Friday, October 16, 2009


My parents used to tell me that one day my mouth will get me in trouble. I never listened. Call it thick-headedness or stupidity (probably the latter), but I just can't stop telling people what I think. If only I were smarter, I could be a politician!
Recently, the topic of intimidation has struck my fancy. Education Next profiles Michelle Rhee in their 2010 winter edition, and I'm sure there are people who feel intimidated by her approach. Me? I have a huge crush on her--but that's neither here nor there.
Unions are often claiming that administrators intimidate staff, but I've never been one to get bullied. I can't imagine every administrator I've had has always sung my praises; this blog is not anonymous, and I am not a close my door, do my job type of teacher. I have opinions.
What's interesting is that, while unions claim administrators bully, my experience is that many within the rank and file of the union feel more bullied by the union than anyone else. Heck, in most places, teachers are forced to pay agency fees to the union, even if the contract sucks. Give me free agency any day.
Teachers intimidate, too. I won't lie, I'm guilty. I try to intimidate my students with tough rules and killer grading. Once, a student told me, "Mr. Mac, you try to intimidate us, but you really aren't that tough." It killed me, and I loved it. There's nothing better than hearing someone firmly state their opinion with great confidence.
Students try to intimidate as well. I'm going to tell my mother, they threaten. Once, a student threatened me with that line (she'd arrived late and loudly protested the day's agenda when she arrived). "Go ahead. Take out your phone right now and call her," I said. I wasn't kidding, and the girl called home. Mom showed up by the end of the day; the two of us had a wonderful conversation about her daughter's behavior.
I think today's pop-culture calls it swagger, but whatever you call it, you might need to go get it.


At 4:27 AM , Blogger Margaret English said...

Absolutely right! I couldn't do my job properly without using verbal and physical intimidation on a daily basis. It creates fear among some students, to a certain extent, and eventually this leads to mutual respect. It does work.

Also, I have never been intimidated by parents and relish the opportunity to meet with those whose kids are badly behaved. It is a chance to put things right and show the kid that you won't back down, even in the face of another adult.

At 8:11 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

The question is... should this intimidation be alright with us? And should this intimidation be used to exert power and destroy someone's professional life? Should the initimdation be used simply for pleasure or personal gain? If you have never been bullied by administration consider yourself lucky... or just really good at kissing ass.

At 10:32 AM , Blogger Mr. B-G said...

Urban school teacher - You couldn't do your job properly without using verbal and physical intimidation on a daily basis? Really?

Would you want to be in a classroom where you were verbally and physically intimidated every day? I certainly wouldn't. I can't imagine how that type of atmosphere is conducive to meaningful learning. Compliance and education are not the same thing.

At 11:10 AM , Blogger Mr. B-G said...

It's also worth noting, Mr. McNamar, that there's a fine line between swagger and being an a-hole. Most people I know who exhibit such behavior fail to grasp the nuances of that line.

At 11:17 AM , Blogger Mr. B-G said...

Perhaps it's just me, but I also fail to understand how fear leads to mutual respect. Given his comments, it appears Urban School Teacher would find the label of "fascist" endearing.

At 12:46 PM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

Mr. B-G, of course there is always a fine line. But I'll give you hypothetical:
A student in the In-School-Suspension room keeps putting his foot up on the desk. You ask him to take it down, and he complies--for a few minutes. The back-and-forth continues until you decide to not let his actions intimidate you into acceptance.
You walk over, look at him, look at his foot and give the non-verbal cue that you'd like him to remove his foot. He doesn't. You reach down and untie his "kicks." He's stunned into a state of shock as you walk away with his shoe.
"When you keep your foot off that desk, I'll give the shoe back," you tell him.
Is that being an a-hole or is it having a little swagger?
I guess for me, swagger means that I will do my job with confidence. If a student or teacher tries to intimidate me, my confidence won't allow me to be bullied.

For anon--good teaching is good teaching, and if we are doing that, then why should we worry? If the admin. doesn't like me, but I'm a good teacher, then why would I want to remain at that school? Doesn't make sense.

At 2:56 PM , Blogger Beth said...

I just started reading your blog last week and as a future teacher, just wanted to let you know that I love reading about your day to day life. I hope you don't mine that I linked to your blog on my bloglist - please let me know if you do.

At 4:24 PM , Blogger Mr. B-G said...

Mr. McNamar - you've got to be joking, right? Are you telling me that you would walk up to a student and physically untie his shoe and take it? Do you really think a kid who didn't listen to your directive to put his foot down is going to let you take off his shoe?

