Monday, March 25, 2013

Who's really in charge in the classroom?

I seem to always pull for the underdog. I love movies such as Hoosiers, Rocky, and Remember the Titans. The story of Helen Keller moves me. I pull for the contestants on shows like American Idol and America's Got Talent who have the rags-to-riches stories.

In recent news, the story of Florida Gulf Coast University is a cinderella story in the NCAA men's basketball tournament. They beat Georgetown (No. 2 seed) Friday night, then defeated San Diego State last night, making them the first No. 15 seed to ever win two games in the tournament and make it to the Sweet 16.
Florida Gulf Coast players Eddie Murray (No. 23) and Chase Fieler (No. 20) celebrate their win Sunday over San Diego State. The game was played at the  Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.

Today I want to share an excerpt from an article by Martin Haberman I'm reading, titled The Pedagogy of Poverty Versus Good Teaching. (The bolded phrases are by me.) Until recently, I had never heard of Martin Haberman. I think we both shared a passion for the underdog, the overlooked, the unexpected victor. We also believe in (and the research proves the importance of) the power of a teacher.

From Mr. Haberman....

For any analysis of pedagogical reform to have meaning in urban schools, it is necessary to understand something of the dynamics of the teacher/student interactions in those schools. The authoritarian and directive nature of the pedagogy of poverty is somewhat deceptive about who is really in charge. Teachers seem to be in charge, in that they direct students to work on particular tasks, allot time, dispense materials, and choose the means of evaluation to be used. It is assumed by many that having control over such factors makes teachers "decision makers" who somehow shape the behavior of their students.
But below this facade of control is another, more powerful level on which students actually control, manage, and shape the behavior of their teachers. Students reward teachers by complying. They punish by resisting. In this way students mislead teachers into believing that some things "work" while other things do not. By this dynamic, urban children and youth effectively negate the values promoted in their teachers' teacher education and undermine the nonauthoritarian predispositions that led their teachers to enter the field. And yet, most teachers are not particularly sensitive to being manipulated by students. They believe they are in control and are responding to "student needs," when, in fact, they are more like hostages responding to students' overt or tacit threats of noncompliance and, ultimately, disruption.
It cannot be emphasized enough that, in the real world, urban teachers are never defined as incompetent because their "deprived," disadvantaged," "abused," "low-income" students are not learning. Instead, urban teachers are castigated because they cannot elicit compliance. Once schools made teacher competence synonymous with student control, it was inevitable that students would sense who was really in charge.
The students' stake in maintaining the pedagogy of poverty is of the strongest possible kind: it absolves them of responsibility for learning and puts the burden on the teachers, who must be accountable for making them learn. In their own unknowing but crafty way, students do not want to trade a system in which they can make their teachers ineffective for one in which they would themselves become accountable and responsible for what they learn. It would be risky for students to swap a "try and make me" system for one that says, "Let's see how well and how much you really can do".
Recognizing the formidable difficulty of institutionalizing other forms of pedagogy, it is still worthwhile to define and describe such alternative forms. The few urban schools that serve as models of student learning have teachers who maintain control by establishing trust and involving their students in meaningful activities rather than by imposing some neat system of classroom discipline. For genuinely effective urban teachers, discipline and control are primarily a consequence of their teaching and not a prerequisite condition of learning. Control, internal or imposed, is a continuous fact of life in urban classrooms - but, for these teachers, it is completely interrelated with the learning activity at hand.

Each of us will get a different message from this excerpt. I would love for you to leave a comment with your thoughts, questions, and take-aways.

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