Thursday, June 30, 2011

Signs of Trouble #1 : Waiting Outside the Door

At some schools, subs are advised that all teachers should wait outside the doors of their classroom between classes. The idea behind this is multifaceted. For one thing, this "monitoring" of the halls is meant to reduce the likelihood of bullying. Just having a teacher present should be enough, right? Wrong. Often a teacher presence is not enough to stop the type of bullying which can be most painful, verbal bullying. For many teachers, and especially subs who are unfamiliar with individual students of cliques within the school, it is often difficult to tell if students are just joking around or are seriously insulting one another and causing distress. Because they can't tell, many teachers and subs are loathe to interrupt or put a stop to things.

Another idea of having teachers in the halls between classes is to discourage dawdling. Students often have a very short amount of time between classes, and so administrators feel that it is best if students simply move as quickly as possible from one class to another. The kids are expected to not talk in the halls (this is even a rule in some districts) and that their only time for socialization will be in the cafeteria or outside of school hours. Is this remotely realistic, at an age were socialization is paramount? It is highly unlikely that teachers will be able to enforce this ideal, and even when they can it leads to further negative consequences. Either the students turn on the teachers because they were unable to relax even for a few minutes between classes, or they choose to socialize in class, costing instructional time through talking or texting.

A third concept behind hall monitoring between classes is to note who is entering your class and who is not. For a substitute, this is less than useless - how is one to know who is supposed to be there and who isn't? Many schools don't even give class rosters with pictures, so how are we to know who any one student is? As a sub, trying to take attendance at the door does only two things. It jams up the flow of traffic through the door and through the hall, and alerts the students that you have no idea what you are doing. As a regular teacher, no one would try to take attendance as kids flow in. Teachers know better than to try to stop kids individually, as it's much easier to wait for the bell to ring and then take attendance in class.

The push for teachers to be in the hallway between classes also gives an undesirable negative feel to class-changing time. The very fact that teachers and subs are asked to monitor the hallways implies that there is a need for this. The enforced presence of authority figures for these few minutes tells students and visitors that things are so bad, we feel we have to monitor them every second, even for the four minutes between bells. This subtle negative mood is certainly noticed by the kids. I had a student tell me, when I asked about the teachers in the halls, "If I'm already being treated like some kind of criminal, it makes me want to behave like one. I can't even say hi to my girlfriend or give her a hug without them being all up in my face about it. Geez. I was just givin' a hug!" Often times high school students have after school jobs, drive cars, or are expected to take care of younger siblings - and yet we can't trust them for a few minutes between classes? I think I would feel resentful as well.

Negative consequences for this policy aren't just limited to students. Many teachers resent having to give up those precious few minutes as well. Can you imagine in the business world, if an executive were told that they had to hold six meetings with up to forty attendees each, and they could not have so much as a bathroom break between meetings? Well this is precisely what it means to teachers to be told that they cannot have four minutes to sort through lessons plans, tidy up assignments, grade a few worksheets, or whatever else they may need to do. It's no wonder the hallway monitoring rule leads to complaints and unhappy staff.

In many cases it seems that over-monitoring of students' activity leads in a downward spiral - the more students are pushed and observed and never given any time to be themselves, the more they need to be monitored. When students are given time to self-monitor and be responsible for getting themselves to classes, hallway issues drop rapidly. When teachers get a small break between classes, they are happier and more effective instructors. Both students and teachers are better able to make use of these precious few minutes, and overall attitude improves.

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