Thursday, September 07, 2006

Forging Relationships With Students

It's Thursday, which means I spent another afternoon in a meeting--this one discussing "assets" that students have to draw on, and how we can build personal relationships with students. This is what you get when you're in a meeting group that includes all four (woman) counselors and more of the peace-love-tie dye teachers on the staff =)

I'm all about building relationships with kids. I don't want kids to come into my room and consider me as nothing more than a fount of mathematical knowledge from which they can draw; they need to see me as a human, because when they do, they have to be conscious of our interactions as humans. Education is a social process, one that requires interaction between student and teacher; I'm all about direct instruction, but DI isn't the opposite of interaction. In fact, far from it.

But I digress.

We were talking about "assets", and I didn't like the list of "assets" someone put together. It had a definite political slant to it. Just as an example, one asset that a student might have was something like "The student volunteers in the community at least a couple hours a week." While that can be a good thing, I'm not sure that its absence should be considered a negative or something to watch out for. Another one was "The student believes in equity and social justice, and wants to work to end hunger and poverty." When I was a student I wanted to work hard to end Communism; does that mean I had fewer assets than someone who focused on hunger or poverty? And why those two? See, political slant.

So I had a difficult time participating in that part of the conversation. You can't give me some liberal piece of crap, tell me "the research" says it's good, and expect me to flop down and worship at this new altar. That's one of the many problems in education--we'll take anything and call it "research" and act like it's the answer to every problem we have. In the real world such things would be called fads. Or worse.

It was during the course of this meeting, though, that our principal (who is also in our group) mentioned that next year we're going to have some kind of "home room" plan--it's apparently a pet project of the superintendent--in an effort to help us build relationships with students. I just don't see it. How is having some certain group of kids for a certain amount of time, with no specific curriculum, supposed to help me build relationships with kids above what I already build in class and out on the quad? Waste of time. And if there is a curriculum they want me to follow, isn't that another class I have to prep for? There must be some contractual issues there. Besides, do you think the lib, mamby-pamby, tree-hugging kumbayah types really want me leading some class discussion about some supposedly important social topic? I'm not good as a neutral moderator--you might have noticed that from reading this blog :-) Anyway, this is just something else they're going to throw at me and expect me to do in addition to teaching kids algebra or trig. Is that really the best use of our school time? But it's coming from the top, so we're going to do it anyway.

Here's the problem, one my principal pointed out today. You can't force relationship-building. You can't say, This is the time you will use for building relationships. It doesn't work that way. It's like the concept of "Quality Time" with your kids. That's crap. You don't know when the time is quality time, especially when they're teenagers. You just spend lots of time with them, building that relationship, and when they truly need you, they'll seek you out because they know you care. THAT is when it's quality time, not when you designate every Wednesday evening to be family discussion time or whatever (and the rest of the time you don't speak to them or they avoid/ignore you). Relationships are forged, over time, and are not built in some step-by-step process of regularly scheduled meetings.

You'd think our district would have learned this lesson--with the adults. Last year we rearranged all the school schedules, lengthening the other days so Thursday could be a shorter day for students. We then use the remainder of the afternoon Thursday for so-called collaboration, including this powwow we had today. I'm not sure how the elementary schools took it, but word from the union is that every secondary school hates this plan. You can't force people to collaborate, and you can't say, This is when you will collaborate. Just as an example, I can't imagine a much more painful experience than being in any meeting with our full math department, but we "collaborate" every single day--in the staff room during our morning break and at lunch. "I was covering this today and..." or "They just totally bombed that quiz..." and we discuss how we can make things better. In 5 minutes or so. We do it on our own, in our own way, the way humans always have, because that spontaneity is part of the relationship you build. Anything else, really, is foolhardy.

We can't even tolerate mandatory collaboration amongst our peers, so why would anyone think we'd do any better with a bunch of teenagers? It's just nuts. But since it's a directive, I guess it's going to happen. I envision bedlam, unfortunately.

Ok, I'm done venting. I'd appreciate any soothing comments--but I'll take any!


Anonymous said...

This makes me worry a lot about important things like which students get the best teacher recommendations, or who gets their name submitted for scholarship consideration when teachers are asked to choose. What if I am wearing the wrong tee-shirt come election time; will I be subject to teacher bias, or entitled to my own views? Should I hold back my views because I fear the power that a teacher has and I'm concerned about their opinion of me when these situations come up? Do teachers give better grades to students who share thier views because they want to empower those students?

Darren said...

THIS post makes you worry about such things? What did I say in that post that could possibly give you pause for concern? Methinks you read far more into this post than was there.

Let's apply some lessons we've learned in language arts class. See if you can find a topic sentence in each paragraph. Then look for supporting sentences that amplify the topic sentence.

Then see if there's *anything* you come up with that justifies the so-called fears you listed above.

ns said...


In the corporate world, it's the same. The managers force "team building" sessions on everyone. We usually go to a nice woodsy retreat and do things like catch eachother while we fall or climb a rock wall.

I think: big waste of time. Relationship building happens naturally - you cannot SLOT a time to build relationships.

You explain it eloquently here - so next time my manager forces this team building BS on me, I know how to respond.

