Yesterday, Jane, a colleague, worked with Frank from my class. He's odd. Jane says he's defiant. I think of him as mostly silent. Even when he speaks, which is rare, it's a mumble as if he wasn't spoken to as a baby, toddler, or even spoken now that he is in high school. He wears headphones constantly and often puts his head down on the desk refusing to engage. She sees defiance; I see habit and training.
Frank was in my class, head down, and I asked him to go to the office if he needed to sleep. I said it gently, explaining I couldn't have him sleep in class. Mostly I wanted him to go see Jane. He didn't say much as he left, but there was body language: stiff back, sideways look, the way he pushed out of his chair. I was supposed to react, but I'm old enough to know there's no fight to win there.
Jane came in a bit later saying Frank was in her office. I nodded, happy he had gotten to the right place. She said, he's upset and doesn't like you. I don't blame him? Have you met me? I suggested I take a minute and talk with him. Jane thought it was too soon, he was too worked up. Okay, I said, wanting her to feel I trust her judgment.
Jane apologized. I'm sorry, she said. For what? I asked. I'm working to stop her apologizing, but it's not going well. I'm sure she's sorry about that too. She said, I'm sorry I haven't fixed Frank. Fixed him? I asked. That's asking too much. He's in school and that's a start. Fixes, I told her, are a bad goal to shoot for. She apologized again. Sigh.
Later she came back and I asked if I could tell Frank why I asked him to leave and show that it's not a disciplinary action. She agreed. I went in and sat in a chair lower than his so I wasn't threatening. I kept my voice light, matter-of-fact, explaining why I asked him to go and that I was happy he had come to the office. I told him, I can't make you do anything. What you do is your choice.
I say this to a lot of students. It's simple honesty. I can't make them do anything, so I ask. I could threaten, but that doesn't work out well. It's always your choice, I told Frank. He nodded, surprised as every kid is when we talk about this. Honesty seems a crazy thing in school. I thanked him and went back to class. Frank was calm and nodded.
It hasn't happened yet, but Jane will say I worked magic she doesn't understand. She often says this. I'll say, there is no magic. There's a theory and practice I've tested and modified for years. Frank was, according to Jane, defiant, so I chose to be absolutely pliant and give him nothing to defy. I was honest. I didn't want or demand anything from him. I gave.
School admins and managers are big on outcomes. What's the result of this lesson, this talk, this whatever? I don't hold much with that. Learning is slow, non-linear. My intended outcome was to talk, listen, and demonstrate I'm no threat. I wanted Frank to feel some kindness and honesty. I didn't need anything from him.
I'm no magician. I follow my theory where it leads because it has served me well. Science not magic. Jane doesn't have the same theory and expects other outcomes immediately. Because of her assumptions, I seem to do magic while she apologizes for getting bad results.
I may have to find some magic to work on her.