This is the flip side of the argument against conformity.
Recently, I had a conversation with an old friend from my childhood who reminded me that so many of the people we both knew didn't understand me. They thought I was too opinionated and outspoken and constantly tried to change me. But he understood me and accepted who I was. And we were good friends and glad that we had reconnected after so many years of going our separate ways.
As I wrote in my previous post, I have come to accept that side of myself and often find myself standing up and speaking up for things that need changed. I am okay with being a non-conformist although sometimes, it is a lonely road.
But, I must admit that there is an appropriate time for conformity, obedience and self-restraint. It is what keeps society peaceful.
In fact, as a teacher, I ask my students to conform, to be obedient and to practice self-restraint. It is the only way that we, as a class can learn and make music together. It is my job as a teacher to help students learn appropriate behavior in my classroom and to understand what is expected of them.
I purposely keep the segments of my lessons short and engaging, quickly changing "state of being" every 5 to 7 minutes - going from sitting still while I am direct teaching, to singing, to dancing, to playing a game with the song we learned, to playing instruments, to using technology, etc.
I know that young children have a hard time sitting still, listening, controlling their outbursts, conforming to expectations. I remember what it was like as a child. It was nearly impossible not to blurt out a sudden thought or answer! Or to sit in one position for a long time! Or to keep my opinions to myself!
The sad truth is, teachers themselves cannot conform or show self-restraint! They are some of the worst at conventions or meetings and talk or text or get up and walk around while the address is given! Most teachers would not appreciate if the speaker would chide them on their rudeness for talking to their neighbor or give out some sort of punishment for their lack of attention.
Yet, I hear teachers screaming at their kids, belittling them for "bad behavior" and treating them as if they were little devils who purposely disrupted their classes and did "bad" things. Ask them specifically what the student did and you might get a response like "they didn't raise their hand," "they can't sit still," "they talk in the hallway."
As teachers, we put a heavy burden of guilt on our students when we make them feel like they are terrible people because they can't control their behavior. Ask yourself - if that student was at recess or lunch, would their behavior be "bad?" No. Of course not. It is just inappropriate at the moment in the middle of my class when I am trying to get a point across!
Dale Carnegie in his book, How to Win Friends and Influence People, made a very powerful statement that strikes home with me.
"If you and I want to stir up resentment tomorrow that may rankle across the decades and endure until death, just let us indulge in a little stinging criticism - no matter how certain we are that it is justified.
"When dealing with people, let us remember we are not dealing with creatures of logic. We are dealing with creatures of emotion, creatures bristling with prejudices and motivated by pride and vanity."
And he finished by saying "Any fool can criticize, condemn and complain - and most fools do."
I certainly don't want my students to remember me for yelling at them, criticizing them, or making them feel like they are bad.
I believe that what we should be teaching students isn't total conformity, obedience or self-restraint, but how to discern what kind of behavior is appropriate for different settings! This won't be accomplished by belittling them, criticizing them or yelling and scolding. Bullying a student isn't acceptable and yet that is what many teachers are trying to do with the goal of making them conform.
Try a positive approach. Get the students on your team. Work together.
- Consciously tell them that they have 30 seconds to talk to their neighbor about the point you just made or a paragraph they just read. Then on a pre-designated signal, call them back to full attention to continue the lesson.
- Consciously give them a chance to stand up and stretch or to jog in place.
- Take them into the hallway at an off-time, especially after an intensely focused time and have them practice walking up and down the hallway without talking.
- If they blurt out an answer, rather than humiliate that child (which only makes the behavior worse), say that you are going to ask another question and everyone is to blurt out the answer. Then make a point of saying that you couldn't tell who gave the correct answer. I often cover my ears and fake scream (not too loud!) and say that my brain hurts when I try to listen to that many people all at once! Then ask them to practice raising their hand for the next question.
- Keep your lesson segments short and come up with engaging ways of presenting the material. Change it up and they will stay interested!
And most importantly, practice procedures every day, rather than yelling at them when they forget! Because forget they will. They won't remember your procedures or develop good habits if you only resort to yelling. You will have to practice throughout the year, not just at the beginning or just after they return from winter holiday. Don't get mad. It is your job. It isn't their fault if they forget what to do if it has been several weeks since you stopped the class in the middle of something and challenged them to getting the procedure right!
Really, I am asking you to look at things from their point of view. Kind of like the Golden Rule. How would you want to be treated if the tables were turned?