By: Mr. Lu
Last year, Mr. Anthony did it, and, this year, Mr. Parker had to do it. Damp, dreary, and dull outside, but the seat inside was hot. Perched on the same stool as his predecessor, Mr. Parker fielded prosaic questions on uniforms and the (lack of) bells, and unconventional ones like whether he was a jock in high school or if he had ever fired a machine gun. And like his predecessor, he parried thoughtfully and skillfully, managing diverse and contradictory opinions as well as revealing a bit of himself.
Annushka had the hammer, the last question, and she began, “I think we need to be more strict.” As she continued and Mr. Parker responded, I couldn’t help but agree. Alison raised the same point with me later on, and we unpacked the idea a bit further. Naturally, the irony of my own loose classroom structure draped over me like a cloud. How can we be strict and open?
Let me explain.
Obedience and responsibility aren’t the same thing. Obtaining obedience is certainly easier. Yelling, threatening, and demanding can ensure greater compliance. It may be begrudging or resentful, but there is safety and security when rules and routine are observed and honoured. Yet, doing right because you are told to do it is not the same as doing right because you know it is the right thing to do. Responsibility is a time-consuming lesson, but comes with greater payoffs in the end.
Encouraging laughter and off-topic discussion can build community and provide a much needed break and diversion, but outright disruption from the norm and willful disobedience can regress morale. It’s true a classroom where students are sitting still and being quiet isn’t indicative of learning. It’s also true that disrespect to the teacher or outrageous behaviour can be indicative of something profoundly wrong. We all come with diverse learning styles, with differences on how we view authority figures, with plentiful bad and good things happening in our lives. I think we need to accept that some things may be acceptable in one place, but may not be acceptable in another. Cultures can change from room to room, although values should never.
Rules are needed, but not needed. They can prevent problems, and they can choke you. Rules are about fairness and orderliness. Rules need to be overruled by compassion and common sense. I like it when students follow protocol. I like it when students challenge convention. Somewhere in this murky mess, there is a golden in between. Unfortunately, backtalk and snarky comments are common reactions to rule enforcement, and lead to greater stress on all involved. Reaching the in between takes a lot of talking instead of complaining, a lot of sharing of viewpoints, and sometimes, giving in for the greater good.
We need to be more strict. Some students need to be more respectful, be less demanding, be less selfish, and be less spoiled. We need our self-reflection to turn into self-giving. The journey is not an easy one; discipline rarely is. But we can do better, and we can be better. So please join me in calling for greater strictness. Or you could always talk to the man who knows his way around machine guns.