With swearing, kissing, hugging, joking, and meandering students coming to the fore throughout a geometry class I observed today, I could not help but suffer a flashback to a TV series I watched in my youth: “Welcome Back, Kotter.” The short run series, with John Travolta as its most well-known star, focused on students in a remedial class in a high school in Brooklyn, NY in the 1970’s.
The antics of the sitcom’s students were funny, causing laughs by the show’s students and Mr. Kotter, and welcomed by the audience since it was a comedic portrayal of the challenges facing urban schools of the time; many of which have not changed much, if at all in the intervening 30+ years, as my experience today revealed.
While the students I observed also laughed in class, and the teacher smiled often as well, it was disappointing to watch, and made me feel a bit nauseous; I have a hard time watching students waste precious opportunities in life to learn and grow. Many have not recognized the importance of this time in their life and its contribution to their future station in life. While the teacher did his best to cover the lesson, collect and assign homework, and prevent the class from a total social breakdown, it was clear that it would take near herculean effort to instill order in the students. Why and how it got this way was not clear. Whether this is the best outcome possible for these students, and if not, what needs to be done to make it better is not obvious either. I feel for both the teacher and the students.
On a personal level, I do not want to teach in a class where students act out like this throughout the school year. I believe I will have failed my students if I allow that behavior to reign supreme. I hope to establish a classroom environment where students and adults treat each other with mutual respect, with the occasional flare up that is only natural. My soul will not allow it to be otherwise.