15 April 2016

In My Class, I Am Judge, Jury, and Executioner

I'm not here to find fault with students.

I am not here to sentence them for their crimes--against me, the school, Society, or the preterite tense.

I am not here to make them suffer and regret their mistakes.

I am here to make sure they get better.

Sometimes I have to remind myself that I'm not here to judge myself either. Or my colleagues. Error hunting leads only to hurt feelings and failure for all of us. Beating myself up or criticizing other educators just creates bad feelings that make the job unbearable all around.

But that does not mean that my classes are fun fests of back patting and participation trophies (which I do think have their place--but that's another discussion).

My classes are tough, but not for the sake of being tough. They are a place for growth and development for everyone involved if they're running right. But if they're not running right...

That's when I have to drop the hammer.

Not on me. Not on a student. Not even on a politician who presumes to know how to quantify a teacher's worth.

If my class isn't running right, if the students are all chatting playing Fruit Ninja and generally learning nothing, then it is time to render judgment. If students are arguing and cranky and resorting to English because they're frustrated and out of mental energy, it's up to me to lay down the law. If they're rushing through an assignment with the least effort possible and whipping out their romance novels or overdue math homework, it's time for a trial.

I am judge, jury, and executioner for my own instructional practices.

How many times in 13 years have I had to let out a deep breath and admit, "Well that didn't work"? How many times have you? And does that number make us a failure?

Absolutely not.

But it is up to me to openly and honestly evaluate the strategies I implement. If I can rehabilitate them, bully. But I can't be afraid to give an activity--a marvelous activity, an activity that I thought would solve everything--to give that activity ye olde activity axe.

It is up to me to decide--without using that decision as a measure of my own personal worth as a human or as an educator--if the activity, or the lesson, or the unit is worth saving.

I am the judge.

More often than not, I'm a lenient judge, and I try to sentence a lesson to some sort of community service, you know, give it a little time to make up for its mistakes. I also sometimes give it a life sentence in the bottom of a Dropbox account I hardly open anymore--with the possibility for parole if I think of a way to make it work, say when it pops up on my Timehop a year later. However, I'm not above a good swift guillotine when the lesson leaves a bloody massacre in its wake (a particularly horrendous fishbowl "game" I came up with this semester comes to mind).

As the arbiter of all things instructional in my own classes, I find it helpful to ask myself these questions in the face of an accused instructional activity, strategy or practice:

If I can answer yes to these questions, then usually that idea deserves a second chance. But if my students are never going to care about that picture book, throw the book at it. If  there's no way to get enough practice to make the task seem not just doable but almost easy: lock it up and throw away the key. If there's just no space or logical way to make the arrangement work: off with its head.

In my class, I am exacting with my instructional practices. Judging my choices with a cold critical eye is a valuable way to improve my practice.

Judging people improves nothing.

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