The daily musings of a substitute teacher in East Central Illinois.

Maintaining Dignity

Today I was an English teacher at Mahomet-Seymour High School. I was just there a week ago with these classes and had a most wonderful experience. I was looking forward to returning, and not just because the high school was observing Teacher Appreciation Week this week instead of last, so I was able to participate in a delicious luncheon provided by the PTA.

I was asked to come in early to sub for another teacher for a class period before starting my scheduled assignment, which I gladly agreed to do. It was for one of the resource teachers (equivalent to cross-categorical special education). Her class consisted of five boys and, for unfathomable reasons, it was determined that they would watch Confessions of a Shopaholic during class. The boys ignored the movie while I read my book on balanced literacy.

During my freshmen reading classes, I was once again successful in getting the entire class to actually do what was assigned: read for 30 minutes then fill out a simple reading summary log. The first class entertained themselves by asking questions about me, including what my wife does, my first name (I told them when they accurately guessed it), and the types of music I enjoy listening to. One of them tracked me down on Facebook and requested me as a friend. I told him that I do not accept friend requests from current students, but I’d be glad to leave the request there until either he graduates or I am no longer teaching there.

It was during the second class that I was challenged to maintain my dignity, which I am glad to say that I did. I had one boy who decided to hide behind a cabinet and make weird noises. I ignored him and he eventually gave up. Three students (a boy and two girls) kept making noises with their bodies (I won’t elaborate further) and giggling. I looked up a few times, made eye contact, and they apologised and stopped. One boy, though, wanted to go to the office to get ibuprofen for a headache. There were only 10 minutes remaining in the class period, so I told him to wait. He decided to go anyway. He walked out the door, went around the corner, and then poked his head back. Apparently he thought I was going to chase after him.

I decided that it was beneath my dignity to chase a 15-year-old boy through the halls of the high school while I had a class working, so I let him go and reported it to his teacher, who happened to be in the building today. I am quite certain that there will be disciplinary action taken against him. He probably doesn’t care, but there are times when I have to pick my battles, and this was definitely one I chose to leave alone.

Despite the silliness of a few, though, I had a great day, and enjoyed getting to know the students better. I may not teach them again, but I am learning from them what I should and should not share with my students, which is always a valuable bit of knowledge.

Have a great weekend!


5 responses

  1. Gravitas is one of your most important tools in the classroom. You have the weight of the established order behind you, and if you use your dignity wisely, then you can perhaps not force obedience in every case, at least maintain a decent order among the whole. Bravo to you, Alex, for using your dignity has a restraining device. I am curious, however, whether this kind of thing is discussed in the literature. Since teachers in K-12 often have so little power, do those who theorize on classroom management understand the weighty principle of gravitas and how to wield it?

    On another note, I’m curious why you chose not to engage the five boys who watched the movie in your first class? Usually, you would have taken the proverbial bull by the horns there and tried to do something more, shall we say, educational?

    May 13, 2011 at 6:17 pm

  2. The literature touches briefly on the idea of not arguing with students, but it doesn’t really get to the idea of gravitas.

    As to why I didn’t engage the boys: the period was a perfect example of floccinaucinihilipilification. They normally do math, but she chose to give them a day off. There was nothing to engage in regarding the film, which held absolutely no interest to these teenage boys. We occasionally commented on some of the more ridiculous aspects of the story, but there was, quite simply, no point to what we were doing. It was just to pass time.

    May 13, 2011 at 6:20 pm

  3. What are your thoughts on gravitas in general, especially among adults? How defined? How achieved? How recognized? In what scenarios efficacious? And so on.

    May 13, 2011 at 8:05 pm

  4. That is a blog post in and of itself. Maybe I’ll post something about it the next day I’m not working, which is most likely going to happen soon, anyway.

    May 14, 2011 at 12:01 am

  5. I look forward to it.

    May 14, 2011 at 10:39 am

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