Thursday, February 18, 2010

Classroom Negotiation

I am a college teacher. It is something unusual for me to be handling the same class section for three terms in a row.

The first term with them was manageable enough for me. The space between me and my students were never violated. We could go through the lessons within the time frame, and the class could demonstrate learning in terms of their performance.

The second term with the same section did not not need further introduction. We knew each other, and I could sense that our relationship is at the personal level. Some students had violated my private space, in groups they would hug me when I entered and left the class. This class performed least compared to the other classes I handled. Their formative assessment scores were low, and their grades as well.

The third term is another story unfolding. Things has started to get chaotic - a poor picture of classroom management. My students during lectures had not been paying full attention during the discussion and lecture presentation. Most of them would like to sit at the far ends of the classroom. Most of them would cram in doing their Math assignments for their next class. In my face they would do that, and while I talk they would as well talk.

That was three weeks past the start of the third term. I let them did what they wanted because I thought that I should just let them be who they are. I felt the burden on my shoulder. I felt that what I was doing was not so effective. I tried to fill the room with my voice, to get my the lesson content through their ears, while many of them busied themselves in off tasks talks with their seatmates. I felt so exhausted and drained in that particular class, and I just don't have enough energy to move to my other class. My voice, hoarse, my throat tired, my head oblivious of what's going on. There was just something wrong, I thought.

That tinkled in my mind through several nights. I changed strategy. I made the lessons more multisensory, and engaged them in activities. Yet, those could only hold the order through the activities of engagement. At processing time, I am overwhelmed by their energy. Everybody is just talking, some meaningless, more funny but senseless.

The breaking point, Alas. I got filled to the brim. Asking my students to rephrase, paraphrase and infer from Descartes famous quotation "I think therfore I am", one student mumbled: "I think... we should stop this non-sense". The assasin just got loose and pulled the trigger right into my temple of consciousness. The bang was killing, the message in blood red wall wrote: "SOMETHING IS WRONG". I thought, I was not making sense at all.

I got to pull my pride back, put myself again to where I should be. So I delivered a litany. "That was just disrespectful. If everything was non-sense, you are free to leave this room. Out and find what is sensible for you that you may find. I think, that makes the difference of a man from other lower creatures. Man's capacity to think makes him superior in this world. This is my world. You may have your world, but I don't want to be in that kind of world you have. If you want to be in my world, be here and nowhere else".

Silence. Five minutes of that restful moment and the bell rang. Off I left the room.

The next meeting. That student came to me, admitted his fault and apologized. I told him that he can only consider the apology he asked granted when he could show some change. A week after then, he did show some interest and participated more meaningfully.

But the problem isn't over yet. Througout some lessons we had, they could only pay attention for a few minutes. I understand the empirical data on attention span, and because of that understanding, I try to be more conversational in the approach of delivering the lesson. I saw the same pattern of behavior of disengagement, loss of order, voices everywhere.

Last monday, I had to deal with the problem, I had to open the negotiation table and set things straight them. This is what I never really did - to engage them in setting out the class house rule.