558. Children’s Agendas

As teachers conduct their classes, they sometimes deal with children who do things that make conducting a class difficult. Some children tend to come to school with their own agendas. To varying degrees and in various ways, teachers allow some time for children to cover some of the items on their agendas. But sometimes enough is enough, and most teachers eventually let children know when it’s time to do what is in the planbook.
Sometimes, though, a child doesn’t let go of her/his own agenda items very easily. What the teacher has planned is NOT what the child intends to do; what the child wants to do IS. When that’s the case, there’s a potential classroom management problem. Depending on the child and the teacher, it can become a clash of wills. In my experience, that’s something to avoid.
There usually isn’t a winner. The teacher does have plans, and those plans are quite often worth following. If a child can prevent that from happening, the teacher and many children lose. On the other hand, the child who has to discard her/his plans may learn that he or she isn’t so important, and that’s not a lesson good teachers try to teach.
I’ve seen a variety of reactions among children who are told to put aside their own plans and follow the teacher’s plans. Some go through the motions of complying, but only until they’re pretty sure the teacher isn’t watching. Then they go back to their preferred activities. Perhaps they do so in a way that’s a little less conspicuous than before. Perhaps just as conspicuous.
I’ve seen children react by pointing out other children who aren’t doing what the teacher has told them to. The implication here is that the teacher is not being fair – that he or she is singling out this one child when others aren’t doing what they’re supposed to. This reaction can be sincere; some children really believe that they are being singled out – that they’re doing what “everyone else” is doing, but getting blamed more. What complicates this is that sometimes they’re right, so teachers who care about fairness and consider themselves fallible tend to consider such complaints for a while. Teachers spend lots of time figuring out how to use time, but most classes have one teacher and many more than one pupil. So pupils stand a pretty good chance of covering a lot of the items on their agendas. Some teachers work hard to stop that from happening, and some succeed. And it can make things simpler, in a way; the classroom can be run as a dictatorship, and the teacher’s plans can be the inviolable law of the land.
But I think that that kind of dictatorship, though possibly less complex than democratic approaches, is not effective teaching. Classroom management is important, and I don’t think children should run the whole show. But what’s on their minds ought to be a significant part of the picture.

Comments are closed.