Category: Reflections on Readings

Reflections on The Awakening

Reflections on The Awakening

I’m working with a bunch of students this summer. One of these students is a voracious reader, so I asked her if she wanted to read a book together. Although she’s only just going into high school, she has a list of books she wants to read to prepare her for AP English Literature in a few years. I selected Chopin’s Awakening from that list. The student and I have both finished reading, and we’ve had several conversations using The Awakening, its plots, and its themes as a springboard for discussion. Here are some reflections.

I chose The Awakening because I knew it was a feminist work. I came to realize this year – particularly during the second semester – that the 8th grade girls I teach would benefit from more feminist influences in their lives. In my first two years teaching at a coed school, I’ve been disheartened by the way many boys treat the girls. But more than that, it saddens me that so many girls don’t realize that they deserve to be treated better, think they have to put up with this treatment to avoid social consequences, or feel powerless to do anything about the way they’re treated. Reading The Awakening with a young woman heading into freshman year gave me an opportunity to explore this issue.

Our first conversation dealt with how trapped Edna Pontellier felt in her marriage. My student commented that Edna didn’t really seem to like her husband or her children very much and that she should pursue something that makes her happy. I asked my student if Edna had any responsibility to her family, if it was okay to simply leave them so that she could be happy. This obviously presented a dilemma – the choice between doing what’s right for yourself and what’s right for your family – that was only amplified by the realities that women faced in the late 19th century. We broadened our conversation to include the current day: Do women now still feel the same pressures that Edna felt? And what responsibilities does a wife in 2017 have to her family? This led us down a particularly interesting path as we talked about the expectations that my student has faced in school. I wondered if she felt like teachers treated her differently because of her sex. I noted that many educators worry that girls are discouraged (implicitly, if not explicitly) from excelling in math and science. Interestingly, my student commented that she saw differing expectations arising from individual character and behavior rather than from sex. For example, she thought that teachers tended to expect better behavior from those who tended to behave better. Her impression is that teachers seem content when certain students (who, in her experience, are always boys) can simply be in class without causing any major disruptions. With a student like her, however, a comparatively minor infraction would be met with a stronger reaction because she so infrequently does anything warranting discipline. Curiously, given her opinion that differing expectations did not derive primarily from sex, she expressed her frustration that girls who swore, for example, met far harsher consequences than boys who swore.

When we talked after finishing the book, my student expressed her displeasure with the ending. Displeasure, actually, may not be a strong enough word. She hated the ending! I asked why, and she told me that she thought Edna’s decision to just walk into the ocean and drown to be a stupid one. Additionally, the ending apparently caught her by surprise, which only added to her negative reaction. I told her that I saw the ending coming. Edna seemed trapped, I told her, and in the late 19th century, Edna did not have a way to escape. Suicide, though tragic, was Edna’s only way to escape her miserable situation. My student suggested that Edna run away with Robert, but she conceded that Robert’s departure made this unlikely. Although we eventually agreed that death probably was Edna’s only escape, my student still characterized Edna’s suicide as stupid. Interestingly, the ending colored my student’s entire opinion of the book. She seemed to quite enjoy it the first time we talked, but upon finishing the book, she could not get past her distaste for the ending.

Altogether, I think this first book discussion went well. We talked as much about our own lives as we did about The Awakening, and I’m entirely satisfied with that. My hope is that by reading this book together and talking about it without delving too deeply into the sorts of literary analysis she does in school, we can contemplate some important issues, have meaningful conversations, and enjoy ourselves. She’s agreed to read another book with me, which we have not yet selected, and I’m excited to see where our conversations lead.

Reflections on Positive Discipline in the Classroom

Reflections on Positive Discipline in the Classroom

This is the first in an ongoing series of posts discussing readings that I complete. Some readings will relate to math or math education, some will relate to education in general, and some will just be books or articles I chose to read.

As an early-career teacher (five years in!), I’m still working to decide how I want my classroom to operate. I previously student taught and taught at private schools, so classroom management wasn’t exactly a pressing issue. Discipline pretty much took care of itself. That’s not the case at my current school: 13- and 14-year-old boys and girls from a multitude of backgrounds present challenges and opportunities that I didn’t have when I taught sophomores and juniors at an all-boys private school. Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE the students I work with! I’m just aware that I need to continue developing my classroom management skills.

“You see, what I want most is a class full of happy people excitedly doing math together.” Jon Barker

My mentor teacher included that line in his syllabus, and it’s from that sentence that my philosophy toward classroom management (and teaching, in general) comes. I’m not particularly interested in rules. Nor do I care much about control or silence or punishment or any number of other things that people tend to associate with classroom management. I care about learning. I care about solutions. I care about moving together in a positive direction. I care about creating the best environment for every child to develop as students and as young men and women.

The description of Positive Discipline in the Classroom (ISBN-13: 978-0770436575) resonated with me because of its focus on precisely what I value as a teacher. The subtitle says it all: “Developing Mutual Respect, Cooperation, and Responsibility in Your Classroom.” I found some good ideas and gained some good insight from the book. Here are my highlights.

Focus on working with students to solve problems.┬áPositive Discipline emphasizes understanding why students do what they do and collaborating with them to develop solutions to whatever issues occur in class. I’ve always pushed myself to seek out root causes for student behavior (e.g. Is the student discouraged by a lack of success in class? Does the student have something stressful going on outside the classroom? Are we moving too quickly or not quickly enough for the student?). Many times I ask students for suggestions on how we can move forward, what we can do to address issues and solve problems. I’m proud of this, but I need to take it to the next level. I need to consistently push students to take ownership of the problems we face and the proposed solutions. This is probably my top goal for the upcoming school year.

Connection before correction. Caring about students is incredibly important, but it’s not enough just to care. Students need to know that the teacher cares about them. I’ve come a long way in this regard. It’s not always easy for me to share with students how much I value their unique contributions to the school, but this year, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone to do exactly that. It turns out that sharing with students and letting them know that I want the best for them IS my comfort zone! I wrote countless notes and letters to students this year to provide encouragement, offer support, or just to brighten up their days. This was not easy; it was time-consuming and taxing both mentally and emotionally. But it was SO important. I know that I will start out the year fairly shy and reserved, but I’m going to push myself even harder this year to do more to connect with my students.

Classroom jobs. I had already been toying with the idea of assigning classroom jobs. The authors suggest quite a few jobs, which I totally understand, but I think I’m going to have only one or two. Essentially, I’m thinking about a “Class Captain,” a student (or maybe two) who has a few specific responsibilities. I’m not yet entirely sure what those responsibilities will be, but here are a few ideas: making sure everyone picks up any trash from the floor before class ends; making sure everyone returns any borrowed supplies (rulers, markers, etc.) before class ends; telling me when we’ve been spending WAY too much time on a problem and we need to move on; letting me know when a student is missing. This role would rotate weekly with the randomized seating I use. I obviously need to figure out exactly how I want this role to work, but I love the idea of empowering students to lead.

There’s a lot more to Positive Discipline in the Classroom than I’ve mentioned here. I don’t claim to be 100% behind everything in the book, but I think it’s a worthwhile read for any teacher interested in improving his/her classroom management.