Automation Might be Convenient, But Is It Classy?

My daughter Scarlet and I visited a restaurant the other morning to purchase some bagels. I ordered a “Baker’s Dozen” of various styles; plenty of Scarlet’s favorite, the oneIMG_0519 with sugar piled on top. When I asked the person behind the counter to slice and toast two of the bagels, so we could eat them then and there, I was told that I’d have to buy two more bagels, outside of the baker’s dozen. “The Line, where they assemble sandwiches and cook things, would have to toast the bagels,” it was explained.

Rather than schooling the employee on customer-service or being difficult, I opted to have two of the baker’s dozen sliced right there and forego the toasting. I felt a little

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cheap, but it was a principle-thing. I had purchased the baker’s dozen to save money. Buying two additional bagels would have canceled that, and then we would have too many bagels to eat over the course of the next couple of days.

You should know that there were, maybe, three people sitting and eating in the restaurant, and there was one person behind me in line. In other words, it was not rush hour. It seems to me that the main reason for the toasting needing an additional purchase was because the computer didn’t have a way to send an automated message to “The Line” when a baker’s dozen was being purchased. The only way for this worker to communicate that two bagels were to be toasted was by producing a separate order… Or, she could have grabbed a couple of the thirteen and asked the people working “The Line” to toast them… verbally… perhaps with hand gestures or signs.

Empathy: This deserves a whole series of Classy Blogs, but let me start here. In every single situation, I try to empathize with each person involved, because I believe attempting understanding motives is classy. When you know where someone is coming

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from, it is easier to behave classy. In this instance, the girl taking my order could very well have been new. Perhaps she was told to only use the computer. Maybe she was specifically told to avoid extra transactions, outside of the automated system. “If a customer wants his bagel toasted, you HAVE to press the toast icon on the keypad,” a manager may have said to her right before I placed my order. It isn’t impossible for there to even be an unseen difficulty for this girl to walk the ten feet and talk to “The Line”. Her ex-boyfriend could be working over there, and they just broke up. Who knows? The one thing that I did know was that this girl could not see through the automation of the ordering system before her.

It reminded me of a movie that I do not recommend you watch. It isn’t the drug use and profanity that keep me from suggesting you see “Idiocracy”. The movie has gone from satirical comedy to frightening realism. Its preface is a world 500 years in the future that has become idiotic due to people’s intelligence devolving. While there are several ways this is depicted, one is the use of computers with nothing but icons on them. When I first saw it, I thought it funny, but watching it a year or so ago made me dangerously depressed.

Here is some more empathy: I understand why automation exists. The people at the head of companies want to make as much money as they can. This is only natural. I would like to have more money, too. By lowering the steps necessary to take care of customers,

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limiting the amount of time a living human being is needed for communicating with people, the companies can hire fewer people, thereby spending less on employment. Also, automation can lessen the amount of trivial needs that their paid employees have to deal with. When there is bad weather and I call my gym to see if it is still open, I am surprised to talk to an actual person. I apologize for simply wanting to know if it is open. “Yes, we are open,” a courteous receptionist assures me. I feel badly for how many times that person is probably going to have to deal with my question throughout the morning. An automated system could help them.

On the other hand, when I have a pressing need or question that I know won’t be

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addressed by an automated system, it is infuriating to have to jump through a million hoops to talk to a real person. Sometimes I mask myself as a person seeking to begin a new account just to get to talk to a live person. When I get “transferred” to a person who can “help with my specific issue,” my cynicism makes me wonder if my lengthy wait is just part of meeting the company’s hold-time-quota: “You’re going to wait, whether you realize/want to, or not.”

In the case of my morning bagel customer-service crisis, it was sad to see a young woman be boxed into an algorithm that didn’t allow her the ability to show the classic “customer-first” concept that makes the service industry classy. Doctors are equipped with an awesome amount of valuable information via the Internet, which can make their work of diagnosing patients’ ailments more effective. Who would be okay with the doctor texting you what they find? The 2009 movie “Up In the Air” gets it. George Clooney plays a businessman who is hired in order to fire people. When his job is threatened by an online career-termination skeem that a fresh, young mind thinks up, Clooney’s character insists that the inventor travel with him to witness the class necessary for handling this delicate procedure properly.

