A study of power.

The term “power play/struggle” in education translates to: “teacher has a petty request that the student won’t comply with until she either gets irritated to the point of raising her voice and/or stops an escalation of an event to the point of no return.”

Did you ever get involved in a power play? I sure have, not many, but a few here and there. But since I came into teaching in my forties, and had two sons of my own about the same age as my students when I started, most of the power plays or struggles came with small costs, a lot of reflection, and many apologies on my part. They were handled between me, the student, other teammates and sometimes the parent. Most power struggles are headed off at the pass by prevention measures:

  1. Have a routine. (Get composition book, something to write with or borrow a pencil from me, read the board, read the learning targets: when I am standing in the ‘teacher spot’ time to listen, and then get going!)
  2. State expectations clearly, and rationale why.
    • Example: No food in the classroom. Our building is old and in the heart of a city. There are vermin. I don’t want vermin in my class, or the building.
    • Example: food. Your red Gatorade and Hot Cheetos can potentially stain the carpet, or get micro crumbs in your laptop keyboard. Oh, and it’s killing you.
    • Example: You need a charged laptop every day. Not charged? You can bring your charger to my class. Don’t have it? Sit next to mine and use it.
  3. Know your quirks. Mine? No music while reading. Side conversations. Removing all oxygen from the room with your constant shouting and talking out.
  4. Understand emotional states: Explain that yes, sometimes they will be bored. And that’s okay. And it’s okay to be confused. And to not know everything…and to know things, too.
  5. Know your cool spots. Mine? Allowing music sometimes. Allowing random discussions about what is on their minds. Reading books they recommend to me. Asking permission to share their work. Telling them how much I love them. Apologizing if necessary. Knowing they are somebody’s baby. (My personal teaching motto/creed/mantra.)

Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post posted a letter by educator Amy Murray, Teacher to parents: About THAT kid (the one who hits, disrupts and influences YOUR kid). I could have written it. This afternoon I was having an imaginary conversation with a parent of a student. (Note: anecdotally this is about many students–we all have students who seek attention.) This student is so smart, and…so bored in my class. He blurts out the endings of stories, talks over instructions, and when challenged to offer alternatives or choice, has nothing further to offer. I want to be this student’s, well, if I can’t be his favorite, then at least someone he can respect and do well. I don’t need to be any student’s favorite, I just need them to know I’m there for them, and maybe in ways they don’t recognize yet. That may not happen, and that’s okay. As long as he knows he will find that place, that person, in and out of his own family, circle of friends, etc. I just have 29 other little ‘someone’s baby’ to take care of, too, in that class.

Relationship building is an interesting situation. Conflicts happen. I may not be able to adjust for bias, assumptions, and backward-facing trauma, but I do have a proven record of relationship building, and can’t let others make me doubt this skill or who I am at my core.

So let’s add #6: Self-respect. Let students know respect can’t thrive without self-respect first. Be confident, be yourself, and be better.