Teacher Trust Strategies or Jimi’s Jeans vs. Yellow Hallway Pass
By Ben Winderman
I am not a germiphobe, as I have led students to believe for many terms. I feel relief’s bristle of confession.
When students are late to class they generally offer to hand me a little yellow pass of proof, but I never accept it. It’s not the validity of their tardiness that I reject, just the judicially jaundiced rectangle feverishly scribbled, seldom forged, by one of my colleagues a floor below. For many years I took the pass, fake looked at it, and tossed it out. Occasionally the signature struck me as questionable, or the time was crossed off and rewritten one too many times, but in the moment of pedagogical commandthe twinge of suspicion that said pass had produced did not warrant making an accusation and potentially derailing my anticipatory set. Eventually I accepted that the erroneous exchange therefore served no purpose, and in objection to acts of purposelessness in a classroom, I recently began rejecting the offered pass, instructing the student to dispose it in recycling and sit down. However instead of explaining my reluctance to fake follow school procedure in the context of cultivating a student’s trust, I instead invented, and demonstratively displayed a false fear of possibly touching the yellow pulped receptacle of yuck. I’d gesture at the blue bin with a look of nauseated urgency until, “Just toss it,” another student chimed in; nodding in confirmation, appreciation, and/or armistice I constructed a method of disobeying bureaucratic procedure which if challenged by administration I felt provided me with at least empathetic grounds. Eventually all of my students “got” my aversion to touching the passes, and I relied on biology instead of honesty to convince, if not convert, a new accomplice in deviance.
But I confess: my repulsed reaction to their late pass was always contrived, not connected to my real ploy for poo pooing policy. My disinterest in the pass scaffolds to my obsession with advancing student/teacher trust. I possess no paranoia involving the contraction of contagions; instead I recognize that every gesture of faith I make helps cultivate a foundation of trust that builds real education. This article required a confession, but its higher purpose is to propose a series of “Trust Strategies,” that may appeal to your particular soul.
“But first, are you experienced?”
Briefly I must return to the original scene: a student comes into my classroom late, holding even thrusting a pass at my suspicion. Invisible to all eyes, mine included, is the actual script of that student’s yellow alibi. Occasionally students who have an overdeveloped craving to be recognized for their morally up-sturdiness occasionally try to force the pass on me; this jousting can be comical. There is also the possibility that the student who entered late did in fact thrust a fraudulent hall pass towards me only to be deflected by dignified decency.
“I know it’s legit,” I get to say to that kid, and “onward without interruption,” I get to say to the class.Sitting down with a cautious hint of relief might be the one kid who just got away with it. Conventional dogma instructs us to be aware that other students will now also see a space seam of security and before long the seams, which keep the student’s capacity for rebellion repressed, will tear like Jimi Hendrix jeans. I love dogs, but I haven’t seen this particular dogma played out. What I see is how Jimi’s jeans represent an anthem for free spaces, our need for escape, our curiosity concerning denim (and what’s underneath); if sometimes to show some skin and other time as a possible tunnel route that imagination connects to liberation. Most students won’t escape, nor will they even consider breaking out, but many might take comfort in knowing the possibility exists. When it doesn’t a classroom can feel like a prison indeed, and Jimi's jeans are more like my dad’s ironed Wranglers.
If I develop suspicion about a particular student for substantial reasons then privately, not passively, I must enact the traditional mechanisms of discipline and be prepared to follow through with the weight of my 3-ring binder. I know that punishment’s word ripples quickly; I will mostly likely not have to repeat a punitive approach to problematic behavior(s).
Trust Alternatives to destructive deviance exist too however in many forms. Hallway Talk #1 for example, during which I the teacher, admits/explains to my hallway counterpart, that I don’t really even know how to write a student up. “I’m sure I could figure it out, but I’m also sure that the write up is accompanied by a mandatory call home, and the truth is that “I’m sure your folks are very nice people, and I will give them a call after school if I need to, but as a high school student I’d much rather keep this issue between us, and see if we can’t find a mutually agreeable plan, moving forward. It’s transparent that I don’t want the extra work (writing up a discipline report/calling home), and immediately the student can connect to a mutual apathy that I not only recognize and admit to, but also share with them. The hallway has provided some degree of social stigma, but as the student reenters with me, and we share a sense of collegial affection, not an anticipated eye roll. Other students, who in the classroom await, are also invited to consider that this teacher might be different, and if that’s true, maybe I can learn something from this class..?