Fighting automation is a losing battle. “Let the robots take the jobs…” Kevin Kelly (2012) thinks robots should win the jobs that can be automated, “And let them help us dream up new work that matters.” There will be hiccups along the way, and Scarlet and I might have to eat a couple untoasted bagels, but it’s worth being able to type this on a computer instead of being busy with farm chores; one of the many ways robots have rescued Americans.

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Judge, M. (Director). (2006). Idiocracy [Motion picture on DVD]. United States: 20th Century Fox.

Kelly, K. (2012, December 24). Better Than Human: Why Robots Will — And Must — Take Our Jobs. Retrieved July 27, 2018, from https://www.wired.com/2012/12/ff-robots-will-take-our-jobs/

Reitman, J. (Director). (2009). Up in the Air [Motion picture on DVD]. United States: Paramount.

 

A Class of Heros

Everyone is the “hero” of his own story. No matter what happens, the teller comes out on top. The classy teacher will know this, appreciate the mindset, empathize with each student’s self-centered, egocentric view of the world, and use it to foster classy heroes, rather than megalomaniacal monsters.

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Technology Heroes: I am in “awe” of how my students technology. They are my heroes.

Have you ever heard of someone putting a person in his/her “place”? This person uses the mask of teaching a student a lesson to vent emotions. Could this be any less classy a concept? A student is disrespectful. The teacher feels like the student would act more honorably if he/she understood his/her “place” in the construct of school hierarchy. So, the teacher, an educated grown up, belittles the youth through verbiage, discipline, or even just a look/body language (ignoring the student). The only thing that this unclassy adult is doing is showing the naturally narcissistic youth how to be truly disrespectful.

The classy teacher redirects. Instead of belittling an already little kid, build him up by showing him what a hero would do. It isn’t because of the “rules” that we don’t yell out in class. That isn’t a classy thing to do. Heros don’t interrupt. “This is what you want to do next time…”

What is a hero? The hero is a person others idolize; For kids, that is themselves. A hero is someone people look up to because of accomplishments (Cipriano, 2014). A mediocre basketball player is not as heroic as the one who leads the team to victory. Ancient civilizations made up stories and created their heros, the gods. The United States of America lavishes heroism on George Washington.

A hero is someone people connect with in order to feel better about themselves. George Washington, the father of our country, lead a rebel, underdog army to victory over the greatest military in the world! Identifying with this hero fosters pride in country and therefore person for being a citizen of that country.

Treat each student like he or she is a hero… They are… in their own minds. Help them achieve their personal greatness by assuming their hero status.

Another thing that forms people into heroes is overcoming adversity (Cipriano, 2014). The survivor of calamity is a hero to others. “I could never have done that; I would never be able to put up with that; If that had been me I wouldn’t have conducted myself nearly as classy…” An easy way to help students become the heroes they already believe themselves to be is by providing “opportunities of challenge”. When I tell my students the expectations for lining up, I make it nearly impossible for kids to do. Then I pretend to be “in awe” of the students who can actually do it. These kids are then seen as heroes from a lineage of class beyond human capability. Without making my expectations seem (they must be somewhat obtainable) unfeasible, there would be no hero. The hero can do the impossible.  

A misconception: Some teachers have the philosophy that their students all have A’s until they start doing things wrong or losing points. That is not what I am talking about. The line isn’t perfect until it isn’t.

Don’t treat students as if some day they will eventually do something great. Help them grow into their greatness by believing in them. They already believe in themselves. Build their belief into something constructive; something worth adding to. Good luck creating a class of heroes.

Cipriano, R. (2014, July 8). What Is a Hero. Retrieved June 18, 2018, from https://www.huffingtonpost.com/rob-cipriano/what-is-a-hero_b_5560441.html

Classy is Behaving “Purposefully”

Before school the other day, I was called to the office to help with something or other. The bell rang while I was there. When I went to walk up to my room, it was a little late, and I was joined by one of my students who eats breakfast in the cafeteria. This student isn’t a fast walker, but he kept up with me as I quickly maneuvered between and past meanderers.

