Saturday, January 7, 2012

Neglecting the Positive

I made a mistake before I left Mr. Agajan's class yesterday. I don't think that I always do this. But, the mistake I made highlights something that I need to make sure that I do on a regular basis as far as recognizing student's behavior goes.

Art class was extremely difficult for Ms. Hall to control. According to her, the class was more difficult to control than usual. I mentioned this to Mr. Agajan. He suggested that I make an announcement to the class about it. He said that I was in a better position to comment on the behavior then he was since I was in the art class at the time and he was not.

So, right before I left, I made explicit that there were some students who were blurting out questions without raising their hands or talking were over Ms. Hall while she was reading her children's book on Picasso. I was about to leave it at that, but then Mr. Agajan jumped in before I was about to end. "Mr. Auto? Can you name some students who you thought did a good job in Ms. Hall's class?" That kind of caught me off guard. So, I just named a boy and girl student who I could vaguely recall did a good job. Then, I wished everyone a good weekend and went on my way.

In retrospect, I feel like a dork for almost leaving the classroom on a negative note. Why? Well, first, I'm pretty confident that it's not the case that everyone in Mr. Agajan's class was disruptive. Some students were disruptive, but other students were cooperative. Second, if I'm going to give examples of students who were disruptive so that they know how not to act, I should give them the other side of the coin. I need to highlight examples of what specific students did so that they can replicate those behaviors. Third, if I only give explicit recognition of disruptive behavior, it makes it seem pointless to do good behavior. So, it discourages those who are behaving in a cooperative way to continue doing so. Lastly, I'm just imagining how these students would feel about me if I always left them on a negative note. I'm just thinking about the worst case scenario and the most expedient way to get there. If I always left them on a negative note, they would hate my guts. Why? I would be known as the teacher that dislikes everything they do. It's not exactly a confidence builder. So, if always being negative would be the fastest way to get them to hate me, then doing it less will be that much slower of a way to get them to hate me. I don't think that means I must strictly always be positive, but it means that I must show that I'm aware of when students are disruptive and cooperative rather than just one or the other.

This is the bottom line. Whenever I show explicit recognition of students' disruptive behavior, I should also show some recognition of their cooperative behavior. On the flipside, whenever I show explicit recognition of their cooperative behavior, I do not necessarily need to show explicit recognition of disruptive behavior.


  1. Some years ago I tutored and then mentored in school, 27 of the UK's top graduates when they were learning to be teachers with Teach First. I observed them teach some 150 lessons, so I hope my experience will be of value here.

    Don't ever even think about whether children like you or not. It's a serious mistake many trainee teachers make and it sets the tone for a thoroughly mediocre career (at best.)

    It isn't your role to be liked: it's your role to teach them. It's also not your role to pursue equity above successful learning. Opportunities to praise will present themselves again, although in difficult schools they will always be outnumbered by those occasions when you have to reprimand or moderate negative behaviour.

  2. Hi Joe, Sorry for the delayed response. You have more experience than I do, but I want to say what I agree and disagree with.

    I agree with the idea that if students present more instances of negative behavior than positive, they should still be punished for their negative behaviors. That is, they should be punished insofar as they demonstrate them. Further, students should not be given false praise. They should not be given praise just for the sake of giving praise. Only in the case that a student demonstrates some expected behavior, should they be given praise. I think that we can agree on that, but you can correct me if I'm wrong.

    However, I think caring about whether my students like me does have some value. If my students like me, they will trust me. They will not seek guidance from someone who they do not trust. So, the extent to which a student learns from me depends on the extent to which they trust me. That's my understanding of the merit of having my students liking me. However, how I can gain the rapport of my students is another question. What do you think about that?