By G. K. Werner
Teaching used to be a nightmare, before Accountability, back when students were accountable for their own behavior, their own learning. Students choosing to learn or not? Students choosing to behave in class—or not? By themselves? A scary time! The dark ages.
I remember subbing one day in Princeton. The class settled quickly, listened respectfully, and quietly began the assignment their teacher had left them—an engaging topic, a challenging problem. I circulated the room assisting where I could; encouraging their work, commending their behavior. A delightful class of high achievers! And what a great teacher I was that day! A classroom-manager! A facilitator. A guide! A model. A resource! Dare I say, an inspiration?
Then this kid whips out his lighter and the girl next to him screams as her hair goes up in flames. You never forget the scent of human hair burning.
But, that was back when students were accountable for their own behavior. Things are vastly improved now with teachers accountable for student behavior. Of course, ME’s ed-chip makes it all possible.*
“And what does McCarthyism have in common with the theme of Miller’s Crucible?” I ask. A complex question for any class, impossible to implant all at once, and requiring a multi-level response, difficult to articulate.
Eyeballs roll side to side, each student hoping a neighbor gets the answer. I only permit eye movement. Many teachers permit head movement, but that becomes distracting at the very least. I guess I’m a minimalist when it comes to relinquishing class control. I am, after all, accountable for their behavior.
“What motivates the judges in Salem and Washington?” I prompt, releasing the answer to the class in general—just to get them started.
Mario winks rapidly, his left eyelid an insistently fluttering moth. He’s my most receptive student. I free his mouth and tongue.
“They’re all looking for someone to blame,” he blurts before I snap his jaw shut.
“Very good, Mario!” I can always rely on Mario Nette to articulate the correct answer, but now to implant my other students, each in turn.
The door springs open and in walks Ms. Judy, clipboard in hand. My pulse hammers my brain. The clipboard announces Observation Time. But these days I have nothing to worry about—that’s what I tell myself. In the early days of Accountability, before ME, any student could make a teacher look bad any time the student pleased, simply by choosing to misbehave or refusing to learn. Nowadays, with teachers truly accountable for student behavior and learning, I have nothing to fear—or so I tell myself as Ms. Judy heads for the back of the room, heels rapping a staccato cadence across the linoleum, counterpoint to the beat of my heart. OK! Unlike my students, I still fear administrators.
She smiles at my properly rigid students, clicks on her pen, and frowns into the half-distance of observational concentration.
My sweaty palms lock onto the podium. Administrators discourage teacher movement. University studies insist it ruins our focus, inhibits student learning and can even endanger class control. But it’s difficult to teach from behind a podium. That’s just my opinion.
I inhale tremulously, and continue. Lucky for me, the Socratic method is once again politically correct—I excel in its use. And my class responds, automatically verbalizing my every thought. I lock and unlock mouths and tongues, plant thoughts and harvest articulation with praise, cultivating my class like a master horticulturist.
Quis custodiet ipsos custodes, I thumb onto the overhead before me while implanting the translation—who watches the watchmen?
I free right arms, a couple of lefts. This part still scares me, especially with an administrator watching. Students with free arms are capable of anything. Fortunately, they all start writing to my prompt, thumbs tapping away on projected keyboards.
At the end of class, I am stationed at the door. I free student legs a pair at a time. Ms. Judy follows the last student and pauses at the door. “Mr. Topo,” she says, “your bulletin boards could be a bit more colorful, more imaginative.” It’s all they have left to say.I watch her cautiously through the corner of my eye. Some administrators permit head movement, but Ms. Judy only permits eye movement.
* Mind Empowerment Corporation’s accountability management tool adapted for classroom behavior management and thought inculcation by the Federal Education Conformity Committee’s technology division.
Copyright 2006 Geoffrey and Virginia Werner. All rights reserved.
Originally published in The Sword Review, April 2007 Issue
and The Sword Review (print version) Issue 25