2 Contrasting Classroom Conversations

I teach a diverse bunch of students and this is reflected in the conversations I have in my classroom. In fact, one of the hardest things that I have to deal with in my teaching life is walking from one classroom to another and having to adjust my mindset to suit that particular audience. My timetable consists of year 12 ATAR, year 10 Gifted and Talented, year 7 mainstream and a year 8 academic enrichment class. As you can imagine, the topics of conversation raised by those students differ greatly. For example…

  1. Horatian vs Juvenalian satire and whether or not minorities should engage in self-deprecating humour.

This one was from today. One of my year 10 girls proposed that the light hearted nature of Horatian satire has the potential to disguise hurtful comments as humour. She said that Juvenalian satire is more abrasive but is generally directed at the majority or at authoritative figures whereas Horatian satire can easily be used against the minority. This evolved into a comment about minorities making jokes about their own otherness and how this can make other people think that these jokes are acceptable.

This was a point of interest for the girl, who also happens to be Asian, that branched from our classroom content but the depth of that discussion was not planned. In fact, the discussion itself was not on my lesson plan. The student initiated the conversation and I entertained her because I try to make a point of teaching more that my subject matter and allowing students to have (and develop) their voice.

  1. If there was a fight between teachers, who would win?

This conversation topic comes up at least once a year and was raised again on Tuesday by one of my year 8s. It’s a typical work avoidance query generally asked by one of the boys and I doubt it’s a question female teachers get asked. Sometimes I’ll entertain this sort of questioning for a few minutes as a way of building a rapport with the students – not to the point where I’m suggesting who would win but pointing out the strengths of each combatant. On Tuesday, when asked if I could beat one of the phys ed teachers, I said the fight had already taken place and the other guy had beaten me. To prove the point I pulled my sleeve up to show a large bruise on my bicep. The kids flipped. When asked if that really happened, I revealed that the bruise was footy and redirected the conversation back to the topic of study.

Both times I let the kids speak. I let them air their opinion (even if one was completely irrelevant). Both times I controlled how long the conversation went for and moved the students back onto the course content when I deemed it appropriate. What am I getting at? Too many times I see teachers put up a front that is so disparate from who they really are that the kids don’t even see them as human whereas the most effective teachers I’ve seen use their humanity as a tool to help kids progress. And, if I were still a greasy teenager, I know which teacher I’d rather have.

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