"All right boys and girls I need someone to come up and help us solve this problem. I'm going to choose someone who's sitting very nicely..."
(This is a time-honoured teacher ruse, met with bolt upright backs and gleaming hopeful eyes.)
Ah, shoot. They all took the bait. Now I have to choose one. I have to choose quickly. I've learnt that if I let my eyes wonder round the room too long, the souls of wide-eyed 7 year olds bore into me like innocuously piercing dentist tools. I call out a name and the announcement is met, instantaneously, with a roar of indignant discord. “Hauw, Miss! “
Some objections are quite articulate...
"Hauw Miss why so-and-so"
"Hauw Miss, you never choose me" (Not true!)
Others more guttural. They roar, they howl. They slam their hands dramatically into the carpet.
Tears erupt silently, heads sink helplessly onto scabby knees. Stumped, I hand out tissues, pat heads and repeatedly utter the now dog-eared "You can't always be chosen but I'm sure you'll get your turn soon" script in a desperate attempt to calm the stormy class and prevent total mutiny.
This kind of meltdown happens pretty much every day with my current class and has been happening since the beginning of the year. They’ve gotten a little less protracted and dramatic over the months. The chorused howl doesn’t last as long, there are fewer actual tears. But I still need to prep the children daily. “You know we need to share our turns to talk” “Try to feel happy for whoever gets a turn”. They nod agreeably. I feel hopeful. But the next time someone is chosen to talk or demonstrate knowledge in front of the class the same roar of objection greets me. Humph.
What really gets me about this situation is that it does feel unfair. My students all love having a turn to stand up in front of the class. They love sharing their knowledge, love being picked. Is there something really flawed in my approach of singling out students in this way? Clearly the injustice to the rest of the class is deeply felt, but is their feeling justified or is this just ‘how life works, kids.’ In my heart I suspect the former, but the status quo would have you believing otherwise. Children Have to learn that Life is Unfair (says the Status Quo) Children have to learn that they can’t always be chosen, that they can’t always be heard. What sinister function do these assumptions play in societal power games?
This also bothers me because I spend so much time asking the children to listen to me. Asking for their attention, rattling on and on about how good listening shows respect and don’t you know that listening is a part of how you learn, boys and girls. BOYS AND GIRlS! Are you listening?! I feel like ‘turns to talk’ are like candies and I am the hoarder, the keeper. Greedily, I keep many of the candies to myself, TTT. I use my candies for a lot of good reasons, but I also feel like I waste them on a lot of nagging, berating and lecturing that could surely be better used some way else.
Writing these Snapshots on talk has helped me to articulate some deeply rooted anxieties and doubts I have about my teaching practice, particularly how we share talk time in our class room. As I reflect on these troubling issues, I have found myself being more alert to my own talk-behaviour, checking myself at times when I have wanted to launch into another lecture or interrupt the children’s work to announce something. But it is difficult to self-correct, to have that acute awareness, hold myself accountable, come up with an alternative and act on it.
Ultimately I need new strategies. Cultivating this awareness, alternative-seeking and problem-solving is a big part of what Encounteract is all about. Read more Snapshots here. Read about new, progressive thinking in education that has the potential to challenge the grim status quo here. Read more reflections on societal and political factors impacting education here.
A daunted but determined teacher irons out the creases of her brain.