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Could Have Had Us at Hello
As I watch Predsident Obama bow and sway, falter and concede I can’t help but imagine what his classroom might look like if he were a teacher. Would he cave in to the class bully at the slightest threat? Giving a test, would he change the questions to make them easier to appease the whiners? Would he buy supplies and materials for other classrooms while the students in his own class did without?
Would he accept fifty additional kids into his class who weren’t legally assigned to him just because they wanted to be there? Would everything he tried to do as a teacher become a matter of negotiation among the staff, students and parents? Perhaps a stint in the classroom could have prepared Obama for the presidency better than any term in the Senate.
The key to any leadership position is to establish who is in charge early on. It is essential in the classroom and one would think crucial to the presidency of the United States as well. Any good teacher knows that consistancy, follow through and presence contribute to effective leadership. On the first day of class, I establish my role – the sole person in charge. I don’t concern myself with being their friend, or their mother or psychologist. I am first and foremost their teacher. It is up to me to provide them with a safe learning environment and to do so I need to set and maintain rules and boundries that are observed. It does not mean engaging in debates with the class bully or class clown or class negotiator. I have the well being and education of thirty two students at stake which doesn’t allow me to waste time dialouging with one attention seeking individual.
As a concientious teacher I make it a point to observe the ability and skill levels of each class and each student individually and set my expectations accordingly. I always aim for higher ground, encouraging growth and development even if the kids themselves are unsure of their ability to perform. I don’t lower my expectations or standards based on whining that “other classes don’t have to do this much work” or “other teachers are nicer- translation being other teachers do it for us.” Obama had a vision for health care that resulted in a much different model than what he started with. His expectations and vision were compromised by whiners who, back in 2008 supported the idea of everyone having health care, but in reality didn’t want to be told that they had to buy it for themselves.
Class budgets being what they are, I barely have the resources to provide adequate materials to the 190 students that I teach every day. We are no longer allowed to charge materials fees for additional supplies so I have to be creative and frugal in designing lessons that are high interest, meet the state standards and don’t cost a fortune to execute. Any donations that I get are utilized in my classroom first. If there are enough to share with colleagues, I do, if not, my students’ needs are taken care of first. I’m not about to peddle scissors or glue in other classrooms to maintain good relationhsips while my own students have no tools for themselves. Obama would be wise to consider that concept as he continues to dump aid and support into foreign nations while the needs of the American people go unrequited.
Perhaps the biggest lesson tha Obama could learn as a classroom teacher is that not everything is open to negotiation. In my classroom, I will sometimes ask the students for input before scheduling project deadlines, or specifics regarding an assignment. Most of the time, however, regardless of their complaining, I hold fast to classroom structure and school rules and let the students know that there is no room for negotiation. Students respect leadership. They may not always agree with me, but they respect my ability to to make it stick. Not everyone is going to agree with Obama- in fact only few will. But if he were less likely to waffle on his beliefs and decisions, we could agree to disagree respectfully knowing that he was operating from a passion to do what is right and just for this country and not just what looks politically appealing.
We watched President Obama during his 2008 campaign with a mixture of trepidation, wonder and hope. He was elected on a wave of anticipation by a nation that voted for and wanted change. We were ready for someone to finally lead us out of the mess that previous presidents involved us in. In the three years that he has been president, however, Obama has seriously disappointed his weary nation. While no one expected him to bring a halt to the recession, unemployment and the war in Afghanistan we did expect him to validate the trust we demonstrated by electing him. We expected him to lead. The other day I recieved a compliment of sorts from a student who was recently moved to my class and who initially bristled at my firmness. “I think I’ll stay in this class.” he began. “I can see that there will be real teaching going on here.” A true leader inspires people to want to stick around, contribute and excell. Obama may have blown his only chance at doing just that- he could have had us all at “hello”.