My story about Br Paul received some anticipated negative responses. But I really wanted to talk a bit more about the positives. So the following aren’t negative practical jokes but things that I saw that taught me a lot about teaching.
At one staff meeting early in the year, the deputy Principal explained that the school did not agree with that type of discipline that is characterised by the writing of endless lines. If you intended to keep a class in as a group punishment for some general misbehaviour then it would be better to have some real constructive work for them to do. But in general, for minor breaches of proper behaviour the standard was for a boy to be put on PUPS. This was the Pick Up Papers Squad.
The idea was that this was a contribution to the general amenity of the school. The teacher on yard duty was to supervise and as soon as he/she was satisfied that the school was tidy the miscreants could run off and play. Many a time a boy’s friends would pitch in and help so that their friend could join them.
On day the deputy knocked on my classroom door and asked to talk to the class. It was very simple. “Boys if you looked out the window now at the playground you would notice that things don’t look very tidy. We have some visitors coming this afternoon and it just won’t look good.” He then turned and walked out. I know that he visited every class with the same story.
At lunchtime there was a noticeable increase in the number of boys who could be seen picking up a piece of scrap paper or a lunch wrapper and throwing it in the neasest bin. No teachers organised anything.
After lunch the deputy Principal came into my class – a different one – and spoke to them. “Well fellows. I am so pleased with the way the school grounds looked after lunch. I am very proud of you all and so I am cancelling last period and you can all go home early.” And he walked out. You notice that before lunch he had not given any instructions, nor had he made any threat, nor had he promised any reward; he just called their attention to a situation. After lunch he praised them, thanked them, and then gave them a completely unexpected reward. I remembered that for the rest of my teaching career.
One day during the morning briefing, the Principal mentioned that the woodwork teacher had needed to resign. His wife had become quite ill and he needed to stay home and look after her. He was not sure what to do – woodwork teachers were not too easy to find. Did anyone have any ideas? I did. If you can find someone to take either my English classes or my Maths classes I would love to take on the woodwork classes. That’s how I got to become a woodwork teacher.
Now, and I’m building up to something here so don’t wander off and make coffee, it was very close to the time that mid-term reports needed to be written. I had no idea how to write something intelligent about most of the boys. I hardly knew them. Half of them I had taught before but not in a woodwork class. So my comments were fairly innocuous and quite general. In one of the woodwork classes there was a couple of small, bright, smiling, clever little Vietnamese boys. They worked together and talked together and I wrote almost the same thing for them both.
“Tam is a bright and cooperative student and his woodworking skills are developing well. However he is inclined to become easily distracted by other boys in the class.”
No parent can complain about that, I thought. When Parent/Teacher night came I was interested to note that Tam and his parents arrived at the same time as Dinh arrived and they were quite clearly friends at home as well as at school. Tam came in first and introduced his parents. The father looked at the report and tapped his finger on the phrase – his woodworking skills are developing well.- and told me he wasn’t interested in Tam’s woodworking skills. “Is he polite and respectful to his teachers”. I assured the father that Tam definitely was. I hadn’t thought of writing that.
Then Dinh’s parents came in. I thought I’d get in first and started by telling Dinh’s parents that he was a very polite and respectful student. Yes, Yes, of course. But is his skill level good enough for him to get an apprenticeship as a carpenter.
That night when I got home I thought about it and realised that I had told the parents what I wanted to tell them but I hadn’t told them what they wanted to know.
Tomorrow, if you are interested, I will explain how I solved the problem.