Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Oct 23 2011

The Forgotten “High Expectations”

I used to be plagued by dreams about my own kids misbehaving horribly. Last night was the first time I dreamed about someone else’s kids being a disaster. In my dream, I was back visiting my high school for graduation, and the ceremony itself was out of control. The graduating seniors were running down the aisle, pushing each other, yelling to their friends, and the room was so loud it was hard to think. Teachers were addressing the most outlandish actions and seemed okay to let everything else happen. I was horrified.

It made me think a lot about my first year of teaching. TFA had told me to have high expectations academically, but no one had ever told me I could also have high behavioral expectations. I fought the big battles but treated most other things as somewhat inevitable. I knew I taught in a rough school, and it was easy to pull the whole, “Well that might work in some places, but my kids are too tough for that. They’re fighting with brass knuckles in the hallways! I’d never be able to make them [fill in the blank].”

Then I started stepping outside of my own classroom. I watched the first few minutes of the other math teacher’s class, and was stunned at her kids sitting silently for the Do Now. I’d always let my kids talk for those first few minutes, because I didn’t think the silence was worth the battle. Then I see the same kids, in the room right next door, behaving like angels and actually getting some useful learning accomplished in those first few minutes of class. It embarrassed me in a way I really needed to be embarrassed. You can bet that in my second year, the Do Now was a silent time.

In my second year, I visited a school that had silent hallways. (This idea sounds almost wrong until you realize that most violence, most bullying, and most lost class time happens when kids are talking in the halls, and they’re really supposed to be using that time to just be getting to their next place rather than tormenting the new kid.) Coming from a school where it was often terrifying to just step out of a classroom door, the peace and calm in those hallways¬† was mesmerizing. But of course I thought, “Well this might work here, but this is a fancy suburban school. My kids are too tough for this. We’ve had the cops at school every day this week. We could never get them silent in the hallways.”

Then I got to my new school, where we’ve enforced silent hallways from Day 1. You can be like me and try the whole, “Well she works at a fancy charter school…” piece, but then you have to step out of our wing and into the rest of the building, where the school we’re taking over is still in full swing. They agreed to try silent hallways with us, and, even in a school in the process of being shut down, they are working beautifully. Hmmmm…

I wish someone had told me to demand behavioral excellence back in my first year, even when I didn’t think my kids or myself were capable of it. I wish I’d had faith in my kids and trusted their personal abilities like I knew I was supposed to trust their academic abilities. We could have saved a lot of lost learning time for everyone.

One Response

  1. Sam

    This is great. I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy reading your blog.

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