My wife has been watching the Bachelor, and occasionally, they will do a flashback to a part of the contestant’s past that is embarrassing.
This post is about my ugly ex-boyfriend, Standards.
In college, I majored in Youth Ministry and Adolescent Studies. I came into my first classroom–seventh grade at Edgewood Middle School–as a youth pastor; ready to make friends with my students and receive their respect in return.
You can probably guess how that panned out.
That year was the hardest year of my life. I wept during planning period, sometimes at lunch, and even after school. In an attempt to fight back, I yelled, spewing venomous things at my teenagers, who sneered at my inconsistent discipline and became even more defiant and rude. Several times I called my wife or family and was talked off the ledge from quitting.
When I look back, there is one thing in particular thing that makes me wince.
As a young teacher, I was terrified of calling parents for negative reasons. On the surface, I was uncomfortable calling someone older than me and speaking to them as an authority figure. Deep down dwelled a fear that they would turn the blame back on me, and I’d have no good response. Occasionally, that happened.
First-Year Vaudrey: Hello… uh… this is Mr. Vaudrey, I’m calling to discuss… um… David’s inappropriate jokes in class.
Parent: Well, David is standing right here, and he says that you laughed when he made that inappropriate joke, so why are you calling me?
To avoid parent phone calls, I relied heavily on Standards.
In the opening scene of the Simpsons, Bart is “writing standards”. It’s an old practice, but a great way to keep kids busy.
Here are four reasons why it’s a terrible idea:
Number 1: Creates distaste of a Good Thing
It uses writing–something that should be enjoyable–and turns it into punishment. Some teachers (many years ago… hopefully) had students copy the dictionary when they were in trouble.
One wonders how those students feel about reading, writing, and big words after that experience.
Number 2: It’s Not Not the Worst emphasis on Negative
Standards–by design–feature lots of “I will not…” The copious use of negatives is just ineffective. If I want a student to stop getting out of their seat, the prompt isn’t “Don’t get out of your seat!”, it’s “Stay in your seat.” Many of the standards I assigned began with “I will not…” which populated my class rules with a list of “nots”.
My psychologist sister recommended that my wife and I use “the positive opposite” when talking to our then-2-year-old daughter. The prompt “use gentle touches” is much more effective than “don’t hit.”
Number 3. It’s a Waste of Time
Writing standards doesn’t matter. It’s a hamster wheel. It’s a thing to keep student is diligently doing something besides bothering the teacher. Invariably, the students that acted out the most were the ones that needed my attention the most. Standards was a cop-out, a way to say “I don’t give a shit what you do, as long as it doesn’t bother me.”
It’s a treadmill, in a class where they should be lifting weights.
This student was Special Ed, but not yet diagnosed. “Mike” spent about 90 minutes over three lunch periods writing this. Those 90 minutes could have been better spent in tutoring, perhaps learning his multiplication tables. I took time that could have been used on academics and made his hand cramp.
Number 4: The Bravado with Which I Assigned Them
Oh, how proud I was with my Standards! With increasing regularity, I sent students out of class to do them, pulled them in at lunch, even sent them home as a homework assignment. I bragged to colleagues that “corporal punishment is not dead!” I had a file folder bulging with them by Christmas, when I used them as gift-wrap for my family’s presents. I was so proud of that stack of student discomfort because it appeared that I was managing my class.
I was not.
Instead, I was telling dozens of students, “This is a better use of your time than math.”
Now, several years later, I never assign standards. When a student needs some time out, I give them a tangle table or an assignment that they haven’t finished yet.
Now, I’m telling them, “You need a break from the class. Use the time productively.”
Which is what I want to communicate to them.