Friday, December 10, 2010


The great thing about having small classes is that one can give fantastic attention to individual students.  The terrible thing is that when 2 students are missing, almost half of one's class is out!  That was the case today in Theory (and often is) but I had to start new material anyway.

A student was scheduled for a detention with me during lunch today, so I went to the cafeteria before he arrived to make sure he got his lunch early and didn't stall in some way.  While I was there — waiting by the doorway — a previous student waved to me and yelled, "Hi, Mr. Duval!"  I waved backed and others noticed, and in almost no time about half of the cafeteria was yelling my name and waving.  Talk about an ego boost.

This student's detention went as well as I think it could have.  He ate his lunch politely and then we spoke about why he was given detention.  He seemed to understand what it was all about and what behavior he needs to modify.

I've been getting the impression that among the students who are in need of a powerful student-teacher interaction, there is a sort of silent (and blind) auction for who will choose to connect with which needy student.  There is no way to measure this, and almost as little likelihood of being able to define it, but it seems to me the sort of thing where most teachers will recognize a student's need for extraordinary rapport with someone and then..."look the other way."  I put that in quotes because it's not quite the right phrase.  If you drive by a recent car accident, do you call the police just in case no one else has, or do you assume that someone else had surely done so by the time you got there?  It's a "someone else will connect with him/her" tendency.

Now I sound like I'm berating fellow teachers (and now I'm also rambling).  I'm not, because this attitude is, to a degree, necessary.  It's simply not possible to have the kind of focused attention I'm talking about applied by every teacher to every student.  If I had even attempted to do so with every one of my (in MS only) 80+ students, I would be so overwhelmed that my effectiveness with the students would be diminished.  Ultimately, I mean to say that my experience with the boy who had detention today is approaching the borderline between ordinary student-teacher rapport, and the extraordinary.

A teacher's impact on their students' lives is constant and unpredictable; profound and immeasurable; tenuous and memorable.

Op.23 Prelude #5 in G minor (S. Rachmaninoff) - Yuri Rozum


  1. This issue of "silent (and blind) auction for who will choose to connect with which needy student" is one of the most interesting issues I think you have ever touched upon. To me, it seems like a fundamental problem of the educational system that remains largely unaddressed, in large part because addressing such an amorphous problem probably seems impractical. Obviously, it's hard (not to mention, potentially problematic) by its very nature to systematize and organize how teachers deal with each vastly different student, but do you think there could be ways for this to be less of a silent, blind process? Are all the solutions as impractical and unimplementable as they seem?

    Those all sound like leading questions coming from me, but I really don't have any answers in mind. In fact, I hadn't even thought about this phenomenon before reading it here. Regardless, I think this was a very insightful observation on your part,

    Also, in response to your last paragraph, you're a cornball.

  2. I should clarify that every teacher is expected to make a degree of personal connection with every student. This usually means being aware of an interest or two of theirs and prompting or letting them talk about important events in their lives. The kind of connection is was talking about above is the kind that requires a lot of extra time to talk to a student; the kind that leads to a teacher being able to really understand the way a student thinks.

    It would just be awkward for teachers to plan it out and say, "Hey, could you be the one to spend extra time to get to know Larry? I'm already working with Moe and Curly."

    This overlaps into consideration about in loco parentis (in place of the parents). Schools/teachers legally fill that roll, but there's always a question of "to what degree?" How close is too close?

    In response to your last sentence, yeah, apparently I am. I was also very tired.

  3. I think it is hard at the MS/HS level when students are not taking the classes they necessarily want to take.

    At the college level, at least a smaller college, I know every teacher, they all know my name. I have tea on a regular basis with a prof. who I only had one class for 3 years ago. My new advisor is someone who before you get to the school knows your name, major, hometown...etc (he get's it on a sheet of paper he doesn't have to...."stalk" the students). Even more he gets to know each student in his 80+ person choir as well as all his other classes plus any student going for a music minor (that's easily have the school). It's a lot, and it's easier when you have more free time as a teacher, but I don't think it is unachievable.