>Crime and Punishment

>I’m finally getting around to writing about something that happened last week that really made me question my purpose and practice of teaching.  I’m glad I waited to write, though, because the message in church this Sunday really resonated with me and helped me process the whole incident.

One day at the beginning of the class, I had just started showing a video on evolution when I noticed that Blinky, Pinky, and Inky were still chattering.  My patience had been tested by similar behavior in the previous class, so I told them that if they had something to say, they needed to finish their conversation outside.  They took themselves outside the classroom with some chairs, and I turned my attention back to the remaining students.  After discussing an important point in the video, I went to check on my three little pigs.  They were still engrossed in their conversation, so I asked if they would like to return to class.  There was no response, so I left them to their business.  I checked again about ten minutes later, by which time Clyde had joined her counterparts (without having ever set foot in the classroom).  Again, a negative response.  The shortened period soon drew to a close, and by the time I saw my other students out the door, the Fab Four were gone.  Later I heard that they had appeared in the cafeteria before the bell sounded, telling the teacher on duty that I had let them out early.  I consulted our principal and she recommended that I write them up, which I did.

Fast forward a few days.  Inky and Pinky come sweeping into the room and Pinky announces that she is very upset with me.  I got my other students started on a magazine scavenger hunt and took Inky and Pinky and Clyde into the hall.  (Blinky was on a field trip.)  Pinky launched into a diatribe, accusing me of giving them a choice to return to class instead of a command, telling me I was too nice, and exhorting me not to be afraid of them.  (I told her I wasn’t afraid, although honestly I was a little just because Pinky herself can be so volatile.)  I repeated Pinky’s words back to her to make sure I understood, then pointed out that yes, I did give them a choice instead of a command, with the expectation that they would make a wise decision.  I admitted that maybe I had not been clear enough about the possible consequences of the choice, but stressed that I was not interested in bossing them around or, for that matter, punishing them.  We discussed how each of us could communicate better in the future, and I think it was at this point that Clyde said, “Miss Duann, I wish my mom and grandma were more like you.  You communicate good.”  I asked if we had reached mutual understanding; they said we had, and I agreed to talk with our assistant principal about the referral.

Did I do the right thing in letting them off the hook?  I struggled a lot with myself afterward, and normally I do not do very well at all with that sort of internal conflict.  (A rather fortuitously timed conversation helped keep me from completely screwing myself into the ceiling over it.)  Setting and enforcing expectations for classroom behavior is still something with which I struggle, and I know I need to work on my consistency and follow-through in this regard.  I admit that I’d rather be loved than respected, that my students are still squirrels but at least they are loyal squirrels.  I know well that these girls and many other students are fully capable of taking advantage of me…and somehow, I just want to trust that they won’t.  I told Pinky when she blustered about running over me in class, “But I’ve seen the best of you, Pinky, and that’s what I always remember.”  Maybe that’s naive, maybe I’m too idealistic to be a good teacher after all.  But I have to believe that there can be more than discipline based on pain and punishment.  There’s enough of that in the world, especially for these kids, and I refuse to be part of that.

On Sunday we studied 1 John 4 and while the entire passage spoke to my life, two verses stuck out. “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”  I know my love is far from perfect, and one thing I’ve been thinking about a lot is what it really means to love my students.  It’s not just feeding them cookies and passing out silly bandz.  It means loving them enough to truly prepare them for life after high school, which means teaching them how to show up to work on time, speak and act courteously, respect appropriate authority, see the bigger picture, understand the link between action and consequence.  I think that can be done while respecting my students as young adults and providing the safety they may not have known as children.  Now, just to figure out how…


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