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Purposeful Writing: Students Provide Examples of Purposeful Behaviors

As I lead this student to walk faster than he would have, I thought about how I typically walk, and how that differs from most students. I walk purposefully. After the announcements and taking lunch count, I explained this to my class. To do something purposefully means to do it with a cause, meaning, or reason in mind. You have a purpose for doing it, and that goal drives you to act a certain way. Acting purposefully is classy.

“To an observer, it may simply look as though I walk speedily, but there is more to it than that,” I explained to my class. I was moving quickly in order to get to the classroom as soon as possible, because I wanted to see my students. It is common for me to walk quickly because I interpret moving from one location to another as down-time; unproductive time. “Finally,” I concluded, “I wanted to model for my breakfaster how one might maintain a pace that will enable him to have enough time to unpack, fill in his Assignment Book Page, and begin a morning work choice… all before the announcements.” They chuckled because the boy from my story is often seen finishing these tasks during my introductory lesson of the morning.

The antonym of purposefully would be “lazily” or behaving as though your task was meaningless. If teachers want well-behaved, classy kids, we will need to make sure that our lessons are full of meaning and purpose. Following this logic, it can be expected that a group of students performing a task that has no or little value, would not do it purposefully. Rote  repetition breeds misbehavior. By definition, repetition is UNthinkingly doing something over and over; like a machine. Give students something to think about, and you are giving them purpose.

Also, in order for this to work, students must comprehend the purpose of the task they are given. I constantly tell my students to sit up straight, but I give them several reasons, none of which contain the phrase, “Because I said so.” Did you know that standing straight, in addition to looking classy, promoting health, clearing airways, etc., actually makes you more “Powerful” (Cooper, 2013)? What kid doesn’t like that idea?! Even when I occasionally have my students practice something that might require repetition, I supply a reason that encourages them to try to improve upon the task with each successive attempt.

After explaining this concept to my class, I asked them to come up with their own examples of doing things purposefully. Discussion included brushing one’s teeth. You can just run the toothbrush over your teeth and use up enough time, so that your parents think you did a thorough job, or you can actually brush them in such a way that you relieve them of  debris and plaque. Gingivitis is a painful, expensive gum disease that 60% of 15-year-olds should have prevented, but didn’t (Dowshen, 2015).

A funny example that I related to was eating. There was a slight misunderstanding of purposeful activity when a girl suggested eating the right food. I re explained the concept of behaving purposefully, before telling the students that I often find myself so engrossed in my work that I don’t realize my hunger until I am famished. Then I get angry that I have to stop and consume some nutrients. It is irritating because, as an adult, I have to find food, which means putting my project on hold, going to a restaurant or store, finding what I want, paying for it… You get the idea! This takes up valuable time; The time is only as valuable as what it was being used for, however. It is important to participate in activities that have meaning, purpose, and hold value. When I finally have my food, I devour it like a Velociraptor.

I had my students write down their examples and draw pictures of someone behaving purposefully. They also drew a picture of what it would look like if someone performed the same task purposelessly. We had fun sharing those with each other to close the lesson.

Two things in closing: First, sometimes it is classy to walk slowly. The classiness comes from the reason for the behavior. It would not be classy to speed walk through a museum. This is a place where you should take your time to ponder artwork. You cannot do that quickly. Secondly, I am often struck by the paradox that I am supposedly a classy person, who writes rather sloppily on the dry erase board. Isn’t messy penmanship unclassy? Not necessarily. If my purpose was to model perfect handwriting, then, yes, my scrawl would be less than classy, to say the least. However, I am usually modeling taking notes, when I write on the board. I only write what I think students should take down in their spiral notebooks. The speed I use, which prohibits beautifully crafted letters, demonstrates what it is like to jot down ideas while listening. Along these lines, I rarely ever write complete sentences on the board. Parents often complain about their child’s penmanship. This is the last thing that I would focus on as a teacher. Why do doctors messily fill in prescriptions? Is it because that is what doctors do, or is it because they fill in a million, as long as the pharmacy can read it, it works, and their time is used better speaking with and looking at patients? So, parents, would you rather a creative composer, or a very neat transposer?

