Final thoughts on Miss H.

I had a rough start with the teacher of my class, so in order to wrap it up I want to go back to her in my final post. In the beginning I saw her really critical. She was so different from my beloved elementary teacher as she was stricter, yelled more frequently, and was mean to the students sometimes. I interpreted this behavior as malevolence towards her students. She would call out some students repeatedly for not achieving a high level on a reading test or make references in front of the kids that I wouldn’t consider political correct. Moreover, she didn’t seem to stick to the social conventions I am used to. For example she would not talk to me very much at first or give me any feedback. I prematurely concluded that she was not really passionate about teaching and was cold to the students but also to me. However as time went by, my assumptions about her were challenged more and more often. But it took me until the last weeks to finally let the cognitive dissonances overrule my preconceived notion. It left me with mixed feelings about her teaching style but with a high sympathy for her as a person.
After I first met her, I had this idea of her completely figured out in my head. And as people tend to value those information more that support their opinion than those that oppose it, I found more evidence for her cold-heartedness towards the kids and her ill temper in the weeks after that. Yelling when she gives instructions to the kids? Clearly thinks shouting is the only way to establish her authority. Pre-disciplining the “problem students”? Obvious and unfair bias. Not greeting me when I come in? Doesn’t think I am really helpful.
The turning point came when I asked her if I could extend my time in the classroom and stayed longer for the first time. It helped me to obtain more observations and different perspectives on her as a teacher, as well as to build a closer relationship with her.
One thing I saw no sense in at all firstly, was the constant and in my opinion quite aggressive disciplining of the students. She would yell often and sometimes already pre-discipline the “problem kids”. It caused the atmosphere to be quite tensed and the called out students to be frustrated sometimes, which is not really something that helps with learning. But I noticed that it also somehow contributed to the discipline of the classroom, especially on Monday morning. She told me, that she had to make up for the lack of parenting the kids are exposed to during the weekends by being especially strict. Unsurprisingly, one of her mantras in the morning was “you can behave like that with your mommy on the weekends, but not with me”. Even though, I found the lack of cooperation between teachers and parents the statement implies problematic, I did see her point. The kids were indeed all over the place in the morning and were testing the limits established at the beginning of the school year every week all over again. And her strictness definitely helped bringing the class under control. So does that justify the constant disciplining? I am not sure. But what I definitely came to see is that her being strict does not mean that she is not passionate about the kids. In fact, she cares about every single one of them. She would always be there if a hug was needed, would be willing to explain something all over again if someone didn’t understand it and was sad, that she has to change the class every year (Which in itself again is a concept that doesn’t really appear to me: Why would you have the teacher change the class every year, if it is clear how important a good teacher-student relationship is for learning?). Every student was “the love of her life”.
Additionally, we finally got to a point where we would talk about more than just the bare necessities and she would give me more insight in the challenges she faces as a teacher. For example, she felt that she could spend too little time on actual teaching as there was constantly other stuff she had to do like responding to inquiries from other staff members. Also, she was fed up with the district authorities, as she felt like they were constantly changing the programs and books. Furthermore, they would implement ridiculous accountability measures like the requirement to take pictures of her teaching the kids in groups and send them to higher authorities as a proof that she is doing it. It reminded me strongly of the struggles teachers encounter in ”failing schools” that Payne describes in his book. It also led me to thinking that it may have been so difficult to get her approvement and trust, exactly because she saw me as just another outsider coming into her classroom, judging her teaching style and being another interruption of the teaching on Monday mornings. Maybe it was because I showed my commitment when I extended my stay and showed real interest in what she was doing that she invested more time in building a relationship with me. In the end she even offered me to stay over at her house for Thanksgiving, because she was worried that I had to spend it alone.
So when I eventually had to say my final goodbye to the kids but also especially to the teacher Miss H., I was close to crying. I would have never thought I could get so close to them in such a short time. Moreover, I would have never thought that they are going to be the ones I will miss among the most when I get back to Germany. However, that does not say that I approve all of Miss H.’s teaching methods. I just came to understand better that some of them do have benefits and that her strictness does not mean that she does not like the kids or teaching. It’s just the style of teaching she found to be effective.

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