You are awesome. Keep writing!

carol said...

Ugh, Darren, that sounds perfectly awful. The more they try to force Nice Things to happen the worse they make it. And if I never hear "social justice" again it'll be too soon. I get enough of that in my church, and no one can ever define it.

Do you ever get the feeling that these do-gooder experts really Do Not Have a Clue what to do to help kids and are just making it up for grantsmanship or whatever? I suspect some real intellectual bankruptcy here.

Anonymous: I think one thing students can do is retain their dignity by NOT stressing about whether this or that will affect their grades or recommendations or college acceptance etc. Let's not be ninnies about it.

rightwingprof said...

It's obvious to me that you all need to get together for some group hugs.

Polski3 said...

Homeroom, advisory, whateveryacallit, is generally a huge waste of time. I truely believe it was developed by the touchie-feelie-dope smokin types....

At my school, (jr. high) we have had "advisory" for a number of years. It IS another prep to deal with, it is a waste of time, and our school leadership teams NEVER made any attempt to ensure that all of our students received even a smattering of what was supposed to be the "advisory curriculum". In its most recent form, it is mostly for kids to read AR books, teachers to deal with attendance, lunch cards and other mundane crap from the office, and, to rapid conference the persons responsible for the kids in our advisory class about their standardized test scores from six months ago, district proficiencies, various required federal mandates (School-Parent-Student Compacts !!!!) and such. It makes for a really grueling week.

Do all you can to resist this borg inspired crap at your school.

Anonymous said...

Now, wait a minute. I think Anonymous was getting at the fact that the students themselves may not want more face time with their teachers either, and he or she is reasonably concerned that these advisories create yet more opportunities for the peace-love-tie-dye teachers to figure out who they like and don't like in their "home room".

On another note, parents are being heavily sold on collaboration! We've been told by school districts and teacher's unions that you will be happier if we cough up more money to get you out of your classroom and away from your students so that you can talk with other teachers more. I thought teachers were feeling very isolated and alone. I thought teachers were dying to collaborate with each other. :P

Vidur Dadlani said...


WTH is our school coming too? I don't think I can bare spending half an hour trying to bond with even if it is with an awesome and exciting teacher.

And to the Anon, we are trying to stop the oppression of political views around the world, Darren is a supporter of these efforts. So why wouldn't he be practicing what he preaches? (Everyone as in all 10 billion people in the world hates hypocrites).

EllenK said...

I don't even like going to pep rallies, I can't imagine trying to form some weird sort of alliance with the variety of personalities I have to teach. The cheerleaders would be too busy rolling their eyes while the artsy kids graffitied the room. And if allowed, I would join the artsy kids because it's way more fun than rolling your eyes and being cool. That being said, I can see it happening here. They will probably start having half days of school on Saturdays to accommodate the various remedial tutorials on top of this feel good curriculum additive.Of course, athletes will be exempt since they already contribute so much to the welfare of the school....*sarcasm*

Darren said...


Just for the record, I don't think you should *bare* anything in homeroom!


Katherine B. said...

If a teacher is personable, easy to talk to and generally liked, they will already have all the connections they need with the students. Students are just like other human beings (as suprising as that may seem) we gravitate to people we get along with. Some people really like certain teachers and find them great to talk to while others do not. Simply sticking us into another class with any old teacher is not going to help our connections with them. I have several teachers at my school whom I enjoy talking to very much and whom I even visit after I have completed their class. These are the teachers who have an impact on my life, not some random person the district decides is good for me. If the school wants to be helpful all they have to do is check that every student in the school has a someone (any teacher) whom they feel comfortable talking to. I know most of us already do.

Darren said...

And Katherine B. gets the "Duh!" Award for saying what should be obvious to any thinking person.

rightwingprof said...

I agree that this sounds like a lot of huggy-kissy hogwash, but I am curious about one thing, having been out of high school for, oh, let's just say over three decades now. We had homeroom all the way through school. When did schools drop homeroom?

Just curious ...

Anonymous said...

Ellen K
Wow am I glad you are not one of my teachers. I have never seen so many stereotypes in one post. Cheerleaders roll their eyes and think they are cool, athletes do nothing for the school etc. You would dislike me, without even knowing me. Athletes are often up at 5:00 AM doing practice while their classmates are sleeping away at home. Atletes cram more into a day via time management than other students could ever attempt. There is a reason why employers like to hire D1 athletes when they apply for jobs; they understand team work and they have amazing discipline. Cheerleaders put in many hours of hard work for their squads. They do a great deal for their schools and add spirit and pride. Shame on you, perhaps you have a bias that you need to work at fixing. If the variety of personalities you have to teach is so offensive perhaps you are in the wrong career.

Carson #52 said...

Sorry to rag on you Ellen but Athlete bashing is not appreciated. I am an athlete i play 3 sports a year Football,Wrestling and Rugby and also manage to keep up on school work, (mr miller i am studying for that chap 5 test whilst leaving posts, still confused) I also play in the band for two periods a day. I spend nearly 12 hours at school everyday so please understand that atheletes are not all stupid, cocky, bland blobs that i think you make them out to be. By the way to anybody that cares the JV won and Varsity lost (because of a bunch of stupid calls)