The biggest mistake you can make? Really?

My apologies for the long delay between posts!  As much as I wish I had a good excuse, I’m on holidays and am feeling a bit out of the loop so I haven’t felt like I’ve had much to contribute lately.  But I read a very *interesting* article referred to on John Spencer’s blog the other day and it really struck a nerve with me.  Feel free to click through to it to see if I’m being unfair, but it deals with the mistakes that teachers make on the first day of school, the main one being “going back on your word”.  Michael Linsin (the author) sums it up in this way:

The mistake of course is ever going back on your word. If you say it, if you ask your students of it, then you must back it up with action. Otherwise, your students aren’t going to trust you, believe in you, have reason to listen to you, or be inspired by you. What they will do, though, is run right over you.  The first day of school—when you have your students’ rapt attention and when their minds are open and they’re eager to do well—is the one chance you have to get things right from the beginning (emphasis mine).

But really? In the scenario he mentions in the article (which even he admits is pretty harmless), I think that focussing on this so-called mistake is a bit ridiculous.  I think that it’s rather overblown to say that you forget a procedure once or allow the students a little latitude on the odd occasion and the classroom will be ruined forever.  I may be inexperienced (and possibly naive), but I would think that there are far worse things you can do in classroom management that would alienate students and turn the classroom environment into a hostile place. Being consistent is important, don’t get me wrong, but I think there’s enough pressure on teachers without putting all the emphasis on a perfect first day.  I really like the way John puts it:

If you state a procedure and forget to follow through, it’s not quite the same as lying. It’s forgetting. The next day, a simple reminder will help fix the situation. “Hey guys, we didn’t leave correctly and follow the procedures. Part of that is my fault for failing to pay attention. However, I need you to be self-directed and learn the procedures yourselves.” Then follow through the second day and again on the third, fourth and fifth day. 

Let’s all take a deep breath and relax!

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2 responses to “The biggest mistake you can make? Really?

  1. I think he’s setting an impossible, and less than worthwhile, standard. It’s important to consider why you have the rules in the first place. You ask them to line up to leave to stop them stampeding out the door when the bell rings while you’re still mid-sentence. If the underlying reason for the rule is being appropriately respected, who cares if the rule itself isn’t? On the other hand, when they do get up to walk out while you’re mid-sentence, a commanding “SIT DOWN” often works even with year 9 on a Friday afternoon. But I suppose if you want to be a rule enforcing teacher, he’s right. I don’t – I don’t enforce rules like that with my own children, and I don’t like doing it to other people’s kids.

    • I agree! I think he is advocating the kind of classroom where the teacher has to have control over everything and it is dominated by rules. I can see his point on the principle of consistency, but I agree with you that if the reason for the rule is being satisfied why tie ourselves up in knots enforcing every tiny aspect of the rule?

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