to find – and use – their voices.

Everyone?  Well, not quite everyone.

There was N, a “troublemaker,” who wore something “inappropriate” according to Ms. X.  I heard her screaming about “writing up” and “insubordination,” threatening suspension from school – for a shirt??   Two or Three “tried to sneak out” according to Mr. Y.  The usual suspects don’t feel like they’re part of the community; their voices don’t get heard.  So they respond predictably, and so does the organization.

And of course there were contradictory instructions, last-minute changes, and moments of confusion, too.

That led to predictable responses from folks who crave stability and order, like the Young Ms. X lunch group.  They complained about how “disorganized” things were, and about “the schedule” and “my work” and “reviewing for exams” and “not enough time.”  They sounded, for all the world, like high-school girls  … and I wondered if they became teachers because they wanted to stay that way.  Barry and some others were talking about that on Google+ yesterday.

Quite soon, One Ms. X was screaming at  H.  He had left class for an appointment, then dared to visit another teacher on his way back.  She yelled about “missing instruction” and “being irresponsible;” he responded angrily; she threatened; he yelled; and I’m sure it ended badly.  But her loud, angry voice didn’t seem authentic.  I’d heard panic from her earlier – about “so much to cover” and “scores” and “curriculum” and “bad, lazy kids.”   Disempowered and silenced,  she found a false voice yelling at H; refusing to be silenced, he got labeled and punished.

Earlier in the day, sweet, sensitive T looked sad and upset.   Some Ms. X had decided T’s whole class was so bad and lazy they needed special assigned seats “on days when they take notes.”  “And every time we make any noise at all, she screams at us for being loud,” said T.  “And it’s just like when my mom yells at me about cleaning my room.  I don’t want to do it, because I don’t want to make her happy then.”  T felt better after that, but our conversation was still on my mind while Ms. X yelled at H.

Why is it so hard for factory-model teachers to contain anger?  Is it harder now than it was 20 years ago, when stakes were lower and expectations so different?  I had angry young colleagues back then, and angry old ones, and calm colleagues of all ages.  And sometimes I was angry, sometimes calm myself.  Have the percentages changed, or am I just more attuned?  Has good classroom management changed as our notions of a good classroom changed?

Early in the week, I was talking with someone about that.  “I know exactly how to manage a classroom in 1998,” I said, “but I’m really not sure what needs to change in 2013.”  My colleague, very much in and of the system, thinks nothing really needs to change.  Kids are still kids, distractions still distractions, and A Certain Percentage of kids need external control.

Which is true … if you accept the factory system as normative and unchangeable.  But over the past few years, I’ve come to doubt both of those claims.  I was working on a very different learning model, of course, and I’d started to see strong evidence that factory-model processing wasn’t “working” for many of my students.  And I was in the midst of Kohlberg’s crisis of generativity vs. stagnation. How much of my 20th-century-legacy management style was still productive, I kept wondering?  How much was stagnant or worse? And there was family stuff, and other stuff, that left me tired, frustrated, and unhappy.

It’s hard to help others maintain and respect boundaries if you aren’t doing a good job with your own.

As we build joyful learning communities — and better, more compassionate factories — what should we do to help teachers and learners find both voice and boundaries?

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Published in: on March 22, 2013 at 11:04 am  Comments (1)  

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. “Sometimes a scream is better than a thesis.” ~Ralph Waldo Emerson


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