When reminiscing on the March Malaise and the stress points being surfaced with our current Restorative Justice practices, I recalled a similar issue I faced while teaching back in 2006.
Thursday, March 30, 2006
Imagine being in water fifteen feet deep, your arms are getting tired, and your feet can no longer help you maintain buoyancy. You begin to panic; your heart races; you desperately grasp for air. Nothing must be more frightening than those first moments a person realizes they are drowning. Those moments just before panic sets in. Those moments when you begin to question all the decisions that brought you to this place in time.
Panicked, you grasp for someone, something, anything to hold you above water, if you could just have one more second of footing, something solid to sustain you. Just then a Good Samaritan shows up to attempt to help, desperately you lunge you grab, you pull, you will do anything to get out of your current situation. The Samaritan has to make a choice back off and wait for a trained lifeguard, or attempt rescue and risk becoming a second victim.
While training for lifeguard certification my senior year in HS I admittedly do not remember much (except for maybe the school issued Speedos the entire gym class was mandated to wear). One thing I do remember though is “drowning people panic.” Panicking people do not think. They do not recognize help. Rescuing a flailing victim is almost impossible.
Being in a school that does not seem to embrace the same educational philosophy (eg. Restorative Justice) as you do must be similar to drowning, First, you are swimming thinking you can ride out the progressive thought in the school, then you realize you are slowly being left behind. You grow tired. Occasionally you lash out (outwardly criticize colleague for “buying into” the philosophy or as some say, or "drinking the Kool-Aid", you begin to grab and grasp at things you thought were solid non-negotiable educational standards (tracking, the “teacher vs. student mentality, departments, homogeneous ability level classes for certain subjects). Others will attempt to throw out lines to save colleagues. (eg. Professional Learning, Critical Friends Groups, and open Grade Level Team discussions) however, you fight them off. You accuse “them” (people who seem to be swimming) of not understanding you. You claim your needs outweigh anything “they” have to offer. You reach and grab for something. If I could just get this one tracked class, if I could just have that one class without so many students that need my help. I was a good teacher. You start to think, “These people are just doing this wrong. This progressive crap will eventually pass. Come on guys let's face it we are really just a department. Eventually, this Restorative Stuff will just pass. Soon we will be just like every other school. Just wait until they see my regents grades.”
Victims must realize when they are drowning and stop flailing their arms and let Samaritans help. Swimmers must listen for those who are already panicking, and spouting negativity and avoid being pulled down by their desperate grasping. Above all else, we must remember these are our colleagues both swimmer and non-swimmer. The panicking victims and the trained lifeguards are both trying. We are all in the same small school, we all have so much more to learn.
Walter has been in public education for 22 years as a classroom teacher, team leader, lead teacher, and currently as an AP at Hudson High School of Learning Technologies. He has been invited to speak at the Tech Forum NY "Fostering Innovation at the School and District Level” 2015 ; BREC “How to Implement an Effective Team Approach to Teaching” 2009; Adelphi University “Urban Education Conference” 2007. He currently sits on the board of the www.nchsapa.com (Nassau County HS AP association.
*This has been updated from its original format in 2006.