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Cooper, B. (2013, November 21). The Science Of Posture: Why Sitting Up Straight Makes You Happier And More Productive. Retrieved May 25, 2018, from https://www.fastcompany.com/3021985/the-science-of-posture-why-sitting-up-straight-makes-you-happier-and-more-product

Dowshen, S., Dr. (Ed.). (2015, January). Taking Care of Your Teeth. Retrieved May 25, 2018, from https://kidshealth.org/en/teens/teeth.html

Classy is Impressive

You tell a group of students that you want them to be “Classy.” What is this elusive character trait, and how can a teacher easily communicate it to kids?

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There is getting into line, and then there is…

My school district uses a standards-based grading system of one through four when it comes to communicating conceptual understanding. This is how I explain it to my students: If you do exactly what I ask on an assignment, just right, you get a three. This means you have completed the task satisfactorily. If there were some mistakes or the work makes it seem like you don’t fully understand the concept, you get a two. This means that there is room for improvement, which is okay, as long as you step it up and work at getting better. A one is when there are so many errors that it is obvious you are lost or not trying. You see that when the work screams, “Whoa! I need serious help and attention over here.” And then, there are fours. These are the gems that students earn when they have exceeded expectations. When a student follows the parameters of an assignment, and then some. I am not looking for a sixth paragraph tacked onto a five-paragraph essay. A four would be awarded to a student who included a quote from a notable expert on the topic and referenced the site where it was found.IMG_6173

Fine, Mr. Weimann, but what does this have to do with classroom management? Well, this rubric can be applied to every aspect of the students’ activity at school. In the same way that I will use these principles to grade an assignment, I can use them to grade the way in which a student completes the assignment.

Here is how I communicate what that fourth level of behavior looks like. Students have all played with playdough or clay before. What happens when you push a penny or any other object down onto some playdough? “It makes an indent,” a student answers. “Correct,” I reply, “But, what is that indent called? What is a vocabulary word for that; something synonymous?” There are some thoughtful ideas. With only the sound of “im-” several students complete the word, “impression”. The object makes an impression of itself onto the soft material.

Mrs. Hulmes teaches first grade at my school. When Mrs. Hulmes’s line of students exit their classroom they not only walk in a straight line without talking or touching, but they hold their hands behind their backs. Not one or two of the students, but every single one of them. And, not once in a while, but every single time they are in line, they do this. When there is a substitute for Mrs. Hulmes, her class lines up and moves from location to location this way. You can probably picture it in your head, while reading this text, but if you saw it in person, it would leave an impression on your mind that you would never forget. I have never seen a nicer looking line in my life. It is so classy.IMG_6178

To be classy is to be impressive. Students can sit on the carpet and listen to me while I explain this, and that might be a three. The students that are sitting up straight, making eye contact with me when possible, smiling, and raising their hands to either share connections or ask pertinent questions to deepen their’s and their peers’ understanding are impressing me. This is four behavior. That is classy, and I am their captain.

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“International Talk Like a Pirate Day” is Sept. 19th

Putting “Class” into Classrooms

It was my first real teaching assignment; I was long term subbing for a second grade teacher out on maternity leave. She had the typical “traffic light” behavior management system; When a child misbehaves/breaks the rules, he/she “moves his/her stick” from green to yellow, and then from yellow to red, with subsequent consequences. With this system nothing happens as long as the kid is NOT breaking the rules, but the moment he/she messes up, alarms go off.

While I wanted to keep things as similar to the way students had started the year as possible, I also needed to make my management work for me. With the traffic light system, student behavior is only addressed when something goes wrong. I wanted a more positive atmosphere. I wanted my students to be motivated to practice good behavior intrinsically, because they wanted to; not because they were afraid of “moving their stick”.

F07B29C9-9B46-4D31-902D-8E5713076EDF.jpgI introduced the word “classy”. It stuck, and all year we discussed the ways we could be classy. The kids loved it, and it has defined my methodology ever since. It was and is admittedly cheesy, but that is a big part of its appeal. And, since its conception, seven years ago, the idea of exhibiting class in teaching has come to mean more than just a behavior management system.

It seems education is being blamed for all kinds of ills. My aim, through teaching my group of students, and now with the creation of this blog, is to bring “Class” to the institution that lies at the foundation of our society: the classroom.