Typhani Harris | September 2014

Where’s the balance? Care vs Prepare

Today’s article is more of a rhetorical question, so I pose it as an open forum style opportunity to generate discourse and provide food for thought as we reflect on our own practices. As educators, we strive to both care VS prepare for our students emotionally for their futures mentally, but this can often become a blurred line. How do we find the balance between ensuring we are caring for our students but in a way that does not hinder their preparation for the future?

I have been observing a new teacher who has been struggling with her theatre class. Due to the often distorted perception of arts education, this class has become a dumping ground for students who are discipline problems, in need additional credits, or are struggling with the traditional educational setting, so needless to say these are not necessarily students who want to be in theater class but a compilation of students who are essentially forced to be there for whatever reason. Through my observations I have seen some great teaching, but the one thing that made me really reflect on my own practice was the subliminal and often subconscious messages we are sending to our students.

The following scenarios have spawned this inquiry:

Scenario 1:

The teacher is trying to conduct a lesson on storyboarding, however the students are rambunctiously talking and misbehaving. There are approximately 6 students paying attention and truly investing the time and attention to the lesson. The teacher poses a question, a student raises his hand and is called upon, as he attempts to respond to the teachers inquiry, the teacher ignores the response to scold other students for being disruptive.

This happens multiple times, and each time the student attempts to follow protocol, raise his hand and wait to be called upon, and each time the teachers’ attention is diverted to tend to the disrespectful students. Eventually the young man stops trying and joins in on the disruptive behavior and is promptly scolded. What message have we sent to this student?

Scenario 2:

Student A is a good student, comes to school, participates, completes homework, is attentive, and hardworking consistently responds to teacher inquiry. Student B rarely attends, chooses not to participate, does not complete assignments, slouches on the chair, causes disruptions, and habitually ignores the teacher.

During one lesson, student A thoughtfully responds to the teacher’s question engaging in critical thinking and metacognition, the response is greeted with monotoned acceptance relayed with a demeanor that the response was expected and the teacher quickly moves on. Student B responds to the next teacher inquiry with a lackadaisical reply,  little thought process, on the verge of being incorrect, yet the teacher praises the effort, compliments the attempt, and explains to the class that this is great work. We have all been here. Our motivated students receive less and less attention because their participation becomes an expectation, whereas our less motivated students receive an overwhelming display of praise in hopes it will keep them participating.

What messages are we sending to our motivated students?

Although I do not have an answer for how to approach either of these scenarios, I know that we all have been placed in these situations at some point during our tenure. We need to be cognizant of these instances, and we need to be caring and preparing equally, albeit it is easier said than done.

As you go through this next week I encourage you to reflect on how, when, and where you offer praise, and more importantly to who? How do you keep your motivated students continually motivated, and how do you respond to your less motivated students?

Next week: Teacher Talk

Since we have five weeks in September, this last article will be an additional teacher talk.

How Do You Grade?

Grading philosophies vary with each teacher, each subject, each school. We have to assess our students, it’s our job…but so often letters and numbers are confused with authentic learning. Just because students receive a C doesn’t mean they didn’t learn, and just because they receive an A doesn’t mean they did. So, how do you grade?

About the Author

Dr. Typhani Harris, author of Putting the Performance in Performance Task and Stop Teaching, brings over 2 decades of educational experience to The Institute. Originally a high school English Language Arts teacher, Dr. Harris transitioned into a dance educator who cultivated an award-winning collegiate style dance education program at a public school in California. Prior to joining the Institute, she was an educational leader and instructional coach specializing in preparing new teachers in secondary urban schools.  As the Executive Director of Academic Affairs, Dr. Harris maintains courses, conferences, and the accredited certification program at The Institute.