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Field Notes, 3/6

njohnson's picture

Math Centers (lesson on how to read a clock): The students are broken up into their "center groups" (groups of 5-6 kids). For math, there are three different centers: one group works on math activities on the computer. Another group works at the back table with Ms. B doing activities in the workbook. And the last group works with me on a worksheet and then play games of Concentration, matching up pictures of clock faces with their written out time in numbers. V is completing his worksheet and yells to Ms. Barba "A is making fun of me, saying that I'm going on a date with M." A complains that it's not true and that is was really another classmate, N, who was saying that. Ms. B says that V and A should not sit together and that A needs to keep her comments to herself because she has been getting into a lot of trouble lately with gossipping. Right as Center Time is finishing up, the students are asked to return to their seats in order to move onto Writing. A and N are sitting next to each other when suddenly N yells "Ms. B, A is trying to stab me with her pencil!". A calmly says that that's not true. Ms. B yells "cut it out, A. You've been having a bad time with lying lately and I can tell when you're lying. Show me your hands." A shows her hands to Ms. B and her hands are empty. It's important to note that Ms. B is standing on the other side of the table where A is seated while this is happening. Nothing is physically forceful in the sense that Ms. B is not in physical contact with A. A says "I wasn't poking him" and Ms. B says that she doesn't believe her and comes and looks underneath her table to find a pencil by her feet. Ms. B asks why there is a pencil by her feet and A says that she doesn't know. Ms. B thinks that A is lying and "finds it strange that there is pencil by her feet." A says that she didn't put it there and doesn't know how it got there. Ms. B says, "I find it strange that there is a pencil anywhere but in your hand or on the table. We know not to keep pencils in our laps or on the floor because it's not safe." She then asks the class if we ever keep pencils in our laps and the class responds "No." A keeps trying to defend herself quietly but it's not working. I am standing behind her so I cannot see her facial expression. Ms. B's tone is firm and loud but not yelling. She sends A over to the time out corner so she can sit and have a time out away from N. She continues with her lesson of prepping students for their vocabulary quiz that they are about to take. A sits with her back turned to the rest of the class and, I would assume, is crying because she has draped her jacket over her head and keeps wiping her face. When she returns to her table after taking the spelling test from her time out spot, the area under her eyes is swollen and red, as if she had been rubbing them. 

This incident was particularly striking to me because it pertains to the theme of discipline, something that I, as well as the rest of my group, have been thinking about a lot throughout my field placement. As I mentioned in my first set of field notes, I can only imagine how difficult it must be for teachers to create their own form of disciplining that aligns not only with their own beliefs as people but also with the school's policies. In addition, it seems that teachers reach a certain point when they feel like they have to intervene in some sort of disagreement or argument between students because it may become unsafe either emotionally or physically. But in doing so, does the teacher have to take sides? I've been thinking a lot about how on a social level, there is so much that the teacher can't see because he or she is only one person and God knows there are about one million things going on in a classroom at once. But when a situation like the one I described above arises, all a teacher can work off of is the student's behavioral history because the teacher was not actually present to confirm whether or not the accusations are true. When this happens though, often students get blamed for things they truly did not do and their feelings can be very hurt. Additionally, this can cause a rupture in the relationship of trust built between teacher and student. In many ways, being wrongfully blamed for something is sort of an inevitable fact of life. It will happen at one point or another. But saying things like "I don't trust you" to a child must effect the relationship, even if only momentarily or in a small way. 

While in general I agree with Ms. B's form of disciplining her students and maintaining some semblance of order in the classroom (which is, very peaceful for the most part) I did find this incident to be troublesome. Were I to be in Ms. B's position one day, I would hope that I would be able to make time to pull that child aside, either in the moment or after the fact, and talk to them about what was going on. All kids lie and it will be difficult to know when they are being honest but I also think that disciplining someone in front of all of their peers can be a really demeaning position that does more harm than good and actually stifles learning because it can spark a vindictive attitude. I would like to be able to have private one on one conversations that would hopefully allow for dialogue on both parts and allow both teacher and student to explain themselves in terms of what happened in the situation and why the teacher viewed it as problematic. My crticial inquiries are: when does a teacher deside when misconduct is problematic and needs to be addressed or when it's just a routine part of working with young children? How do you view your students as behavioral equals when obviously each student builds up a certain "track record" as the year goes on? Can you assume that well behaved kids will always stay that way and if changes begin to occur, how can you address them? 


et502's picture

Who do you believe?

I think that you made a very insightful observation about the idea of a "track record" or "behavioral history" affecting methods of discipline. Teachers or authority figures have to make the call - and judge whether someone is lying. This make me think of a scene from CS Lewis' The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe: 

"'How do you know,' he asked, 'that your sister's story is not true?'
'Oh, but-' began Susan, and then stopped. Anyone could see from the old man's face that he was perfectly serious. Then Susan pulled herself together and said, 'but Edmund said they had only been pretending.'
'That is a point,' said the Professor, "which certainly deserves consideration; very careful consideration. For instance - if you will excuse me for asking the question - does your experience lead you to regard your brother or your sister as the more reliable? I mean, which is the more truthful?'
'That's just the funny thing about it, sir,' said Peter. "Up till now, I'd have said Lucy every time.'
'And what do you think, my dear?' said the Professor, turning to Susan.
'Well,' said Susan, 'in general, I'd say the same as Peter, but this couldn't be true - all this about the wood and the Faun.'
'That is more than I know,' said the Professor, 'and a charge of lying against someone you have always found truthful is a very serious thing; a very serious thing indeed.'
'We were afraid it mightn't even be lying,' said Susan; 'we thought there might be something wrong with Lucy.'
'Madness, you mean?' said the Professor quite coolly. "Oh, you can make your minds easy about that. One has only to look at her and talk to her to see that she is not mad.'
'But then,' said Susan, and stopped. She had never dreamed that a grown-up would talk like the Professor and didn't know what to think.
'Logic!' said the Professor half to himself. 'Why don't they teach logic at these schools? There are only three possibilities. Either your sister is telling lies, or she is mad, or she is telling the truth. You know she doesn't tell lies and it is obvious that she is not mad. For the moment then and unless any further evidence turns up, we must assume that she is telling the truth' (47-48).

In this scene, logically, Susan and Peter should believe Lucy, since she typically tells the truth. So, the reverse of this situation (logically): wouldn't it make sense to disbelieve someone who typically lies or misbehaves?

The problem here is that the opportunity to develop trust gets smaller and smaller each time you choose not to believe someone, whether or not they were lying. And what about if they are telling the truth? I've seen situations like this in my field site, in which a student who typically misbehaves is in the wrong place and gets blamed for something he/she didn't do. This is frustrating to the student - and if it happens repeatedly, I could see the "track record" becoming more like an "identity."

I think the solution you proposed - one-on-one dialogue, as opposed to public reprimanding - is the most appropriate, and leaves less space for social pressure/assumptions/time restraints.