Here’s another Hallway Talk that you may choose to follow. Again it immediately is intended to surprise the late student, who is braced for defense in the hallway, but approached instead with understanding:
“I know that time slips away on you somedays,” I smile. “Heck I’m happy you found a way to show up to my class at all.” Sincerity is critical, but as a teacher you already know this. “Believe me I know life’s complications,” I shake my head in moment of self-imperfection. “And seriously, I appreciate that you sucked it up today and made it to the majority of class. Let’s get back in there together and make the most of our time, capisce?” I find the Italian syntax allows a hint of Mafioso manipulation followed by, “Listen, if I can help you out in any way please don’t hesitate to ask.” Eye contact here is momentary but again unfiltered integrity. “I teach social studies,” I smile as my hand reaches for the door, “and surely I know its importance, but some days life trumps The Reconstruction Era, and those days happen to all of us.”Caught but quickly pardoned, the student’s relief grows into reliance. The class expected an interrogation but instantly they witness congeniality; Reconstruction resumes with one more active learner.
If “Trust Strategies” led to a rash of questionable student behaviors then I would have abandoned them for the yellow (and now green) mosaic of monitored movement. I would have ditched my intentional aloofness and cultivated a more pernicious iron clad policy. I am not suggesting this without variation, and I definitely recognize the variability that exists in terms of age, academic atmosphere, prior learner experience, priorities of prevailing importance, teaching style, teaching experience, and ability to play the role with your words, not mine. But consider the ideology from where this approach arises, the power it promises, and the fact that trust works: students rarely come to my class late, they express appreciation for this approach, they learn a little something about Hendrix, and they never try to trick me more than twice.
There are many other situations that invite a similar approach: “Trust Strategies,” as a title for now will have to suffice. It’s about finding faith, growing a habit of honor in the way that teachers and students interact, and convincing skeptical students that in fact their teacher is in in their corner…has their back. Kids today are hungry for connections which feel tribal not troubling; they crave the allegiance of a gang. There is no initiation, not compromise of authority; there is no question that the goal is cooperation, learning, and shared success. There’s a rejection of purposeless work in the classroom and a defiance of mechanisms which find roots in suspicion. There is risk, but also reward.
Each strategy is so easy to implement, more difficult is the maintenance of what these approaches produce. If the answer is yes let’s simultaneously examine an inevitable occurrence in the classroom, our eye on maintaining the equilibrium of trust not trick. Teachers often seek symmetry, and sporadically we understand why. In this case trust must silhouette preparation; The Taj Mahal explanation would trace a symmetrical shape cultivated by equal parts of a trusting relationship and the readiness to deliver meaningful moments that are worthy of the student’s choice to both believe in you and pay attention to your lesson.
It is an ongoing process that will relentlessly rely upon your own faith in “Trust Strategies”, and your own commitment to the energy and effectiveness of your classroom. This is quite critical, as I allude to lyrically, early in this article. The inherent risk of engaging the help of “Trust Strategies” is cultivating genuine student faith and then following that accomplishment with a teacher's flinch, even if it’s momentary. Flinch damage can be profound.
There is recovery from having trust betrayed, but the cost is significant, and the subsequent cure is elusive. Failed trust in fact may inflate student suspicion beyond its original space; so like most classroom strategies, consider this completely and carefully, before proceeding professionally.
The yellow pass has purpose, as I’m sure the green one does too. Maybe you’re more Javert than Valjean; maybe you do fight a crippling fear of contagions and can’t ignore your calamitous concern about losing control. Maybe you’re not a teacher at all, but a parent, a student, or a principal. I appreciate your attention so very much whomever you happen to be. This paper is my opinion, sharing it requires a great deal of trust. My students have given me faith in pure honesty; I’m faking the nerve.
“Trust Strategies” work for me; they’re a mode and a code. I’d like to hear about others and I have a list that I’m happy to share. Since I plant the seeds of our studies, I need each student to trust what’s invisible (fertilization) , and imagine what grows (germination). Everything that is visible I want students to devise/recognize/prize, but instruments of suspicion, correspondence for lies, I tend to ignore and despise.
Always nice to come clean; admit I’m not squeamish about snot. But facetiousness can fracture faith, so let me conclude with this promise/pledge. As a devout believer in trust, and an apostle of secular gospel, my career long search for shared earnestness becomes now an attempt to find more followers for faith: the power of knowing you’re teacher is in your corner, the awareness of your students situated your side; I’m a fan of Jimi’s jeans, old and faded, not fashioned and contrived.