If I were that kid I'd be more apt to pop you in the jaw than submissively let you take my "kicks."

When a teacher asks a student to do something - regardless of what it is - and it's a reasonable request, and the student refuses to do it, then that is insubordination, and grounds for disciplinary action.

I've worked in my school's in-school suspension room before. If a kid didn't comply with my request, I would remind him of the consequences and ask again. If he still refused, or wanted to play games, I'd let him know I'd be calling the school resource officer next. But I would NEVER lay my hand on a student to get him to comply with a request. That's how lawsuits happen.

At 5:04 PM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

Um, the word hypothetical...

At 5:08 PM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

and Mr. B-G, um, good luck with that very suburban approach. "Excuse me misbehaving student, if you don't follow my directions, I will have to get the administrator."
"Go F#%k yourself," probably doesn't happen in suburbia.

At 8:51 PM , Blogger Mr. B-G said...

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At 8:53 PM , Blogger Mr. B-G said...

Mr. McNamar - It's not a "suburban" approach. I'm sorry, but you just can't physically handle students to get them to do your bidding. If you need to resort to physical interactions to get your students to do what you ask, then clearly you haven't done enough to foster meaningful relationships.

In the past I have had students utter the very words you mention above. When it happened (it happened twice my first year at my current school) I calmly asked the student to leave my classroom. Would you have recommended that I "throw down" instead?

At 4:59 AM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

No. You're missing the point--and completely focused on the wrong part of the post, but okay, I'll run with it.
There is a huge difference between what you are infering and what I mean. No, we can't "throw down" with a student. But, we certainly can convey a position of superiority. Our physical presence with misbhaving students is intimidation--except the nice philosophers of education call it proximity. The "teacher look" is meant to intimidate.
And seeing as I've taught in both suburban and urban settings, I will tell you that the approach is very different. The students respond to discipline in a much different way. I'm sure you'll give me your anectdote telling me I'm wrong, about how twice you've been cussed out and reacted calmly.
They're good stories and they remind me of when I taught north of Seattle and had very few discipline problems or even disrespect problems. I haven't changed.

At 9:01 AM , Blogger Mr. B-G said...

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At 9:03 AM , Blogger Mr. B-G said...

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At 9:40 AM , Blogger Mr. B-G said...

OK. There is also a huge difference between using proximity or the "teacher look" and going up to a kid, untying his sneaker, and taking it.

What do you mean that "students respond to discipline in a much different way?" Is the secret to success at urban schools being a hardass all day? Because I imagine that would get tiring after a while.

And what does that say about our minority populations, that they only respond to threats and intimidation? It seems to me you're painting a broad, stereotypical brush here.

Effective education is about meaningful, working relationships between students and teachers. If I respect you as an individual, I might be more willing to do your assignment than if I don't. But if you don't work to forge a relationship and show me some of the chinks in your armor, then you're assuming I am going to do the work because you're the teacher and you said so and you're a tough guy.

It's our vulnerabilities and soft spots that make us human. I think true courage and toughness is a willingness to expose those weaknesses to your students. We don't have to always know all the answers and we don't have to be the only ones rowing the ship. It's our role as teachers to empower our students, not intimidate them and make them cower before us because we have state teaching credentials.

At 10:18 AM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

Not that I agree or disagree, but I'm reading "Crazy Like a Fox," the story of Dr. Ben Chavis, former principal at American Indian Public Charter School. He, a Native American, believes that the key to urban success is very rigid structures and a bit of hard-ass discipline. His school seems to show success out in Oakland. But, he doesn't follow the fluffy education philosophy of elitist universities, and so he is often discredited despite the numbers.

At 10:42 AM , Blogger Mr. B-G said...

Chavis might very well be right. I've never taught at American Indian Public Charter School, so I have no idea what works for those students and that population.

Discipline and rigidity work for the military. Most other post-high school pursuits like college and the professional working world require flexibility, creativity, and an ability to think critically.

If the purpose of urban education is to raise a bunch of "yes men" who will just follow orders and comply, why not eschew the diploma and send these kids straight to boot camp?

At 4:43 PM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

Well, if you don't know what works at AIPCS, how do you know what works at my school or any other school than yours? Atticus Finch recommends walking in someone else's shoes, perhaps we as educators ought to do exactly that.

At 2:00 AM , Blogger Mr. B-G said...

I never claimed to know what works at your school. My overall point is that I disagree with your premise that fear and intimidation are elements of an effective learning environment.

At 5:22 PM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

Mr. B-G, I wonder why, with all of your wisdom, you haven't commented on the post about my mythology mini-unit.


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