A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Monday, November 22, 2010

Making us all look like schlemiels

I am sure that every teacher who reads this or other education blogs works in place that has rules. They may be called "expectations," or "behavior markers," or even dopier things like "the Panther Path" or the "Warrior Way" or the "Cardinal Code," but whatever you call 'em, there they are.

Until they're not.

We have a bunch of these behavioral prohibitions ourselves. Some are mandated by state law: no smoking on campus, no gambling, no fencing of stolen merchandise, no assault-- you get the picture. Then there's more minor rules: no use of cell phones or mp3 players, except during lunch. Wear your IDs. Follow the directions of adults on staff. No obscene language.

Now the enforcement of these prohibitions can be spotty. But here's what gets in my craw: During announcements, it was proclaimed that students were not allowed to leave campus once they were on campus-- not even to dash across the street to smoke. This policy was henceforth going to be rigorously enforced! Consequences would be meted out with justice for all!

It lasted one day.

The next morning they had moved behind some bushes, so that at least our incompetence was not paraded in front of the entire world. The day after that they were back where they had started. The next day, they were openly standing in front of the main entrance. There they were puffing on their "gaspers" and creating clouds of smoke that could patch the hole in the ozone layer. Our Dear Leader not only shrugged it off, but snapped at those who dared bring it up.

So here's the deal: Listen, toots. I don't care what the rule is, if you are not going to enforce it, then at least don't draw attention to the fact that you cannot handle all aspects of your job. Worse still, I especially hate it when YOU make a big deal about something and then promptly back off.

It makes us look like schmucks. It erodes any sense of authority. It makes it clear that the inmates are running the asylum. It also encourages kids to keep pushing until they finally find out what the boundaries are, if indeed there are any. Now your excuse is that there are bigger problems going on around school. That is true. But, there's this thing called the "broken windows" theory. I'm too annoyed to go into it fully, plus my martini is getting warm, but basically it's this: when you stop enforcing smaller rules, the community begins a death spiral toward major lawlessness.

Your momentary twinge of enforcement merely draws attention to the fact that not much is enforced around here. So you want to know what would make teachers morale improve?

How about this: Pick one rule, no matter how tiny. Something that would actually make a difference around this place.

And then enforce it. Firmly, subtly, consistently.

I dare you.

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At 11/22/10, 6:26 PM, Blogger Ricochet said...

The year I started teaching, the principal picked 2: tardies and hats. And he enforced it this way: when the bell rang for 1st period you were to lock and shut your door and no one came in without a note from the attendance office. Tardies were gone within a week.

Hats? The administrators cruised the halls and dealt with dress code. I have never again worked in a place that ran as smoothly.

At 11/22/10, 6:36 PM, Blogger PamelaTrounstine said...

I hear you and could not agree more.

And ricochet, I love it. It's ok to pick 2, 2 consistently enforced is much better than 10 that are enforced only when someone else is watching. Lord knows, the definition of an adolescent is someone who will see how far they can take something.

At 11/23/10, 10:59 AM, Anonymous Jaqui said...

the one that gets our admin bent out of shape but nothing is done about it---hoodies

At 11/23/10, 6:45 PM, Blogger "Ms. Cornelius" said...

Gosh, ricochet, it sounds like a dream. I am just asking for one. Now supposedly tardies are also supposed to be targeted, but in reality? I have a kid with 12 tardies who transferred from a completely dysfunctional school district, and there have been no consequences on our end that I have seen.

At 11/24/10, 7:45 AM, Blogger Mr. W said...

ahhh tardies. It seems to be a huge problem everywhere. Our students have 10 minutes to get to class and still can't.

I have written 103 referrals this year and I would guess 90-95 were for tardies. And I can only send a student up for tardies starting on their 3rd tardy. Yeah that's a lot.


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