Saturday, 15 August 2009

La la land and netherworld

Dear Craig,

Thank you for your reaction.

I owe you an apology. I commented on your advertising of an e-book in which you set out your system to guarantee class room discipline. I did so by choosing one item out of many and I wrote a snide comment on it. That's not a very nice thing to do and, given your comment, it clearly raised your hackles.

It would have been better if I had had a look at your career and background before funnelling my thoughts through the tunnel of my vision. I would have discovered the rationale behind your advices to inexperienced teachers. A teacher who earns his living at a Los Angeles high school and who has taught at Los Angeles County Probation Camps fights in the trenches of a war. He may call a spade a spade and use it as as it was used in the trenches of the Great War: more effective than a bayonet in a man-to-man fight.

I guess I would certainly have to adapt my teaching to a situation in which I can expect a makeshift knife in my back at any time.

So I apologize.

Having said this in all sincerity, I will not budge on my stance. Though based on a man's rich experience and keen observations in the classroom, very recognizable for a fellow teacher, even from abroad, your conclusions do not cut ice with me.

I work in The Netherlands, in a rural area at a comprehensive school which was rated last year the safest school in the district by external standards. Parents and students are mostly cooperative though once in a while a father may be disgruntled or a student may respond by saying "Klootzak", which is the Dutch equivalent for "Go F*** Yourself". No riots at school, no fighting, any bully will be addressed immediately. So I work in what you call "La la land."

La la land does exist. In fact it is not limited to some school in The Netherlands, where I happen to work. I have visited schools in Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, England, and the United States (Michigan). All these schools seemed to be located in La la land. They resemble my school environment in the way teachers and students communicate. All those schools offer attentive, appreciative environments where an education is the reward

In my post I denunciated an example of your advice: in La la land such a teacher behaviour is completely over the top. Here is another quote that I find extremely strange:

"This is all a judgement call–do what you think will help your classroom environment in the long run. In other words, if a student really likes coming after school to talk to you, then chatting with them isn’t going to help your case. "

You see, I like chatting informally with students, before, during and after my lessons, and I know it is helping my case a lot.

In my La la land there is a clear awareness that any group of young adolescents easily can turn into a pack of wolves when they lack a leader. Inexperienced teachers must learn to call the shots and they must learn to do so using their own personality and style. To my experience as a coach prescribing young colleagues a rigid system of techniques is useless. For example: non-verbal posturing may contradict an impeccably implemented technique which makes the teacher ridiculous in the students' eyes.

Expelled from the classroom

La la land is not located in fairyland. Of course I cannot always avoid punishment. You seem to punish a great deal by detaining a lot of students for fifteen minutes? In Dutch education a 15 minutes detention zone after school hours is just risible. One hour is the minimum to make sure that the peer group will not wait for the culprit to bike home together. A favourite punishment is sweeping the school's premises. Especially in autumn that can take a lot of time. Helping the caretaker with the vacuum cleaner heightens environmental awareness. Oversleeping in the morning too often means reporting for duty half an hour before the first lesson for a full week, just to learn to set the alarm clock. This is all done in a concerted effort by all staff to keep anyone sharp towards our targets. It helps the inexperienced teacher above all. He needs support.

I would like to end with a favourite quote of yours:

"This is the lesson: never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense. Never yield to force; never yield to the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy."
(Winston Churchill)

At least that's something we agree on. Albeit, you seem to emphasize the unbending rule, while I prefer to look for the honour and good sense.

Kind regards,


Anonymous said...

What advice would you give elementary teachers about dealing with students that are throwing tempter tantrums and melting down in class. I'm speaking to teachers in a couple of days and would like your thoughts. Thanks. Kurt B. Texas

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Anonymous said...

Honestly, I love to see how you handle a normal american class. I can't imagine a Dutch classroom being anything like one. Your post really just reveals your ignorance of what American schools are like.
Also, it can show cultural insensitivity as the socio-economic status of americans and what that entails is much different than the dutch. Yes, there are many great schools in America, but being at those schools is a privilege not afforded to many people.
Also, I can imagine an american kid saying go fuck yourself being alot different than a dutch kid saying that.