While I believe that teachers should maintain great flexibility — to the extent of actually changing what is expected from particular students in a course — and that granting them these personal options is beneficial to all. There are two areas, however, where teachers must insist. The first is that they must in the best interest of the class feel personally comfortable. Embarrassment, argument, laughter at their expense, whatever has the effect of ongoing teacher discomfort, limits any chance that the class will go smoothly and in the longer term be successful. And the overlapping second is that under no circumstances can the opportunity for other students to learn be interrupted by anyone. This is not so much about respect. That can vary by age and grade, by culture and community. It is more about the dignity of schooling.
About once a year I would have a student who objected to something I said when I laid out an overall plan for the course. Perhaps they had had a bad experience with journals, or they were so advanced in the area of study they made clear that they were laughing at the expense of those who lacked expertise, or they arrived late without explanation and made it clear they intended to be late again. At such times I would know beyond a shadow of a doubt that at the end of the course these students would rate my performance lower than anyone else in the class would. I knew this no later than day three.
And here looking back I find my actions unfathomable. For I always thought that no matter what the student said, they would benefit from taking a class from me and thus I encouraged them to stay rather than find a teacher who was a better match for what they wanted. For I believed that there was a dimension to my approaches which would offer something of such unexpected value, that if I took a blow from their angst and their anger it might just be worth it.
The student says,”That’s not me.” And the teacher weeps. The student says, “I don’t want it to be me!” and the teacher nods consent.