“Whoa, Abby. Slow down, chica. Sounds like you are stressing about this class. Thought we talked about this?” I responded, nodding at the back table where we ‘put down the glass’ last week. “No stress. Shame on you. You will have time in class today, and if you need more time than that, then we’ll make it happen. Quit stressing. Go to class. I’ll see you this afternoon. No stress.”
Abby was one of a handful of kids yesterday who, despite my efforts to ban stress in room 211, were stressed out about the due date. And, like Abby, I gave each of them the quit-the-stressin-crap chat, letting them know that life would go on, that all would be fine. They’d get it done, and when they did, I would happily take it.
But by sixth period, though she and I had conferenced about her essay, fixing some transitions and creating a full-circle ending, and though she finally finished the draft, Ms. Abby Stressalot was back.
“Stop. You’re killing me, kid.”
“I am stressing again, huh? I can get it to you when it’s done, huh? It’s gonna be fine, huh?”
“Yes, Ab, it’s going to be fine.” I smiled. And it was. And it will be.
As you know, I am of the firm belief that we do not need to stress kids out with our policies. Our policies. As teachers we decide what’s possible and what’s impossible. So, whenever I can, I choose possible. And though I know some would argue that I am not preparing kids for the “real world,” I am not inclined to subscribe to that line of thinking. In fact, it has been my experience that most deadlines, including tax deadlines, can be negotiated, can be extended. Teachers negotiate their evaluation/observation deadlines with principals all the time. In fact, some who wield the “real-world” stick for teaching kids responsibility are among some of the worst when it comes to asking for leniency from their supervisors. Real world, indeed.
It has also been my experience that those with the harshest responses to kids’ not meeting deadlines only ever offer up the real-world defense. And this suggests to me that they have not really thought their policies through, that their policies are not about the students; their policies are about them and their inability to motivate and inspire kids to learn. Any teacher can use a “stick” to make kids comply. There is nothing remarkable in that. And, too, there is no golden guarantee that just because a kid complies with a deadline that the work is worthy. In fact, it is often sub-par, because it’s more about done-on-time than done-well. Oh, some kids accomplish both, but my experience suggests that when kids are forced to comply, for many, their work lacks commitment and quality suffers. But when kids are committed and self-driven, quality flourishes. And that I believe is the better real-world lesson. When you commit to something, you accomplish something worthwhile. When you half-ass something just to get it done, you generally accomplish something that’s half-assed. And I believe this is true in any world. Teachers need to let go the real-world stick. It unnecessarily elevates stress, and it can also lead to an unintended decrease in quality. In truth, the world is real no matter our age or stage. And it’s time that teachers quit posturing, quit hiding behind this facade. Make learning, not deadlines the focus in your classroom. Things only become impossible when we make them so. Choose possible. What’s the worst that’s going to happen if a kid misses a deadline?
You’ll have to assess it at a different time? But weren’t you going to assess it anyway?
The kids won’t be ready to move on in the content? Don’t we already move on whether kids are ready or not?
It won’t be fair to the other kids who turned it on time? Did they not have the opportunity to learn and benefit from the assignment? Doesn’t every kid deserve that benefit? Is he really winning something over on the other kids if he does it later?
Our policies create our worlds, worlds in which we co-exist with kids for a significant chunk of their lives. They will be shaped by that experience in one manner or another. And in that time, we should not rely on threatening the real world to scare kids straight. We should rely on our worlds, over which we truly have power to influence, over which we have the control of choice. And as such, we should choose to make it a world where kids discover what really matters: themselves. We should provide that promise. We don’t need a stick. And if we do, shame on us, for we have chosen to wield it. We don’t have to carry it.
In my world, there is still stress. Abby was stressed yesterday, but I think it’s different. I think it’s the stress of commitment, not the stress of compliance. I think it’s because she cares, not because she’s scared. And I want to believe that’s because I chose to make it that way. My world. My choice.
Along today’s trail we will…
…begin with Smiles and Frowns.
…start down a new writing path: description.
…reflect in our Journey Journals.
…end with a Sappy Sy Rhyme.
Happy Tuesday, all. Sorry for the rant this morning.
Do. Reflect. Do Better.