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The Snarling Teacher

Note Passing

Democracy in the Classroom

Punished for Laughing

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The Snarling Teacher

While visiting a primary school I had the chance to sit in on a presentation by an outside speaker. While the speaker was giving his presentation there were three teachers in the room and about 50 students. The students were sitting on the floor. I was sitting in the back with one of the teachers, who was a friend of mine. On the left of the group there was one teacher sitting down. On the right there was another standing up. The one on the right was watching the students. Most of the time she looked like she was ready to bite or strangle them. She often had a snarl on her face, especially when they would talk louder than she approved of.

I regret not asking her how she was feeling. I guess I wasn't thinking fast enough, or I didn't know her well enough, or both. Or maybe I was too busy talking to my friend. I wonder what was going through her mind. I wonder what bothered her the most. Several times she really looked like she was going to pounce on the students. They didn't seem too bothered by her, but her snarling face really left an impression on me. I wonder if she was afraid the school would look bad to the speaker. I wondered if she just felt disobeyed or defied or out of control. I could see she felt "angry," but as I have written about in my section on anger, anger is a secondary emotion, so we still have to identify the primary, more specific feelings. Was she afraid the other students couldn't hear? Would she have been just has bothered if all the people who were talking were sleeping instead? Would she have been bothered if they were laying down on the floor with their eyes closed? Would she be bothered because this didn't look good and she believed it was offensive and disrespectful to the speaker? Would she have been bothered if slept while staring forward with their eyes open?

This gives me an idea. What if we gave students masks to wear? With open eyes and smiling faces? This reminds me of a show about somewhere in Africa where workers in the jungle were getting attacked from behind by cougars or something. They found that if they wore masks on the back of their heads the cougars would think they were being watched so they wouldn't attack! So maybe if the students wore the right kinds of masks, they wouldn't be attacked by the teachers!

Anyhow, was this teacher afraid the young people were missing the information? Did this thought bother her because she thought it was really important? If so would she talk about it more in class the next day? Or would she be more likely to talk about how unhappy she was with them and how "naughty" they were. "Naughty" is a word which I have heard used a lot since I have been in this particular country.

Whatever she was thinking of feeling is only a matter of speculation because she never explained any of this to the students she was harshly reprimanding. She just ordered them to be quiet. I wonder why she didn't just walk up to them and whisper, "I am afraid the others can't hear." Or, "I am afraid you will give the school a bad image if you keep talking." Or, "I am afraid you'll miss something important if you keep talking."

On the other hand she could have asked them how interested they were in the presentation. She might have found that they were quite interested and that is why they felt a need to talk about it. Or she might have found they were bored. Either way it would have been valuable information. But few teachers that I have met seem to think along these lines.

She also could have silently given them the time-out symbol. I found this works very well. She also could have stopped the presentation and said something like, "I know this is very interesting for you and you have a lot you want to talk about, and it is very hard for you not to talk, but I want the speaker to feel respected and I want everyone to hear what he is saying, so please make an extra effort to stay quiet. Okay?" She could have also said, "If anyone really doesn't want to listen to the presentation they can come see me and we can see what else we can work out. But I would really prefer if you listen to what the speaker has to say because I think it is really important."

She also could have stopped the presentation and asked the speaker how much he felt respected, or she could have asked him if the talking was bothering him, or she could have explained to him to use a hand signal like time-out whenever he felt it necessary. Then she could have relaxed and listened to the speaker herself instead of stressing herself over the students who were just being human anyhow!

Adults tend to expect unreasonable and unnatural things from young people, then they feel frustrated, angry, disappointed and out of control when their expectations are not met. After all, it is by no means natural for humans under the age of 18 or so to sit still, quietly, indoors. What is natural is for them to be outside running around, playing, socializing and climbing on things. We are asking them to do the unnatural. Let's give them credit for doing it as well as they can manage, instead of frightening them out of being themselves.

Note passing

I am not sure why it bothers some teachers so much when people pass notes. Are the teachers afraid the notes are about them? Do they feel disrespected? Do they feel unimportant? Out of control? I wonder how they feel the first time someone passes a note. I have a better idea what happens after the teacher has said "There will be no passing of notes in my classroom." After the teacher has said this, and then someone passes a note, she feels defied and disobeyed. This really bothers some teachers. Now it is no longer the original offense of passing the note. Now it is the act of defiance or disobedience which is the major crime.

I have been wondering what would happen if students were to write notes complimenting the teacher for a while. Then if the teacher took the note and read it, as teachers seem to like to do, the teacher would be less likely to command people not to write notes. What if they started out the school year writing notes like:

"This teacher is the coolest!"
"I like the teacher's dress."
"That outfit looks good on her."
"This teacher tells funny jokes, doesn't she?"
"I wish this teacher could be my teacher for all my classes."
"This teacher is really fair."
"Have you noticed how this teacher treats us with more respect than the other teachers?"
"This teacher seems to really care about us."
"I wish I had this teacher for my mother."

I really wonder if the teacher would still enforce a "no note passing" rule. If not, then we can be sure that it is not really the passing of notes which troubles the teacher. Instead, we can imagine that it is something about the teacher's own insecurities. In my experience the more insecure the teacher, the more easily he or she feels threatened, disrespected and out of control. Further, when a student is punished, it generally seems more to do with the teacher's insecurities than with the student's particular action. This leads me to feel regret that there is no test for emotional security and self-esteem given to prospective teachers. Such a simple test could make a significant difference in the quality of relationships in the classroom.


A teenager told me once that in her school the boy who got the most votes for the student leader was not selected by the teachers, ostensibly because his grades were not high enough. She thought it was because they just didn't like him because he questioned things, caused trouble, came to the defense of his friends and talked back to the teachers.


Punished for Laughing

Over the years I have talked to several people who told me they were punished in school for laughing. Recently I asked a 14 year old if she had ever gotten punished at her new private school. She said just once... for laughing. She and her friend were putting on some sunglasses and making funny faces because they were bored with the class. She is an honors student, by the way.

I have heard of many other people who were punished for laughing. I wonder how laughing and being happy is such a serious crime one has to be punished for it. It seems to me we want more happy, laughing people in the world, not less.