“The students who arrive are worse than those who leave us! "
I'm going to have dinner with a friend. He has been teaching in elementary school, in fifth year, for twenty years in a neighborhood school on the North Shore of Montreal. I have never worked with him, but I have known him for more than fifteen years and, recognizing his benevolence, his calm and his thoroughness, I tell myself that he must be an excellent teacher.
We meet for dinner in an excellent bistro, as we have been doing for several years, on the eve of the start of the new school year. Great traveler, he usually tells me about his adventures lived in all corners of the Earth, especially since this year, he returns from three weeks to survey the island of Oahu, so I expect stories of surfing, beaches of black sand and volcanic fumaroles. However, what took most of the time of our interview was the answer to this simple question:
" … and then? Can't wait for the start of the school year? "
In recent years, his response has always been positive and dynamic, reflecting a certain stampede of impatience. My friend loves his profession and I have always admired his professional vitality. To my surprise, it looks different this year, a few days before the start of the school year. To my traditional question, he answers me, in a serious tone:
" No. Not really. "
I answer him, stunned, almost silent:
" Oh no? What do you mean? "
His answer surprises me:
"I will have difficult young people this year".
“Are not all young people 'difficult' in the sense that differentiating our approaches requires that we focus more on their specific needs? Our classes are heterogeneous, the teaching profession is changing and… ”
He interrupts me by rolling his eyes:
“No, that's not what I mean. We are training a cohort of students who, since arriving in kindergarten, have been causing headaches for teachers who have followed one another from one year to another ”.
I try to hold back, but I can't:
" But let's see! I hear that one every year! With the experience you have, you know it well: past students are always better than current students and a thousand times better than those who will arrive in a few decades! In education, the “it was therefore better before”, it does not date from yesterday! Speaking with a teacher who had retired for about fifteen years, he told me that he heard precisely this comment at the beginning of his career at the turn of the 1970s. An experienced teacher had told him that the young people of his generation were more strong, more cultured and more involved in their studies than the new generation of students. "
"It's true what you tell me, but no kidding, I see my colleagues who are good teachers and who are struggling to make it through the school year. Young people are not paying attention, they are messing around. They are not delinquents, far from it, but I have the impression that this group of students has a good cohesion and that the chemistry exceeds what we usually see in a class. It's hard to contain. "
"Uh… I'm not sure how to tell you this, but… uh… are you okay?" "
" Yes why? "
" I do not know. I don't think I hear you speak. This kind of thinking, it's not you! "
" Oh no? "
"No, it's not you!" You are the one who has always found solutions to all problematic situations (we list cases of students, cases of parents and various projects that he has carried out in recent years). And there, the rumor spreads that you will have about thirty students who are active, turned on and mischievous… and you spoil your return with that? I can hardly believe it. And besides, do not try to make me believe that since the beginning of your twenty years of career, it is the first time that you hear this kind of speech! "
He answers me, with some embarrassment:
“Obviously not! "
" Here. The other times you heard this kind of talk from your colleagues, was it true? "
He answers me with some confidence:
“No, that was overkill. I always did well! I remember one time in particular: I was organizing a trip to Ottawa with the students and it involved a night in student residences at the University of Ottawa. On the pretext that our cohort of students was immature, unpredictable and undisciplined, none of my colleagues wanted to accompany me. I had asked a parent and our special education technician to come with us. We had a great time! "
“Yes, I have no difficulty believing you! It is often beneficial to know the students outside the classroom. They appreciate it and the best way for them to show it is to behave well. It's a mark of respect! "
" It's possible. It was at the beginning of May. This set the tone for the end of the school year. It is probably the best that I spent with my students! "
I jump at the chance:
"... and you are going to tell me that at the start of the school year, you expected to have had such a great year and above all, such a great end of the year?" "
"No, quite the contrary ..."
“You see, you made a difference with these students. You are the mystery ingredient! Maybe the colleagues who came before you just didn't understand how to deal with your future cohort? Maybe the situation is exaggerated? Have you ever heard of the widespread Seattle windshield panic in 1954? "
He answers me with an air that misleads the doubt:
" …uh no! "
“No kidding, this story is true: In 1954, in the Seattle area, a citizen shared his impressions with neighbors that his windshield had small holes in places. It must have been recent since he had never noticed them before. His neighbors have noticed the same thing on their own windshields. The police, who had been seized of the case, were questioning themselves and investigating the population's hypotheses: pellet gun vandals, waves emitted by a new army radar, nuclear radiation (we are during the Cold War), chips sand, etc. The story got so big that the Governor of Washington State requested President Eisenhower's assistance. That’s saying something! They called in scientists at the University of Washington and they claimed that 5 % problems were related to the driving or glass of windshields and 95 % to collective paranoia. In short, these minor breaks were indeed there before anyone knew it. These people were just used to looking through their windshields, but not used to looking directly at it. This true story has become an example of how public opinion can influence our perceptions. "
"In short, the opinion that I have of the students before I start the year can have a detrimental effect on the year that I will spend with them? "
I answer :
“Yes, we could say that! In short, you heard what was said by your colleagues. Be vigilant, but understand that you will have to make up your own mind. You are a professional and you will adapt to your young people and to the dynamics of the group. In addition, do not forget that you are part of this famous dynamic! You have a role to play there too! "
“It's true, I never really had that thought. We are all together for this crossing! It's not “them” and “me”. It's us "! "
Are you also sensitive to negative comments from your colleagues about students? Some are always louder than others, or others are always weaker than those of last year ...
Is this really the case? Do we tend to see the “worst”? If we go back to the history of Seattle windshields, it would seem that misfortune is definitely contagious. Fortunately, we have the means to develop our critical thinking to rise above the emotions and, ultimately, have an extraordinary year!
Happy school year!