“Human progress is neither automatic or inevitable…. every step towards the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concerns of dedicated individuals.”
– Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In a phone conversation, I shared recently with a participant from one of the Cooperative Discipline workshops I’ve been facilitating this month of March that the true litmus test for a Christian educator is how often the person of Jesus Christ is permeating in and through us to influence the way we manage our classrooms and work with our students. How often am I responding to my challenges in a manner that reflects Christ? As Jesus looked upon the multitudes with compassion, how often is my look one of compassion or condemnation? Jesus saw them as helpless and harassed, do I see my students that way or hopeless and harassing? In a power struggle, do I respond with grace, wisdom and the intent to diffuse the struggle by allowing grace to prevail, or am I attacking, threatening, being demanding, forceful and making use of punishment and anger as the means to manage and maintain order consistently?
There is a proverb that teaches that a gentle word can break a bone. The New Testament encourages us to allow our words to be full of grace and seasoned with salt when we speak and to be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. It took me 9 years to get to the place where I could celebrate my success in being the classroom teacher I aspired to become in how I worked with all of my students. I was good at working with students I got along with and good at punishing students I did not get along with early in my career. I made it my mission to become balanced in how I was seeking to operate within my classroom and pushed myself to improve in working with ‘challenging’ students.
Working with power students today is still a work in progress for me as it was many years ago, but what I see happening less and less is allowing myself to get intensely engaged, by taking the bait, when a students seeks to engage in a power struggle. I am learning better to separate the deed from the doer and only look to redirect the student instead of just solely seeking to punish them. The intent to implement consequences for misconduct is still part of managing my classroom, because correction is a vital part of teaching boundaries and reinforcing expectations. Correction alone, however, is an unbalanced management style within the classroom.
Even for the ‘challenging’ student, I should look to employ supportive strategies that encourage the student to join hands with me in working together to fulfill the greater need of feeling capable, connected and contributing, making use of their personal power in a more constructive positive way. 19 years in the system of education, I am learning progress for me is as critical as it is for my students. Learning to strategize how I am planning to manage my students is as important as to how I will create and present the lesson. A classroom teacher is a manager of people. The lesson plan alone will not help me accomplish this. If I want them to want to be in my classroom and to be engaged and cooperative, it requires something of me. “Where there is no struggle, there is no progress.” – Frederick Douglass
May God bless you and help you to continue to make progress that allows you to teach, influence and inspire learning.