Wednesday, March 4, 2009


I love and respect teacher, especially the really good ones. And even the bad ones are better teachers than I would ever be. After a "writer-in-residence" experience last year, I decided the only thing I could teach kids would be how to play and get off track. Since they already know how to play, I'm not much good as a "real" educator.

But why do some teachers wield control like a battle axe? Even on my time as an author visitor?

Not long ago, I did a school visit, and it was wonderful. They almost always are. My book topics are just weird enough to capture most kids imaginations, and I can be funny and educationally fun. There are sometimes kids that need a little convincing. But I've never met a kid I couldn't recruit -- not so far. I haven't been so lucky with every teacher -- especially not the other day.

Teacher A didn't come into the library with her class, so it was up to me and the librarian to wrangle the rowdy pair. A little laughter did the trick, and they were on my side ten minutes into the hour. Then the teacher decided to show up -- AFTER I'd managed the wise guys.

Teacher A zeroed in on a girl in the back row and began to scold her. I couldn't hear voices, but the girl's body language said it all. She went from relaxed and curious to stiff and shame-filled. Her face was etched with that stress only a disapproving authority figure can inspire.

All the other kids stopped listening to me -- of course --and focused on the teacher and the target. I was silent, watching too. Teacher A looked up.

"I'll just wait until you're done," I said.

"I'd rather you didn't," Teacher A said. "I'd rather you just went on."

I tried to ignore her and do just that, but it was no use. Kids can't resist watching the sacrifice of a classmate.

Then Teacher A proceeded to take four other kids out of the group -- including the two I'd already made a deal with -- and moved them to chairs in the back row. Again, too much commotion to over come, and by now another five of my 45 minutes have been squandered.

Teacher A looked up at me.

"You about done?" I asked.

"I had to get this under control," Teacher A said.

"I had it under control," I said, by now more than a little annoyed. Sorry, but Teacher A's behavior was nothing less than RUDE.

"You should have seen them this morning," Teacher A said.

"Could be," I said, "But this hour was MINE."


All I could do was try to recover a little of the energy the kids had shared with me before Teacher A decided to bust in. And I managed a little. But all the interaction was now stilted. Every kid was a little bit afraid of getting the axe.

I did the best I could, but Teacher A's agenda didn't educate the students. It cheated them of an enrichment their school had paid to have them experience. Teacher A had cheated me of the chance to share my craft with those kids.

Teacher A left the room very upset with me. I called that teacher out, in front of the kids. I regret that. But when I'm doing a presentation, that time IS mine. No, that's not right. When I do a resentation, the time belongs to the KIDS. My ego and that teacher's ego should take a backseat to serving the kids. Disruption like that was disrespectful to me AND to the kids.

It doesn't happen every day, thank god. But when it does happen, I can't help but wonder, WHY?

Why come in the first place if you're feeling stressed and uneasy? Wouldn't it have been better to use that 45 minutes to unwind and center? To put a little distance between what must have been a rough morning and the afternoon? If Teacher A had never joined the students, I wouldn't have skipped a beat or made a single judgment. In fact, I think it's smart. Teachers don't get enough planning time. Why not use the visiting author time to get a few things done?

And why wasn't my frustration enough to put Teacher A on a more constructive path?

Why use my time to flex narcicistic muscle? I don't have a clue. I only know it made me feel diminished and under occupation. Imagine how Teacher A's kids must feel, day after day.

Let's just hope it was an exception. I sure wouldn't want to live under Teacher A rule.

1 comment:

  1. Teaching is a very attractive profession to control freaks, people who have absolutely no capacity to step outside themselves and see the harm they inflict on kids. I'm surrounded by them. The best thing I can do is listen to the kids and try to make them laugh about it.