Q: My daughter’s class has already been punished for talking too much and this is just the first week of school. What can I do to help her avoid a long, miserable year?
This question has been condensed. The original contains more details about the circumstances behind the punishment. It appears that the teacher has made a few innocent missteps from which I am sure she will recover.
For example, she has arranged her classroom in big tables with students facing each other while allowing her students to pick their own seats. One of these might be fine, but together they make for a volatile combination, for reasons I am sure you can picture.
Many teachers like to use tables for “collaborative” or “cooperative” learning. Some teachers can really pull off this teaching style and those who do are exquisite. But mostly when kids are sitting at tables facing each other they just socialize.
My seventh grade English teacher did that, and all I remember from that class is developing a crush on a girl in my class, primarily because I had to stare into her face for an hour a day. Do I blame my teacher? Well, kind of. It’s a lot harder to fall in love with the back of someone’s head.
To be fair, this may not be the teacher’s choice. In an odd (and, of course, costly) attempt to break from the evil past, modern classroom furniture is usually engineered to emphasize froufrou over function.
But most teachers think classroom furniture should be more about utility, less about aesthetics. We’re not trying to impress clients. We’ve got a job to do. Remember when seat and desk were attached to each other? And if your teacher wanted you in rows, she put you in rows? And if she wanted you in groups, she put you in groups? It was a golden age of function and flexibility.
Apparently this didn’t permit enough “freedom” for students, like the freedom to roll each other around the classroom, or lean back in chairs to break their necks.
I recently talked with an educational bureaucrat who was “in charge” of ordering new classroom furniture. She was practically giddy over some new desks. I looked at them, puzzled. “These are triangles,” I said. “Each desk is a triangle.”
“Yes,” she said, “but you can put them together to make square tables.”
“Yes,” I said, “but can’t you also put rectangular desks together to make square tables?”
Her derisive response to that was that triangles were the wave of the future. And that’s the kind of “thinking” (I use the term loosely) that galls teachers. I’ve never held much respect for people who think Wednesday is better than Tuesday because Wednesday is newer. Also, in three years when the future actually arrives, your furniture suddenly looks stupid.
“But,” I countered, “there’s no flexibility. You can’t put triangles in rows if a teacher wants rows of students facing the same way.”
She arched her eyebrow and snarkily said, “I can see you are more of an old-fashioned teacher.”
I arched mine and snarkily said, (under my breath, of course), “And I can see you aren’t one at all.”
The point is, it’s very possible the teacher, the kids, and the school are stuck with face-to-face tables because one high-priced bureaucrat likes Wednesday better than Tuesday.
But if this is true, it’s all the more important for the teacher to design a seating chart that separates cronies. I know it feels callous to put distance between BFFs (best friends forever), but it has to be done if you want to develop anything other than social skills.
As for punishing the whole class, well, sometimes teachers have to do it, but it’s much better not to. Punishing an attentive, well-behaved student does not engender respect and good will, and both are treasured qualities for effective teachers.
As a young teacher, I once issued 12 detentions in one class to kids who wouldn’t stop talking. I could have punished the whole class, but I didn’t think that was right. When my principal saw me trucking 12 sullen students into detention, he looked at me askance. But the nine kids who had behaved properly were eyeing me with respect. And eventually so did the talkers. I never had to issue another detention for the remainder of that year.
So who can we blame here? The teacher? Partially. The froufrou furniture bureaucrat? Oh, please, yes. The misbehaving students? They certainly share the blame. But the only one that should matter to you is your daughter. Encourage her to be responsible for herself, to rise above the bad behavior of her peers, and to shake off the capricious decisions of her teachers. Teach her to always be respectful, kind, and obedient even when no one else is.
Kids who are taught to rise above in school are usually the ones who rise to the top in life. It’s the blame-shifters and excuse-makers who occupy the also-rans. By focusing on your daughter’s behavior, you’ll be giving her a head start on success.