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November 23, 2004
Dressing up for Paradise Primary

Yesterday I visited Paradise Primary again, and this time I tried something different. I dressed well. Smart suit. Smart shirt. Tie. A new pair of shoes. The idea was to make my two charges more biddable, to impress them. I remember reading, somewhere, that what determines the behaviour of boys in a classroom is not what the teacher does in the class, but what the boys perceive the teacher to do outside the class. What counts is the perceived position of the teacher in the pecking order out there in the big, wide, bad world. Dress better, and you look more important in this world, and hence to the boys. Ergo, they pay attention to you.

Whether it was coincidence or causation, the boys were more biddable. Boy One even asked me about my smart clothes. Why are you wearing such smart clothes? he asked. Because I am doing something important, after this, I said. Not that this isn't important, I added hastily, but this other thing is, you know, really important. So how about we do some reading now, Boy One? Okay, says Boy One, and we do.

Boy Two also submitted to some reading.

I don't want to give them more informative nicknames than this, because I don't want to impose my expectations upon them, and nicknames are bound to embody expectations. The One and Two thing is strictly a matter of chronology. Boy One goes first, then Boy Two

Later, I had another look at the Volunteers' Handbook, and it seems I can relax about whether we do any actual reading or not. Playing games, drawing pictures, which is what I have actually been doing with them a lot of the time, and generally establishing a relationship, is quite sufficient to start with. I am tempted to scoff and am sure that some of the readers of this may scoff, but then I think, these people do know their thing, and have had a lot of experience at it. I shall be guided by their guidance, and will relax about us having to do reading every time. I may even read them the bit in the manual where it says we don't have to do any reading. This may amuse them, and get them thinking about the uses of reading.

Next time, I will try dressing down to my usual standard, and see what difference that makes. If they refuse to do any reading, what with me so dressed down, I now know that this doesn't matter.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 08:22 PM
Category: Brian's brilliant teaching career

During a recent stint substitute teaching in the American mid-west, I showed up for work in a jacket and tie. I learned that this mode of dress went out with high-button shoes. The other teachers wore variations of jeans and polo shirts. Besides the teachers' casual dress, I was surprised by how well-behaved the students were.

I kept wearing the jacket and tie. One day, a boy asked me if I was really an FBI agent. Eventually I learned that even some of the staff had suspected I was there as some kind of undercover inspector.

Comment by: tom harrison on November 25, 2004 07:49 PM

Yep, that's the kind of thing I mean. Wear the usual scruff uniform, and obviously what they see is all there is. Wear posh clothes, and who knows what externally based superpowers you might possess?

Today I wore the usual scruff uniform. Boy One was very obliging. Perhaps he remembered how posh I had dressed last time. But Boy Two was rather recalcitrant, unlike last time. Coincidence? It looks more and more like: not.

Perhaps I will investigate the world of theatrical costumiers. High ranking cleric. Senior army officer? Judge?

Comment by: Brian Micklethwait on November 25, 2004 08:42 PM

How old are these boys? Is just spending some chunk of time reading *to them* a good idea?

Esp if it's something they find more interesting than the usual school-assigned dreck.

1. They learn to enjoy reading for its own sake.
2. They learn some stuff, which makes them want to learn some other stuff....

My favorite example: reading a kids book about the Trojan War to my 4-year-old, who can now expound on Trojan taxation of Greek shipping.

Comment by: Bill Seitz on December 2, 2004 11:06 PM

The boys are about ten, I think. English Year 5. And when I do read to them I always show them the book, and with my finger I point at the words I'm reading as I read them. Often they join in, or I say what's this word and they say it. Although, Paul The Boss (see later postings) said don't interrupt the flow of the story too much, or they may get bored.

Comment by: Brian Micklethwait on December 2, 2004 11:46 PM
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