Friday, October 16, 2009

Anarchy and Tyranny

One of my favorite quotes comes from the back of a police cruiser. No, it's not what you think.

I used to work out at a gym that was in the same building as my fencing club. This was a real gym: hard-wood floors, lots of free weights, and lots of mirrors for the body builders. It was not a "fitness center" where there is carpeting, air-conditioning, and mirrors to check out the opposite sex. Because of the type of place it had a lot of Watertown's Finest there and I got know some of the local police: which was good in case we had trouble at the club. Once, during a particularly nasty Massachusetts winter day, one of these guys gave me a lift in his cruiser to the bus stop.

For giggles, I asked if I could right in the back like a real perp, and he said it was a good day to do it since he had just cleaned out the back seat from a the weekend (don't ask - it is someone else's story to tell). So there I am, sitting in the back and trying to imagine what it would feel like if I was really in trouble and I look up to see a quote he has put up on the Plexiglas partition for all his "guests" to read as they sat there as they really were in trouble. It read: "Freedom without discipline is anarchy: Discipline without freedom is tyranny." I asked him about it and he said it was a quote from Nyerere, the President of Tanzania. He said it gave a lot of back seat riders something to think about while they had the time and it reminded him to be professional. I was impressed.

The thing about cops and teachers is that we have a lot in common. We are underpaid, overworked, and under appreciated. We see people on their worst days and we are still expected to make a go of it. We are in the unhappy position of enforcing rules we did not create. We have to de-escalate confrontations with the people we are trying to serve and protect. (as an aside, I always drop that I am a teacher when pulled over, and so far it has gotten me lighter citations than what I probably should have gotten). In short, we are the disciplinarians.

I keep this quote around in my head and sometimes on my signature on my e-mail. It reminds me that I have to be professional and gives the students, parents, teachers, and administrators I correspond with lens with which to view me. Because when all is said and done, we are the peace keepers in and out of our classroom and it is classroom management that is one of the toughest parts of a teacher's job. If we fail to learn this, then our classrooms will go in either the direction of tyranny or in the direction of anarchy.

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