Draw whatever conclusions you may, but my favorite movie growing up was Anne of Green Gables, the series with Megan Follows broadcast on PBS. My sister and I taped it from TV and watched them over and over and over again. With the recent $10 windfall that befell me (and another $40) I bought the DVD collection.
Tonight, while watching the second DVD, I came across this gem, which I encourage you to watch the first six and a half minutes of:
Argh! Embedding on that video is disabled. If it doesn’t show up, watch it here. Trust me, it’s definitely worth watching. [The transcript of the scene is below the fold.]
Let’s lay the basics out here. Anne Shirley has been a teacher for the past two years at her hometown’s public school. She enters a private school where the cards are stacked against her. And this is the first day of classes.
What we see here is something we teachers fear, something we cringe when we watch. An entire class turning against us. We know this deep down: in a battle with students, students always ultimately have the upper hand. And in this clip, we see that laid bare.
Anne and the student ringleader escalate their conflict — each egging each other on. Anne offers a punishment, sees it isn’t viewed seriously by the rest of the class, and raises the stakes. The student says, simply, no. (The student can always say no.) In frustration, Anne raises the stakes again: administering the strap. In a voice of defiance, the student accepts the punishment. The battle of wills is over. The punishment wasn’t a punishment at all, because even though it might have hurt, the student won the battle of wills. Anne lost.
If you care to answer, I ask you: A majority of students in your class are rallying against you, the ringleader lets out a snake and admitted it, and then refuses your punishment of staying after school for a week. Your school does NOT have any formal school-wide system of punishment (such a detention, suspension, expulsion). You have to handle this on your own. What would you do at that moment in class, in front of your students? How would you have diffused the situation and gotten the class into your corner?
Transcript of the scene below the fold.
Script below (cribbed from here)
SCENE: Anne’s classroom
- ANNE: Please, girls. Quiet, please. Good morning. I would like to begin by sharing with you what a great privilege it would be for me to share with– [she trips; girls laugh] –to share with you my great love of English literature during the forthcoming year. Let’s hope I’m a little lighter on Shakespeare than I am on my feet. [no one laughs; Anne clears her throat] Never mind. I had a speech prepared, but it doesn’t seem very important right now. My name is Anne Shirley, and I know we shall all become good friends in no time. I come from a little town called Avonlea, on Prince Edward’s Island, where I have been teaching for the past two years. So this is my first time in a private school position, and I hope you will all be able to give me lots of assistance. Now, when I call out your name, answer “here.” Pringle, Myra C. [no response] Pringle, Rebecca A. [no response] Aren’t these your names?
- JEN PRINGLE: No Miss. Perhaps the class lists have been mixed up. [girls giggle]
- ANNE: Oh. Alright. Give me your names, then, one at a time, starting here with the young lady in the front row. Last name first, and age.
- HATTIE PRINGLE: Oppener, Fanny I. Oppener. There are two “P”s in Oppener. 14.
- JIMSIE PRINGLE: Girdle. Myrtle N. Girdle. 14.
- MYRA PRINGLE: Heind. That’s H-E-I-N-D. Alice B. Heind. 14.
- JEN PRINGLE: Ball. Wilma I. Ball. 33. Actually, I’m from the Rollings Reliable Baking Company and we were wondering when you’d be available to rewrite our labels. [girls giggle]
- ANNE: That’s enough. I hadn’t anticipated a class whose the parents were such nitwits at naming their children.
- EMMELINE: Harris, Emmeline Harris. 13. And don’t believe any of them, Miss Shirley.
- ANNE: What do you mean?
- EMMELINE: They’re just pulling your leg because they’re Pringles and they think they can get away with it.
- JEN PRINGLE: Ole Telescope Eyes, here wouldn’t know a Pringle if she was face to face with one. [girls giggle]
- ANNE: Since Misses Fanny I. Oppener, Myrtle N. Girdle, Alice B. Heind, and Wilma I. Ball find themselves so terribly witty, they will write out an accurate class list 100 times today after classes, for my benefit. Now, open your readers, please.
- [Anne sits at desk, opens draw and a snake comes out; girls scream]
- ESSIE: Miss. Miss Shirley. [she faints]
- EMMELINE: Essie! Oh, Miss Shirley, help her.
- VARIOUS GIRLS: Is she alright? Is she okay? What happened? Did she fall?
- ANNE: Emmeline Harris, take this girl to the ladies’ room. Soak the handkerchief in some cold water and see if you can stop the bleeding.
- [girls giggle]
- ANNE: [blows whistle] Alright! All of you sit down, now! And remain seated. Who put the snake in my desk? [no answer] What is your real name?
- JEN PRINGLE: Jen Pringle, Miss Shirley.
- ANNE: Was it you, Jen Pringle?
- JEN PRINGLE: Yes, it was.
- ANNE: You will be detained after classes today. [girls whisper]… And every day for the entire week.
- GIRLS: Everyday?!
- ANNE: Now, please, open your third form readers, class.
- JEN PRINGLE: I can’t, Miss Shirley. My mother expects me for the next three days at the Ladies’ Aid Society Rummage Sale.
- ANNE: Well, I’m sorry, but your mother will have to make other arrangements.
- JEN PRINGLE: But she’s promised my help on the organization committee.
- ANNE: I don’t care. You’ll stay if I say so.
- JEN PRINGLE: I simply cannot stay. I’m sorry.
- ANNE: Well, then, it’s up to you, isn’t it, Jen Pringle? Either you stay after school for the week, or I’ll have to administer the strap.
- [girls whisper].
- GIRL: You just can’t do that, Miss Shirley.
- JEN PRINGLE: I’ll take the strap.
- ANNE: Really? Come here, then, Miss Pringle. Put out your hand. [Anne hits her three times with ruler; Jen returns to her seat, unaffected, with a grin] Open your readers, class, and please look at the first chapter for the rest of the period.
Great, more fodder for my back to school anxiety dreams!
I think her problems start at the very beginning of class. I don’t run an authoritarian classroom, but I do try to establish on the first day Who Is in Charge and that You Are Expected to Work in Here. I am very friendly about it, but after I shake their hand at the door, I tell em where to sit and give em an assignment to start working on.
As the days go by I try very hard to avoid having bored kids in the room. I think it heads off disruptive behavior before it starts.
Of course problems flare up even when I try to keep all that in place. I’m not perfect and kids have bad days. I try to avoid being confrontational with a student in front of the class. No good can come of that. I’m a big fan of the before or after class Private Discussion. I think you get farther relating as human beings and without an audience.