On Losing Ctrl


"Each time I sit down to write I don't know if I can do it. The flow of writing is always a surprise and a challenge. Click the computer on and I am 17 again, wanting to write and not knowing if I can."   -Don Murray

[So, I've kinda been in a blogging slump lately.  I don't really know what the deal is.  I just keep finding excuses not to write.  I haven't been writing in my journal or on 750 Words either.  But I'm going to take the advice that I give all of my young writers- write.  Yes, it is stupidly simplistic.  Yes, it frustrates many of my students.  I still hold by it though.  Write.  Write when you have something to say, write when you have nothing to say.  Write when you can.  And, maybe even more importantly, write when you can't.  Slow claps to Edna Sackson (@whatedsaid) for getting me off my duff and getting my keyboard clicking.]

"Put your hands at your side, and get in that LINE!"

I heard that shouted many times on the episodes of Beyond Scared Straight I've recently been watching on Netflix.  The show is pretty much what I thought it was going to be- plenty of yelling, threats, and scared kids.  Inmates on the show are trying to use fear and intimidation to motivate teens to stay out of prison.  What I didn't expect, was it to remind me so much of school.  Seriously.  There are many things that are eerily similar in both institutions.

This got me thinking about control.  My need for it.  Safety's dependency on it.  People's resentment of it being taken.  It seemed to be one of the biggest concerns at the prisons.  My thoughts, as usual, rounded back to school.

How much control do I have in my classroom?  How much do I need?  What's up for grabs and what's not?  What's up to the students and what's up to me?  Control can be a good thing depending on the ways we get it, and for what purpose we want it.  Learners have to have a sense of control when they learn, don't they?

Quiet In The Halls

I'll admit, I fuss at kids in the hallway.  Not exactly the same way they do in prisons, but we're trying for similar goals.  My school has almost 700 kids.  There have to be some procedures for respectful behavior in the hall.  We quietly walk single-file on the right side of the hall with our hands at our side.  We do it out of respect for the other classrooms.  That's a good kind of control to me.  Eventually the students internalize why we do it, and it is no longer controlling.  Inmates... I'm not so sure.

Order (VS., and /or) Control

I wonder what else I try to control for my students beside hallway walking.  I feel I do need to control some things.  I'm the responsible adult in the room.  It's my responsibility to be in control.  I just need to make sure I'm trying to be in control of the right things.

I've realized many of the things I want to control are for the sake of order.  Order as opposed to chaos.  My room can get chaotic at times, but I never want chaos.  Safety, both physical and emotional, is another area that I feel I must step in and exercise control.  It would be irresponsible to completely leave safety up to nine and ten-year-olds.  This again all goes to the greater purpose of learning.  I don't assume control by coercive or threatening means.  No cloaks.  No daggers.  Just trust.  I feel this is good and acceptable.

Mediums, Methods, and Materials

This is the big area where I have to let go.  I cannot be totally in control of student learning.  If we were in total control, then that would give us total responsibility, thus negating responsibility to the students who are supposed to be doing the learning.

I know I want to keep getting better at this.  I think about how cool it would be to have students constantly choosing their own mediums and methods to learn.  What if I let them pick how they wanted to demonstrate their newly learned knowledge and skills?  That's the kind of control I don't want.  That's the kind of control our students need.

Exactly how much control is too much control?  I have no idea.  But I do know that if it's not a safety or order issue, I'm going to be dialing my control way back this year.  Way back.

Photo credit: joelogon