Who did that?
I never threaten my students.
If you feel like watching the video, here it is: Jamie and her students.
The animated gifs show an instance of classroom disruption and how this is handled by the teacher. Since we’re looking into the story retrospectively, we should take into account the narrow context of this particular classroom within the broader context of the culture it belongs in.
The classroom event is situated in the specific context of culture of the US in the late ‘70s. So we should ask ourselves; at that time, what was happening in the world? What was happening in the US? What was the education policy in that country? What theories of knowledge and learning were considered valid? What teaching methods were teachers supposed to use?
The contextualisation of this particular classroom event helps us understand the power relationships and the cultural values that are negotiated in the event. In very broad terms, it might help us spot similarities and differences to other classrooms across cultures. It could also help us see whether there have been any changes over time.
Power relationships and cultural values are classroom features that are usually left unsaid and hence taken for granted. It’s assumed that students must behave themselves. However, in the video, the student’s disruptive behaviour and the way the teacher deals with it bring the power relationships and cultural values to the forefront.
These features can be analysed in terms of the teacher’s role, the students’ role, how the rapport between the teacher and the students should be established, and the classroom proxemics (the arrangement and use of classroom objects in relation to the patterns of social interaction). Why are students seated individually and in rows facing the board?
The teacher tells the students that she doesn’t believe in issuing threats to her students as she tears the telephone directory in half. Please, excuse my digression, but I can’t help wondering what a teacher needs a phone book in the classroom for… Anyway, her actions speak louder than her words and students get the message squarely. She seems to think that if respect doesn’t develop naturally, it must be enforced. Yet can values be enforced?
In this story, we also have a glimpse at the technology available in the classroom – quite the same as in one of the schools where I work. There are two big blackboards, chalk, books, and… on second thoughts and on a lighter note, should we consider this very special teacher a technological device (a cyborg)?
Up to what extent did the use of these technological devices, together with the arrangement and use of other classroom objects, mirror the power relationships and cultural values circulating outside the classroom at that time?
Let’s go back to the present. I ask myself to what extent has the classroom scene in the video changed around the world? To what extent does the use of today’s technological devices affect the patterns of interaction (T-S, T-Ss, S-S, S-Ss) and the learning process in the classroom? What power relationships and cultural values does the use of this technology reflect?
From the very moment we step into the classroom, either consciously or subconsciously we’re teaching cultural values. We’re teaching what we believe in and essentially who we are.