An old debate

AJ, who was recently (still is?) in Japan, posted this to which I wrote a comment. AJ replied to my comment, and I am posting my response to that here. A related conversation is going on over at English 360.

A relationship with students only becomes problematic if you accept that a boss-underling model is the ideal situation…
Well maybe, but that’s not what I said (wrote?). I didn’t say “a relationship with students” is problematic. Of course any teacher wants/needs a relationship with students, preferably a good one (although one of the most “successful” teachers at my grammar school, successful in the sense that his biology students consistently got the highest scores in the biology O-level, was a very strict teacher who didn’t seem to give a damn about any of us except that we get good grades in the exams and certainly didn’t seem in the slightest bit interested in any “relationship” [ha!] with us). I quoted you saying “siding with the students”. My point is, as I now know from experience, if you place being the students’ friend (and this is how I interpret your “siding with students” but perhaps I’m wrong) as your top (or high) priority, you box yourself in; you limit your options; you make it more difficult (but not impossible, of course) to do certain things later, things that (later) you might want to do. And while I was admittedly thinking of my students (99% of whom are in the 19-23 age range), I think my comment remains relevant even if the ages are different. And “disciplining” was just one example I gave; I certainly don’t see my students as “underlings” who are merely there for me to “discipline”. But the fact is that many of them lack self-discipline and I feel I am shirking my duty if I don’t set limits (see English360 and the comments (when they get thru the censors) for more on this topic). The 55- and 70-year-old students I have already have the discipline required; they can be trusted to act responsibly. Many of the others cannot. As I wrote about here, something that gave me and my colleague a big dish for thought was the fact that another colleague of ours, who is a much more “traditional” teacher, had more success with a particularly difficult student than we did with our enlightened “let’s give the students what they want”, unstructured approach. And I repeat what I wrote (said?) before, that I don’t see this as a black and white, either-or, issue. This is something I see in some of my US colleagues: they equate (falsely and dangerously, in my opinion) being strict and setting limits with being authoritarian, autocratic, old-fashioned and boring. One of my colleagues, for instance, expressed surprise to being told by a teacher whom he had considered as out of the mainstream, that he should push and pressure students more.

Regarding needs assessments, I dont equate them with listening….Far more effective were informal conversations. Just hanging out with clients, talking to them,… not just once, but many times over a period of weeks and months. In my experience, conversations and real relationships yield a wealth of information that surveys, forms, focus groups, and the like will never tap.

Couldn’t agree more. Absolutely spot on.

You mentioned an example of students being “offered an opportunity to participate in a monitoring system”. Who designed this system? Did students play an active part in its creation? Or was this put to them with a “here’s what we developed, why dont you do it” approach?

Ooh! spooky! How did you guess? Actually, it wasn’t quite like that. It was essentially one or 2 teachers who felt the students’ input and participation in their own education was a desirable thing, and this was a way that had been put in place in several other institutions around the country (some with student involvement in the pre-installing discussions, some without). Student response was almost complete apathy. To their credit, the teachers who supported the idea insisted that, however good or desirable it was, it should be shelved if it did not have student support. It didn’t. It was.

Finally, I agree totally with your point about entreprenuers, though my conclusions are different. Its true, they dont endlessly worry about needs assessments and the like.. they just get in there and try things. They are extremely close to their customers. They try something, it fails, they get lots of customer feedback…

Perhaps it’s semantics, but I have problems with your word “close”. Being close to your customers/students: yes, of course, if it means listening to them, observing them, aware of them as unique, living individuals. But not “close” in the sense of being their pal, their chum. I don’t think this works for teachers, or for parents (and again, I speak from experience). Been there, done that, failed miserably.

AS for the “bad” businesses.. I agree that they are in the majority. And I agree they are mostly built through marketing and BS. But the thing is, this is also true of most schools.

You’re right .

One thought on “An old debate”

  1. Dichotomy

    My bullshit meter has recently sounded. This is a handy little device that tells me when I may be digging in to one side of a dichotomous position… out of stubborness or bombast.

    Also, Im sort of in kick-ass combat mode at the moment… and that doesnt lend itself to nuanced discussion.

    So, Im going to take a few days to ponder this issue, consider the “both/and” & “neither/both” angles, and see what comes up….

    Ill try to get back to this issue in a few days…

    Good thought provoking stuff!

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