#TeachingIs: 50 Shades of Grey

I bet that got your attention.

I bet that got your attention.

I hope you don’t think I’m referring to those shades of grey. But I kinda hope I made a couple of you blush. Nor am I referring to how we strive to align our work to policies that can closely be described as sadistic. I’m not even referring to the our tendency to over-extend ourselves to the point where we could fairly be called masochistic.

Rather, I am talking about the truth that there is rarely, if ever, anything in a teacher’s work that is black or white.

In fact, 50 shades probably aren’t enough to cover the panoply of options and responsibilities we have in any given situation. And embedded within those options are more options about how to execute whatever we decide: Are we looking for a compromise along a continuum? A well-maintained flow between the ends of a polarity? Do we seek to manage or solve a problem we face? Two examples from the other morning illustrate the gradients we move on.

First, I attended a voluntary faculty meeting about discipline. It was a positive, solutions-oriented conversation. Comments and suggestions ran the gamut between the usual end members of 1) Holding students accountable for their choices, and 2) meeting our responsibility to create a climate in which good choices are their own reward. We discussed the differences between student behavior in the classroom and in common areas. We touched on overt defiance versus quiet, non-disruptive refusal to work. We commented on the difference between leaders and followers. That short meeting, which barely scratched the surface of school discipline, displayed dozens of shades of grey.

After the meeting my first class started. I handed out progress reports and went over each of the remaining assignments for the current unit. Then, I told my classes that doing well on these assignments was their only chance to bring up their grade. Of course, as classes went to work, students with Ds and Fs called me over to ask how they could bring up their grades. My inner voice was screaming, “WHAT DID I JUST SAY!?!

But seriously, how does a teacher make sure everyone is getting the information – content or otherwise – that they need? A black or white solution, like, “I’m only going to say this once, and if you don’t hear it, you pay the price!” carries its own cost. But can I never say, “You’ve had abundant opportunities to meet and discuss your grade. I’m afraid time has has run out?” Thankfully, there is no shortage of strategies between being uncompromising and enabling.

As an aside, note that I’m not talking about the widely repeated claim (which I will dispute some day in another post) that we make thousands of decisions a day. Rather, I’m talking about the myriad tones that a single decision can take.

To wrap up, navigating those myriad tones is one of fun and challenging aspects of what #TeachingIs. And navigating one’s options within and beyond the classroom with intention and refection and success is a hallmark of accomplished teaching.

By the way, it’s Friday, which means movie night. Anyone know if 50 Shades of Grey is on Netflix?

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  • LizPrather

    SPOT ON

    Fantastic post – and a point I try to make to all teachers in training who come across my path: don’t be tone deaf!  Understand the power of the nuanced dance with self-knowledge and student-knowledge.  Consider all the myrid of steps between uncompromising and enabling and knowing that the path you choose for this student and this day will not be the same as that student on that day.   

  • Lorribev

    Feedback on 50 shades

    Clever post! You touched on many big picture items in teaching at present, that impacts on our daily lives in schools. Student discipline, student engagement, teacher overload, assessment, student-self direction… Issues common to us all. Collaboration- time forlearning with and from each other improves school climate, classroom climate, teacher dispositions… Schools that have put organisational strategies in place to ensure this occurs are reaping the multiple rewards, ultimately improved student outcomes.