0022: Don’t give up on relinquishing control to your students
I feel like I’m beating a dead horse suggesting that education should look different. I think we all know that. The world is different, so education and education practices should follow suit. In the college classroom teachers are taught to teach using different methods, and to use cooperative learning, and other methods that fall within best teaching practices. Many teachers carry these methods into their classrooms and use them very effectively. This isn’t always the case. Many teachers, myself included walk into a survival situation. The kids have often been mistreated and neglected academically (never been engaged) so their behavior is less than favorable. The schools use punitive discipline and authoritarian control. Any attempt at stepping away from the existing rigid power structure comes with great risk. Kids who’ve never experienced freedom will react negatively at first. Suddenly they’re in control and have been denied any sort of freedom. So teachers run the risk of “losing control” of their classrooms. And, principals are looking, in many cases, at classroom management— a term that has been misconstrued to having a quiet classroom. With this in mind teachers often try these less authoritarian methods once. The kids go wild and then the pendulum must swing to the authoritarian side with thoughts of how “these kids just can’t handle it, we’ll just sit in our desks, and I will lecture”. Something like that. Of course, we find a few months into our lecturing that our students aren’t learning as well as they should be. They’re not engaged. They’re not being active in their own learning. So, we arrive at a great conundrum. I can have classroom control, but students won’t really be learning, or I can lose control of my class. And, for many that’s as far as the thought process ever goes, before settling into an ineffective routine of authoritarian rule with little concern beyond depositing facts into fearful students.
The alternative involves some patience and scaffolding. Rather than setting aside those “student-centered” methods that were learned in college and in workshops we must remember that those great methods must be taught and practiced. If a learner has been cultured to be a passive recipient of meaningless information for x number of years, then suddenly participating in a classroom that requires problem-solving, collaboration, and active learning will come as quite the cognitive shock resulting in all sorts of bizarre behavior. There must be a transition. New skills must be taught: listening, speaking, working together, taking turns, conversation, and so forth. If a high school student has never worked in a group, then it will be a learning process. The group work must start simple, and become more involved as the year progresses. Small group and independent learning require students to be exhibit a level of internal control that is in direct opposition to the authoritarian nature of many schools and classrooms. It is important to remember that change takes time. It is difficult to change directions as a teacher, and the same goes for students. Build trust, and don’t be afraid to relinquish control gradually to your students. Their learning and future well being depends on it.