Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Teacher Interview: Morals in the Classroom

I interviewed "Mr. V." and "Mrs. K.," who are both eighth grade teachers at a middle school. Mr. V. teaches history and Mrs. K. teaches English.  We discussed moral issues in the classroom and how different teachers deal with different issues.  The interviewees names were changed to protect their identities.  This interview is from 2012.

1) What is the discipline policy at your school? In your classroom?

Mr. V:  The school regulations are stated in the agenda.  It's like a constitution.  Depending on the violation, I give them a penalty.  Overall, I'm a little more lenient in the classroom than what the agenda states.  

For example, the agenda says that chewing gum is an offense that deserves detention.  But when you think about it, it's really not that bad of a crime.  They're gonna chew gum.  Kids this age are more concerned with the social aspect than the academic.  They want to impress the opposite sex, and mint flavored gum helps that.  If you ask, most of the time the kids are chewing mint gum.  So, the first time I catch them with gum, they just throw it out.  If it's a goofball in the class chewing gum, you make it fun, like have them put it on their nose before throwing it out or something like that.  If they do it again, I give them a warning.  If it is a repeated offense, then yeah, they get detention.  I had one girl who I told everyday to stop chewing gum.  She got a lunch detention.  She learned her lesson, but it was just a minor offense. But for a first offense, I don't see it as a big deal.  Just give them a warning, depending what the offense is.

Mrs. K.:  All the school's rules are found in the agenda.  It's a foundation handbook that lists all the rules.  It's really long and strict.  Teacher's also get a teacher handbook with rules.  The handbook says how to handle a classroom.

2) Do students help determine rules and/or consequences for discipline?

Mr. V.:  I've heard about the democratic classroom.  But to an extent, in the end, the teacher makes the decision.  We have rules that we establish as a class, like why or why not to do certain things.  But realistically, teachers establish the rule.  If you give the students an inch, they take it a mile.  Kids are kids.

Mrs. K:  In the classroom, yes there are a few rules.  I'm very big on respecting others while they are speaking.

3) What kinds of moral issues arise most often? Examples?

Mr. V.:  As a teacher, the biggest issue I have to deal with is the grading policy.  Sometimes it's specialized for students.  I have to create different tests for students with different needs.  You have to use the zero in school, failing kids is an issue.  You can't pick favorites but there are going to be kids you just don't like.

For students, there is always that justification of grades.  They compare their answers with each other.  Academic integrity is a moral issue.  You want to think that all your students are angels and believe that they don't cheat, but it happens.  To try to prevent this I always have them separate their desks during tests.  There was one incident of plagiarism.  A student failed a civil war paper because he plagiarized.  

There's been cases of students lying to the principal, and of course their parents.  Sometimes you have to call them out if you catch them lying.

Mrs. K.:  Sometimes the moral issues are hard to see.  Clothing is a big issue.  Girls are always wearing short skirts, which is against the policy here.  At first they get a warning, then they are written up.  It's the same with flip flops.

Being nice to each other is an issue.  There is bullying, especially online.  Recently, there has been a lot of bullying on the bus.  If there is bullying, students can fill out an identification paper and report it to administration.  Also, in advisory class, students can fill out a paper if they are bullied.  This makes it easier for teachers.  There is a no tolerance policy here for bullying.

4) Would you guess that your students fear punishment, look for rewards, or go along with peers when trying to make moral decisions?  Examples?

Mr. V.:  It differs depending on age level.  In eighth grade, they go along with their peers.  The want to feel accepted.  If friends do something, they do it too so they can fit in with the group.  It depends on the kid too.  There are good kids.  There are kids that follow the crowd.

As a teacher, I try to be fair, firm, and friendly.  I go with a reward versus punishment.  Sometimes I will give them candy or bonus points.  Punishment isn't always effective.  No kid wants to get in trouble, but they will test you.  For the bad kids, I go overboard with kindness, because they might not be getting that kindness outside of school.  You don't know sometimes.

Mrs. K.: * laughs * Definitely go along with their peers!  It's the nature of the beast.  There always seems to be a ring leader and those who follow.

Examples... holy cow there are a lot!  There's weekend stuff, but I'm not going to explain that; I don't need to go there.  In school, copying homework is the big one.  You sometimes see students trying to get answers from each other.  Also, when they are assigned their vocab books for homework, the answers are online, so students are going to cheat that way.

5) Do you use moral education/values education lessons in class?  Why or why not?

Mr. V.: This is difficult, since every teacher has bias.  There are ethics of right and wrong, but they're always different depending on the code of conduct.  Many of my morals are based on religion, but I can't preach that in a public school.  I'm not going to lecture the students by telling them what to do; I try to teach to be nice by praising good decisions.  I fit in morals as much as possible since some might not get that guidance at home.  Mainly the “universal morals,” but everyone is different.  

There are moral issues that come up in the class, especially with controversial topics. Since I teach history, politics come up, but I don't let the class know my political beliefs. It's a private matter. But a good example is our lesson on the KKK, which was obviously morally wrong.  Through lessons like this, I'll throw in “hey, this was really wrong,” or something like that.

Mrs. K.: I try to be a consistent role model.  It's consistency, not lecturing.  Students don't get it if you preach.  The best is the way you present yourself. How you dress, talk, act, and so on.

Thank you Mr. V. and Mrs. K. for taking the time to answer these questions.

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