Friday, March 9, 2012

The best dentists have large arms

If I walked in on a dentist who had, say, 8 child patients at the same time, and watched him/her struggle to clean their teeth and drill cavities while attempting to keep the mouths of half of them open with various tactics, I would wonder how pragmatic it was for them to do their job.  If 2 of the patients couldn't stay seated, perhaps they might use a brawny fore arm to keep one of them seated so they could operate.  If one of them started to cry, perhaps the specialist might give them a sucker and a timeout somewhere else until they returned to a state of semi-composure.  If we added 5 more patients, the dentist might still be able to operate but now they might have 2 extras whose attention wanders off and forget to keep their mouths open. So the dentist might feel like the best thing to do is have a short group chat with all involved explaining how important dental hygiene was and trying to motivate them to comply.  Maybe they'd get a ring or lollipop or whatever afterward for being good ( I recall this in my own experience).  But as the numbers grew or as time went on, we could see that the dentist was doing less and less of what their original  mission was (dentistry) and more organizing, cajoling, motivating, physically restraining, etc.  If this specialist now had 20 patients at once, it might actually be more important, that they were strong enough to hold children in their seats, than their expertise in dentistry.  But we (the public) would now call this person a "dentist."  And we'd say "Hey...that's what a dentist is expected to do.  How can you maintain dental health if you can't get access to the patients mouths?"

Which brings me to the current state of public education in our country.  Teachers generally accept all the additional and supercilious things they are expected to do in order to JUST DO THEIR JOB OF... TEACHING.  Maintaining order and controlling a class are, and have been, par for the course for awhile now.  Increasingly, parents and the administration have shifted more of the responsibility onto the teacher.  If Johnny acts up, ...."hmmmm....what is the teacher doing wrong?"  The old paradigm said "Johnny's at fault here."  Then this slowly shifted to other factors, ie home life, medical treatments.  Still, the teacher could send that kid to the office where admin dealt with them.  But as cultural entropy has increased, admin increasingly holds the teacher's responsible for handling discipline. Yes.  There are things a teacher can do, but what happened to personal responsibility?  Why is all this dumped on the teacher? And, of course, this presumed academic magician, has to do all this while making sure the child has a big smile on their face the whole time.  That is, consequences,  and punishment are last resorts; and anything smacking of corporal punishment is anathema.  While this is laudable as an abstraction, the reality is the circus we see today where there is little order, and being able to maintain this "order" has supplanted being able to teach well. you know why the best dentists have big fore arms.

 I feel for kids that can't stay seated.  I was always a bit squirmy after 15 minutes in a seat myself, and still am.  If  a student in class can't stay seated, how many options does a teacher have?  I had a wiggle worm kid who I had do art.  Some days it worked, other days were mayhem.  This child's behavior held the entire class captive. He would throw pennies across the room, mess with girls' hair, get out of his seat at any moment.  I recall asking him to do pushups and then was scolded by the principal as it is deemed "corporal punishment," in the absurd environment we call a public school.

Given this scenario, I can understand a teacher resorting to taping a kid to their seat.  That student has already done plenty to call negative attention to themselves and the teacher has probably tried any number of things to keep them from continually distracting the class.  What frustrates me is hearing the mother bemoan this while not considering that the rest of the students (not just her child) are losing out an an education when this student's behavior distracts the class.  All over America, this educational travesty continues because no one wants to hurt anyone's feelings.  Great....we have close to half our students who can't read and write at grade level and who will graduate with few prospects for the future, but at least their feelings were never hurt by a teacher.  Kids that can't, and probably should not, be in that particular school or classroom, hold everyone else hostage.

These days, it seems that one of the marks of a great teacher is someone who can find something to occupy this youngster so the rest of the class can accomplish something.  More power to them.  I hold the white flag on this; and, frankly, resent having spent so much time and energy dealing with this phenomenon. At this juncture, I, admittedly, detest all the peripheral things that teachers are expected to do....just to be able to do their job.  Organizing, streamlining daily protocol and tasks, pushing the self esteem agenda, promoting inquiry, and motivating students, creating lesson plans where the priority is simply to keep order.  Blasphemy to say this....I know.  It's not that I did not try and do these things, but somewhere in the mess, the idea of actually teaching became smaller or was even lost.

Do I think taping a student achieves its purpose?  No.  I suspect the kids get a laugh out of it and the squirmy kid gets a bit of attention and temporarily settles down before things probably get worse. But the parent that calls for blood over something like this is missing the forest for the trees.

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