Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Beware the Ides of March

Today is March 15. For those who might have a good knowledge of history, it is also known as the Ides of March. Often, the quote “Beware the Ides of March” is heard on this day because Julius Caesar was killed by Brutus today. However, in looking at today, perhaps others should pay attention to this fateful warning.

In looking at the news, Saddam Hussein has taken the stand in his own trial. While the judge has gone ahead and closed the courtroom off to the public, one can only imagine what kind of testimony Saddam is giving. If his outlandish actions continue today, any chance of him not being sentenced to death will quickly go out the window.

In Alexandria, Zacarias Moussaoui was hoping that federal prosecutors had made a mistake when they had, according to sources, coached witnesses on their testimony. As much as Moussaoui had hoped that his sentence would not end in death, the judge ruled that he can still face the death penalty.

However, while we have all of these things going on in the world, I look towards my own Ides of March. As many of you know by now, I am a teacher. Last Friday, my school held an In-Service Day, which allowed us to do workshops and get a few better ideas in how to teach different materials. The logic behind it is that when it comes to our classes, you never know if someone else is doing something you can take and make it into your own.

The theme of this conference was “Engaging the Students.” Instead of having a key note speaker, it was decided there would be a panel of teachers who would discuss certain issues and the rest of us would watch them. In this particular panel discussion, there were five things I could not help but notice as problems teachers are facing:

1.) Students are more technologically sound than the teachers and are therefore more open to cheating.
2.) Students demand instant gratification for anything they do.
3.) Teachers are facing a student body with a limited attention span that does not allow for a good learning environment.
4.) Parents, like their children, demand special attention, especially through email. If replies are not sent immediately, parents believe teachers are being rude.
5.) Teachers find themselves becoming embattled in their own classrooms by added pressure and lack of support (not necessarily in all cases) from parents and administration

Fact of the Matter

The fact of the matter on this issue is this: teachers deserve more respect for the things they have to put up with. An examination of each of the five points I listed should give an insight into what seems to be wrong.

Students being more technologically sound than their teachers shouldn’t come as a surprise, namely because the number of younger teachers is far lower than that of older teachers. As a result, students can try to go ahead and use the internet to go ahead and do their work for them. I know from personal experience that a couple of my own students have tried that in the past. They seem to forget that when it comes to copying and pasting articles from the web will be noticeable, not to mention the level of intelligence that is put into each article.

When it comes to gratification, students seem to want that all the time. It is as if, “I just breathed, I deserve a reward.” In dealing with my own students, there seems to be a strong desire on the part of the students to get anything and everything they can as a reward from me. Is hard work and the success of doing a job well done not reward enough?

As for a lack of attention, video games and fast paced forms of entertainment has created a generation of students who need to have new stimulus introduced to them every few minutes. Am I the only one who misses the good old days of where some forms of entertainment took time? I still like the little plastic army men and collect them to form two huge armies. When it is “go time” for the battle, I take the better part of a week to conclude it. The advantage of doing that is that all of these things take time. You learn how to pace yourself. If students are taught to pace themselves, they can go through classes and not get bored by the material.

One of the greatest, but also most damning tool teachers have to deal with is email. As a resource, this tool can be very beneficial because teachers can notify parents of a student’s misbehavior in the classroom. The problem with email is that teachers can get swamped with multiple emails and have to determine which ones are the most important to reply to. In effect, it is like triage. If a parent does not like the fact that the teacher takes a little time to reply, they get mad at the teacher.

Finally, teachers find themselves being attacked on virtually all sides when it comes to teaching. With students, parents, and administration coming down on them, the poor teacher decides that anything is better than having to deal with this. While this is not always the case with every school and parent, there are some schools where this happens.

So what causes all these problems? Well, there are multiple areas to look at. First, the lack of attention is something discipline can take care of. In addition to that, a good teacher will be able to keep the attention of their students with different lessons that can appeal to everyone. Second, parent/teacher/administration relationships will have their ups and downs.

But in the end, the big cause for the problems we have today when it comes to the students is that fact that the students are being coddled to the point that they don’t feel they need to take responsibility for anything. If the elementary school teachers do not teach students how to be individuals and learn to not only take responsibility for their actions, but also how to be independent, then the students will expect to be treated the same way they were in elementary school in high school. Reality: in high school we are preparing the students for college. If the students do not learn how to figure things out on their own and be individuals, then they will get eaten alive in the real world.

The whole idea that a child’s self esteem can be damaged if a teacher stands up to the students and reminds them that their place is as the learner, then what happens to the teacher? Answer: the teacher loses all authority in the classroom. Self esteem can be found in other areas.

However, parents are also to blame for some of the problems teachers have to deal with. The problem here is the breakdown of the family unit in this country. If there are parents who work all the time and never see their kids, they are not always going to be aware of what their “darling” children are really up to. Instead, they will side with their kids over the teacher and argue that the teacher is in the wrong.

Let me tell all the parents who read this something right now. YOUR KIDS ARE REALLY THAT BAD!!!!!!!!! YES, THEIR INTELLIGENCE IS OFTEN IN QUESTION! (Ok, I will admit that one is a stretch, but not by much.) If a student does not know how to spell “strict”, “schedule”, “Lincoln”, and “intervene” there is a problem. The most important thing teachers need is the support of the parents in the classroom.

So why did I talk about my own Ides of March? Well, if you haven’t figured it out yet, EVERYDAY is my Ides of March and every student is my Brutus.


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