As part of the first week icebreaker activities, we did Three Things on Friday. For “Three Things”, students in groups come up with a list of three things that satisfy a scenario. The first one is common enough: “You’re trapped on a deserted island with three people of your choosing. Who are they?”
Last year, my second one was, “What three things should you never say to the principal?” I got nervous because some of the things were rather vulgar, even after I added “except for cussing.” This year I changed it to: “Other than cussing, what are three things you should never say to a teacher?”
I was thinking in terms of a generic teacher, but I feel like the exercise fell flat because the students were still too concerned about offending me. Me, of all people! But… the point of these activities is, they don’t know me. They don’t know if I really am scary or a pussycat.
The very first statement from the very first group, of things you should never say to your teacher: “Why?”
I asked for clarification, even though I didn’t think I needed it. As I’d suspected, the student meant, “Why are we doing this… whatever it is?”
Another one that came up several times: Don’t ever call a teacher by their first name.
Both of these are about power, and they’re learned from being afraid of adults exerting that power. I want my students to challenge the curriculum, to demand to know why they’re spending their valuable time on whatever it is I’ve decided we’re doing today.
Sometimes they won’t care for the answer, but they should never be afraid to ask the question.
These events, along with discussions I have on teacher groups, lead me to wonder how much power, and how little self-reflection, some of my colleagues are really doing. We should not have one standard of behavior for ourselves, in staff meetings and discussion groups, and a much more Draconian standard of behavior for our students.
I understand the claim that teens need more focus and guidance on proper behavior, but… there seems to be a huge disconnect here, not a tiny one.