Skip to main content

I Am a Tyrant

surveying my classroom like 

I read an article this morning that made me swear aloud in the lobby of a conference.

It wasn't my finest moment, but I was angry.

I still am.

The article, bestowed with the inflammatory title "The Tyranny of Being On Task" seeks to remind us that science says brain breaks are good and that it's okay if your kids don't look engaged because they might be processing differently. I have thoughts about that - that are generally positive - but we need to talk about this title. I understand that it did just what it was supposed to: make me click. But I had my mind made up about this article before the page loaded. (Never mind my aversion to the particular hashtags in the retweet.) The "tyranny" of being "on task." Really?

It's cruel and unreasonable, nay, oppressive to teach our students to expand their attention spans? I truly believe that it is part of my job to teach students how to do things that they are not doing outside of my classroom, and that means attending to a task at hand. Pretty sure that doesn't make me Mussolini. As a professional, I have the skills necessary to adjust techniques when attention is waning, but throwing science at me that says "kids can't do this because executive functioning" prompts me to tell you that improving executive function requires practice. Everything. Requires. Practice. (And don't even get me started on the deep attention anyone will give to something they are extremely engrossed in doing.)

If the rebellion of off task behavior - complete disengagement from the activities at hand - to throw off the shackles of enforced on task behavior is students needing a dopamine hit as is proposed by the article above, I'd say the advice to "smile and laugh more" and "move more" are disingenuous. If students are disengaging from instruction or activity entirely, it's a pedagogy issue, not what I'm doing with my face. And I would hope that the advice I got from someone evaluating me would not include, "smile more, sweetie." I would hope for concrete help with specific instructional deficits.

And this is my problem with clickbait headlines with just enough scientific backing to not be an opinion piece: we know as teachers that movement and rapport with our kids is good. We also know that having our kids on task is good. But then something like this comes along and says, "Welp, your kids can't really be expected to be on task, and you're a tyrant for wanting them to be, so let kids be kids." and then rehashes brain breaks for the umpteenth time and ends with this:
In fact, brain breaks help us as educators to rethink the binary nature of on task and off task and to realize that all the work is on task and helpful to children as they learn and grow. (Miller, 2017)
What? That's not your thesis from before, which appears to beg this question:
Why do we demand on task behavior when it is not equivalent to student engagement?  (Miller, 2017)

I'm left shaking my head. I suppose maybe I need the context that in the author's situations, brain breaks (I chafe at that term, by the way) are considered off task. I've never thought of them that way. It's like saying recess is bad. Or that passing periods are unnecessary. Is there a despot somewhere - is The Trunchbull actually out there? I've never encountered these teachers, but if there's writing like this, they must exist.

But this writing? It's just not that helpful. My hope for us as educators is that enough of us will start wanting to have actual discourse about the hows of teaching. There is beautiful, valuable work going on with the whys of equity through #EduColor and others, but all of us who love teaching need some concurrent work. We need to talk less about lofty philosophies, create fewer damn acronyms, and really speak to each other about what works and doesn't in our rooms with the real kids we have in front of us.

And not just so I don't have to rant about articles like this.


Popular posts from this blog

A List That Actually Matters

I sort of wanted to give this post a cutesy title, like "My Edu-Valentines," but I'm incredibly serious about this. Yesterday, two of my favorite people on the planet, people I like and admire, were included in an exceedingly disappointing list of inspirational educators. (excuse me, "educationists.") They were both livid.

As they should have been.

The list was lily white and lacking women. Most of the people were not actually teachers - which you know, makes them a lot less inspirational to those of us who spend our days surrounded with the bright future of the world. AND THEN, after being called out for the poor quality of the list, the author - who is not a teacher, but a "blogger and digital marketing biz" person and moderator of #GuruChats - about branding (of which I have many thoughts) - asked for suggestions to improve it.

Okay, the first one is do your homework, don't run an algorithm.

But then I took a couple of moments to scribble some …

THAT kid

My kid just spent the day in in-school suspension.

I mean, I guess it's called "the quiet room" but let's call that spade a spade, shall we? And while we're calling things as they are, my son is a bully. He's the mean kid. He's hurting others physically and with words. And I'm not whether he knows how what he's doing is wrong or whether he just doesn't care.

Either way.

I could make a list of things that could be reasons excuses: he's young for his class but huge for his age. He's a super silly kid who is also very imaginative. He's gifted. He's got terrible impulse control. He's an only child. He's bright enough to be experimenting with sarcasm. Maybe he's a bit of a misanthrope like his mother. In any case, he's apparently gone from "big clumsy puppy" to "bad, bad dog" rather quickly.

I have no idea how to handle this.

Mom-Sarah: Dude. you're in so much trouble. You're grounded for t…

One Last Time

I have nine days left with my kids.

I'm thrilled and petrified to be starting a new job at a new school in a new district in the fall. I have no doubt that it's what I need and that I am what they need. I would say that I have no regrets, but that would be a lie. A big one.

I'm going to miss my kids so much.

I've watched entire families grow up - siblings, cousins, and now, aunts and uncles. I haven't had students of students, but I'm sure I was getting close. Sure, a half hour once a week doesn't seem like enough time to really connect with kids - and truly, I don't connect with every kid - but half and hour once a week for five years adds up. Compound that with the kids who choose to do Special Chorus and are actors in the big 4th grade play. Mix in the fact that I have a heart for the kids that struggle in class but bloom in music. These are my kids.

And it's tough to know that I'm leaving them to help myself. It feels selfish. Un-teachery. I…