I Was Wrong About Some Other Things

Yesterday I wrote about how you can lose an argument even if you’re correct.

You can also win an argument, even if you’re wrong. Or, at the very least, you can make it so you don’t lose that argument. You can stop the argument.

  • You can stop the argument by distracting from it.
  • You can stop the argument by placating others and going along with what they want.
  • You can stop the argument by laying out loads of blame on everyone and everything.
  • You can stop the argument by making it extremely uncomfortable to continue arguing.

I cop to having used these methods from time to time. But, overall I do not recommend them. Students will never learn to resolve interpersonal conflicts on their own if we interfere by distracting them. (Don’t fight, guys, let’s go play on the swings wheee!) They learn not to respect a teacher who’s just trying to make it to dismissal, so yes, fine, we’ll just watch an episode of The Magic School Bus. Students won’t be honest with a teacher who thinks that everything is somebody’s fault. (Would you trust someone that ready to censure?) And, yes, you can grind all sorts of monkey business to a halt with the threat of serious consequence (at our school, that would be the dreaded WHOLE CLASS CLIP-DOWN), but that kind of intimidation quickly loses its power when you employ it one time too many times.

So I’m not saying that doing any of the above makes you a bad teacher. It’s just what you do in a bad moment, when you’re not your best self. However, if the bad moments keep on coming, and these strategies comprise the most recently used file in your classroom management folder, then it might be time to step back and reflect on what’s not working. And by “reflect” I literally mean “take a look in the mirror.”

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(Because it’s you. You are the element that is not working. And causing other things to also not work.)

Maybe it’s just me, but I always had the mindset that disagreeing was a problem, therefore arguments were a problem, therefore arguments are bad. It’s okay to argue. And it’s okay not to win an argument. It’s even okay if an argument has no winners! Don’t shy away from conflict just because you’re scared of it. And don’t feel like you always have to come out on top — it’s a cliché, but pick your battles. And don’t pick the ones where you think you can prevail; pick the ones that really matter to you, even if you have as much chance of winning as a chicken has of having teeth.

And so, when I have a bad moment and am not my best self, I admit it. I think about what I could have done in the moment instead. And then I forgive myself and move on. I can’t go back and undo my mistake, but at least I can carry it with me, ready to deploy what I’ve learned in the next bad moment, when I have a new choice and ability to keep trying to be my best self.

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