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!