Monday, March 15, 2010

The Fine Line Between Acceptable and Inappropriate Behavior With Students

In my school, teachers are allowed to celebrate the weekend early by dressing down on Fridays. I choose to do so by wearing jeans instead of my usual dress pants, and to compliment the casual look, I also lace up my favorite pair of Converse All-Stars. This has come to be known among my students as “Cool Shoes Friday.”

I don’t feel like this is inappropriate – my role in the classroom doesn’t get disrupted, I don’t look ridiculous, and my students don’t see me as any less of an authority figure because of it. If anything, my coveted pair of low tops actually helps me. My Friday attire humanizes me in the eyes of my students; those shoes serve as a gentle reminder that I’m not a robot that gets plugged in next to the laptop cart after the dismissal bell rings. Plus, my choice in footwear comes across as pretty hip. They don’t call it Cool Shoes Friday for nothing.

But there is a fine line to be walked between casual and unprofessional.

Take, for example, the recent incident involving North Carolina Social Studies teacher Rex Roland. His name hit mass media outlets Yahoo, AOL, and the Telegraph (to name just a few) this past weekend after repeatedly calling students “losers” both verbally and in written comments on homework assignments. His argument was that his informal banter was just part of his laidback teaching style, but this certainly seems like a thin excuse for such unprofessional behavior.

I sort of understand what he’s trying to get at though – relate to students by using their language. Perhaps he watched Dangerous Minds or The Principal a few too many times. Regardless of motives, you just don’t call your student a loser no matter how “real” you’re trying to be.

Much of what I wrote is assumptive – I don’t know what goes on in Mr. Roland’s classroom on a daily basis, and I certainly don’t know what was going on in Mr. Roland’s head when he wrote “minus 20% for being a loser” on a student’s homework. I actually emailed him requesting an informal interview for my blog so that he would have an outlet to explain some of his actions, but it was not been returned. My guess is that his silence is the result of a gag order imposed by the school district. Perhaps they should have suggested he keep his mouth shut before this incident took place.

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