Sunday, October 07, 2007

Constructivism vs. the crazy lady

This weekend, I attended two teacher-themed conferences. The first, a middle grades summit, was held on campus. It was pretty interesting - I met Mark Springer, bought a copy of his book, Soundings: A Democratic Student-Centered Education, and attended a panel for Team QUEST, a multi-age team (6th, 7th, and 8th graders) in a Lee county school. The theme of the conference was "Democracy in the Classroom," so of course it focused on student-centered teaching. Since that's how I plan on running my classroom, I thoroughly enjoyed it. Of course, I generally enjoy conferences (when I don't have to present), so no surprise there.

But then, I went to the SPAGE-sponsored Classroom Survivor conference in Macon. I've had a day and a half to process what I witnessed, and I'm still shocked and appalled. The conference itself wasn't terrible, but there was one break-out session that just completely blew me away - and not in a good way.

After the keynote speaker, we were told to attend a session on classroom management techniques. There were three available (elementary, middle, and secondary), and I went to the middle grades panel. I'm thankful that another MAT student (Lisa) was there with me, because I don't think I could have gotten through it without her.

After everyone had taken a seat, the woman who was supposed to lead the session informed us that we were "very lucky" to have a "special guest" come and share her experiences with us. She then introduced us to "Miss Jan." "Dolores Umbridge" would've been a little bit more accurate. This woman walked into the classroom and informed us that we would be calling her "Miss Jan" and she would, in turn, call us Miss or Mr because that was how we showed each other respect. She also told us that our class would go "one of two ways: MY way, or NOT YOUR way." At this point, Lisa and I exchanged glances, as if to ask, "Is this for real?" I was sure that she would crack at any moment and tell us that this was her way of showing us what NOT to do, but alas...

She then proceeded to regale us with anecdotes about her "effective" classroom management. The two that stand out in my mind:
* After telling us that the most important thing to do was "praise, rather than correct," she told us a charming story about a disruptive young man in one of her classes. While the rest of the class was working on a project (and, I'm assuming, could hear everything she was saying), she called this young man to her desk and asked him if his favorite color was orange.
"No," he said, "Why?"
"Because when I go driving, I see a lot of men wearing orange jumpsuits working on the side of the road, and I think that's how you'll end up if you're not careful."
* She also taught Amy Carter, daughter of Jimmy Carter, and had another disruptive young man in that class. So she asked one of the ubiquitous Secret Service Agents to have a talk with him. The next day, before class started, the agent walked over to the boy's desk, pulled his vest aside so that his gun was clearly visible, and said, "We're not going to have any problems today, are we?"

Does anyone else see a problem here? Lisa and I were both horrified, but judging by the laughs "Miss Jan" got, we were the only ones. What really annoyed me, though, was that we found out at the end of the panel that this thing woman only taught for 7 years, and retired from teaching after her son was born...25 years ago. Also? Apparently, she taught elementary school, not middle grades. How on earth does that qualify her to teach us about current middle level classroom management? And how in the HELL does she still have her certification? Surely asking a Secret Service Agent to threaten a child is enough to get anyone's teaching license revoked...

No comments: