I was at #edcampsouthjersey last weekend and had a chance to lead my first Edcamp session. It was a bit nerve-racking, but since this is my year of risk taking, I thought I needed to do it. Also, I wanted to discuss with fellow educators their thoughts and opinions on a topic that has been prevalent in my classroom as well as my school.
Hats, hoodies & crackers (food) in the classroom. Do these really impede learning?
I wasn’t looking for affirmation, I wanted to hear how others felt about, and dealt with this. Just about every school on every level has rules about attire and food. However, are teachers spending too much instructional time battling with students about dress and granola bars? Are we removing students from classrooms (thus having them lose learning time) over arbitrary rules? Are the rules arbitrary? I asked this of the participants in my session. Can they justify the hat & hoodie rule? Explain how it stops learning? One middle school teacher made a very valid point. In his school behavior problems are often in the hallways, with hats & hoodies cameras cannot identify students.In his mind it’s a security issue. And in the class he pulled up his hoodie (many of us were in hats & hoodies!!) and covered most of his face. “To me “, he said,”this is a distraction, how do I know if he is paying attention, and not hiding ear buds”? To me this was a sound rationale. Whether I agree or not, at least there was some thinking and reason to the rule. In my US History class, we spend a number of lessons on Civil Disobedience, and how to use your voice for change. If a government can’t explain why a law is valid or in place, well, maybe it needs to change. Why should school be different? Students (and teachers) need to know why a rule is in place. I am not advocating anarchy, but questioning yes.
Another teacher was mildly angry “We are teaching the whole child, they have to learn how to follow rules. What are we teaching them if we don’t enforce the rules?” Again, I understand her thinking, but does anyone drive 65 miles an hour in a 55 zone? Probably yes. Okay that’s not following the law. Is the extension of that we are going to steal a car? Most likely not. Yes as a society we needs rules and law for the security and benefit of us all. But that doesn’t mean all rules are good or necessary. Our representatives are in place to try to make all of our lives better. The same is in our schools. If the end goal is to educate our students, we must have them in the classroom. And, make them feel safe and create an environment comfortable for learning. Not adversarial. If a student is comfortable then hopefully they will be more open to learning. If we are in a cantankerous relationship with the students, we are becoming a hindrance to education. Rules that are counterproductive to this need to be reexamined.
Another reason brought up was the dress code. “Look at how some of the girls are dressing! Bare bellies, low-cut tops, off the shoulder shirts.” I agree students need a dress code, clothes that objectify women have no place in a school. But, that is a different issue.
One other teacher brought up the point that “in my day, a man took off his hat inside, and they (the students) have to learn how to dress for work.” For me this speaks to some core issues. Firstly; it’s not your day anymore. Look at the world we are living in today. Many of these students are modeling the world they live in. I spoke in a previous post about showing a world outside of what they see every day. However, we need to acknowledge where they are also. How many parent meetings have you sat in where the parents are dressed in a hat or hoodie? Are we sending them a message that their environment and culture is of lesser value than ours. In many ways the dress of our students reflect their culture. In this session we were a room of young to middle age white men and women. Are we imposing our standards and values on our students? When I was in High School (the 60’s and ’70’s) we protested and marched so we could wear blue jeans! Every generation, every culture has different standards and styles.How can we be inclusive if we are ignoring or devaluing our students and their backgrounds.
As for the workplace, in my Alternative Classes, most of my students are not a not on a college track. The majority have plans for a more “hands on” “blue collar career.” Many will be dressing for work as they dress now. Also, many of the parents and caregivers of these students also are dressing for work like this. What message does that send if we tell them their parents are not dressing “right “The message we send when we say take off your hat in class, may go deeper than we think.
So, we certainly did not come to any consensus, but we did have an open dialogue and that where it starts. I believe I now have a better understanding of why the rules were implemented, and I respect them. However I need to consider what my goal is for the student’s as a whole. How do I make learning a collaborative endeavor and keep them in class, on task, and respect our differences? Yet at the same time teach them the need to follow rules, but also learn how to implement change in a positive way ?