©1999 David Becker
In this paper, I will examine three slogans that could be presented to a teacher in an effort to improve the teachers' performance. These slogans, while based on seemingly apparent truths, are much too broad and general to be of any real help. I will examine how the general slogans might be dangerous and I will give more specific alternatives to them.
The first slogan is "If you want your children to learn you have to create synergy in the classroom".
This sounds like a great idea but it incorporates one of the most over used and least understood words that deal with motivation, that is synergy. In its purest form, synergy is the process in human interaction where the efforts of one person plus the efforts of a second person equal more than twice the efforts of either person individually. While this is a noble goal, in real-life it happens infrequently. What people usually mean when they say this is that one should strive for cooperation and harmony in their relationships. Striving for cooperation and harmony can actually get in the way of striving for synergy. I believe synergy only occurs under the following conditions:
I think it would be much more helpful to give advice that is specific and strives for a more attainable goal. Perhaps saying, "You should create an environment where the children are encouraged to try new things and they are not made fun of if they make a mistake". This advice is more specific and will lead to a more harmonious classroom where more work and learning will be done. Another piece of specific advice could be, "You should treat your students with the same respect that you would want from a teacher if you were a student". This advice changes your perspective in the classroom. It puts you in the role of student and asks the question, "How would you like to be treated in this situation?" I believe this type of specific advice might help to create a climate in a classroom where real synergy might actually take place.
The second slogan I'd like to address is, "You've got to show them who is boss".
The underlying truth to this slogan is that you have to take control of your classroom, set firm rules and show you care about what you're doing. The problem is that this slogan, like all slogans, is much too broad and general to be helpful. Also, the main word that is open to interpretation is boss. The word boss makes one think of the military or someone that rules with an iron hand. In the classroom setting, while it is important to have the children's attention, garnering that attention by undue force prohibits a teacher from creating an environment conducive to learning.
A better way to convey this message might be to say, "You've got to tell your children that you care about them and their safety, that you take your job as teacher seriously and that, with the children's help, you will develop rules that will be fair". In this way, you are giving specific advice that tells the children you are taking the responsibility of being in charge. Also, you show them that you are the "boss" but you do it in a way that promotes respect and the children's participation. Another way you can say this is, "The children have to be aware of the rules in the classroom, the rewards that are available for following the rules and the penalties that will be handed out for not following the rules. You have to be consistent and vigilant in enforcing the rules". Again, in this way, you are showing that you are serious about their conduct. You respect them by clearly communicating both what you expect of them and the inherent consequences. You also show you are committed to the learning process.
The third slogan I'd like to examine is, "If you want to be effective as a teacher you must put first things first".
Again, the underlying truth that makes this slogan dangerous is that obviously you want to handle the most important things first. However this slogan is so broad and general, that it gives no useful information. The key words that are open to interpretation include effective and the phrase first things first. Effective is another one of those words that sounds good but means many different things in many different situations. As a teacher you have many roles. At any moment you may have to assume any of these roles and being effective in one role could be very different from being effective in another role. Also, what works for one teacher may not work for another teacher. If we're going to ask someone to be effective, we need to be much more specific about what we're asking for. The phrase "first things first" suggests that we should prioritize what we want to accomplish and do the most important things first. It is impossible for a teacher to anticipate every important thing that will happen in his or her class. However, if we want a teacher to put first things first; then, we want a teacher to be able to anticipate what's important for a class on a day-to-day basis. Additionally, though, the teacher should be able to recognize when important things are happening in their classroom and address them as they happen.
Here are a couple of things you could say that are much more specific and give a lot more information. The first is, "Define specific goals for your day but be aware that your agenda and the children's agenda may be different and you may have to change your tactics in order to accomplish what you set out to do". This tells the teacher that the important things that happen will include both things the teacher thinks are important and things the children think are important. By recognizing both of these agendas, it will be easier for the teacher to be sure the important things are taken care of. Another way I would convey this advice would be, "Be sure you understand why you are teaching your curriculum, why you chose teaching as a profession and what experience you are trying to give to the children". In this way you will always make decisions based on your values and not on external pressures.
While it is easy to see why many of these slogans can be dangerous or just plain useless, it is difficult to come up with truly meaningful alternatives. In order to truly help someone you have to understand their problem and issues from their perspective. Then, you have to make sure they believe you do understand their situation. And then, you might be able to give some specific advice that really helps.