searching for atticus

Because they’re crazy, insane, clever, and frustrating.

The crazy and insane are essentially synonyms, but they are distinct because sometimes I laugh and sometimes I want to cry. And this hasn’t changed over the past several months, contrary to many expectations.

I’m sure many of you have been following this Humans of New York chronicle of Mont Blair Academy, and the portrait of the principal Ms. Lopez has definitely struck a chord with educators around the world. She didn’t believe she made a difference. Not until her school, students, and photos were internationally acclaimed. Because kids aren’t always the greatest communicators, because they’re not always equipped and often just not emotionally mature enough to realize that their teachers are not superhuman. That, to some degree, we all want external validation from someone that we’re not failing them. It’s especially beautiful when it comes from them.

Sitting back and writing this, I realize I focus on the negative too much. In a class of 40, if four kids are acting up, it does detract from the learning of the others and as a teacher I have to do what I can to change their behavior. But when I’m at home, I should also be able to see the other 36 who were focused, interested in what I had to say, who wanted to learn and are really at that point where they understand why they’re in school. It’s something I have realized theoretically, but to put it into practice is not the easiest thing.

Because my way of problem-solving involves reading as much as I can, I have also been reading Teach Like Your Hair is On Fire by teacher-God Rafe Esquith. Now, I agree with nearly everything he says, but I’m struggling to implement a lot of the ideas gleaned from this. The reasons vary; excuses I make about infrastructure and time, my lack of confidence in our kids’ ability to execute some of these activities without hurting each other, and last but not least, the fear of failure. I know none of these reasons should stop me; none of them are even solid enough to be called reasons. So I’ve pushed myself.

The thing I loved the most from his book so far was Kohlberg’s six levels of moral development. In short, the idea is this:

Level 1- I do things for fear of consequences

Level 2 – I want a reward

Level 3 – I want to please somebody (most often the teacher)

Level 4 – I follow the rules

Level 5 – I think about others and their feelings (empathy)

Level 6 – I have my own moral code of conduct and I follow it (think Atticus Finch)

While I have not formally introduced Kohlberg’s brilliance to them, I’ve started talking to them about how learning should come from their inner desire to learn, not because there are trackers that give them rewards and consequences. To try this, I sometimes don’t use trackers as well, which gives me mixed results. Just like us, kids are moody – sometimes they’re amazing and I come home bouncing, and sometimes they’re just not.

In any case, I’m aware that these expectations are rather lofty. Adults who feel the need to post their every accomplishment and bitty detail from their mundane life are not even at Level 6, no matter how accomplished they may be! But I’ve said this before: I’m not okay with my kids being average in morality. I’m not satisfied with the lack of empathy I see in India, and probably around the world. They will be better than that. Even if their RC growth were stunted, if each kid has their own moral code of conduct, I would honestly be over the moon. Because with that, I’ve equipped them to deal with the rest of their life as well. The learning they’ll figure out, because students who do what they believe is right regardless of acknowledgment and consequences are ready for life 🙂

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