When I was still a pup of a teacher I decided to construct an elaborate system for managing the behavior of the students in my class. I created a bulletin board sized list of rules with consequences for those who chose not to follow them. I spent days attempting to drill my demands into the minds of my pupils. I tried to stop immediately to apply the proper warnings or punishments for infractions. Before long I was spending so much time on classroom management records that I was struggling to keep up with the lessons I had designed. My only way out was to begin ignoring or changing my original ideas or risk drowning in management paperwork. The atmosphere in the class was strained and a kind of student led anarchy became the mode of operation. With great frustration I went to my principal for guidance. What I learned from her would prove to be effective for all of the days of my career as an educator
Her first bit of advice was that I keep things simple by listing only the rules that were essential and then applying them uniformly. She told me that once I allowed students to take over my classroom it would be extremely difficult to get back control of the situation, so she suggested that I think long and hard before putting anything in writing. She cautioned that wavering would mean that my students would just do whatever they wanted to do and not listen to me ever again. She also promised to back me up once my new and improved system was in place.
I took her advice and limited my behavioral guidance to four basic rules. I went over them with my students explaining the reasons for each of them and allowing the kids to ask questions. Then I made certain that they were followed. Things settled down and before long my management system was on autopilot and we were all much happier.
I’ve thought about that with regard to the directives that we have received from both the federal government and the state and city administrations regarding how to proceed during the pandemic. Sadly the chain of guidance has broken down. One day we are told that masks are worthless and the next the instructions tell us to wear them. Certain businesses have been closed but when someone protests by opening up despite the decrees the powers that be who initiated the closures don’t enforce their own regulations. The federal government outlines a remarkably sensible procedure for opening states and cities but when those guidelines are ignored the president almost seems delighted. Our country feels like the wild west with maskless groups protesting with guns, Confederate flags and disgusting signs in defiance of the edicts. Little wonder that there are actually people who believe that the danger is over and that probably it was never there to begin with. The government has created a state of citizen anarchy much like the one that developed in my classroom when I kept changing and overlooking rules.
Even I was beginning to question the safety measures that I have been dutifully following. When I go out wearing my mask I am lucky to encounter anyone else who is buying into the idea of using protective gear. At least for now most stores are still requiring such things but I wonder how long they will be able to hold their customers to their demands when the government pronouncements are literally ignored from one day to the next.
I was beginning to feel as though somebody was gaslighting me and I honestly could not decide who it might be. I questioned my own thinking so I finally contacted some doctors that I implicitly trust to see what kind of advice they had. It was like asking for counsel from my principal of long ago and I was ultimately comforted by what they told me.
According to my doctors, who are highly regarded professionals in their specialties, the numbers of cases in my area continue to rise and they are concerned by the numbers of people who are refusing to adhere to the guidelines of wearing masks and avoiding close contact with others. For that reason they have advised me to continue to mostly shelter in place until further notice. They believe that the number of cases and deaths that we are seeing are being fueled by people who ignore the guidelines and leaders who look the other way when they see that happening. Local governments where numbers are still higher than they should be are being left holding the bag. The buck is being passed from one person to the next with nobody wanting to get caught with it when the music stops. The coordinated efforts and supports from federal to state to local government are lacking and it is causing massive confusion, especially when guidelines are continually being tossed aside only days after they have been enacted.
Add to that, there is a growing ugliness surrounding the massive confusion that has become far too prevalent. People are being ridiculed and insulted for doing what they think is right or need to do. I’ve been told that I should leave Texas and take my ideas to California or Washington State just because I mentioned that I wear a mask when I go outside of my home and make contact with others. I see women holding signs that suggest that wearing a mask is like a muzzle that should only be worn by slaves and dogs and I am horrified. I truly worry for my country when there is no leader willing to be the adult and rein in the disgusting demonstrations by calling them what they are rather than giving them a thumbs up by noting that such folks are good people.
The doctors tell me that there will be more illness and death to come. We may have to deal with it while also attempting to repair our ailing economy. People need to pick up the pieces of their lives while staying relatively safe at the same time. This can be done in tandem if our leaders model the behaviors that they want us to follow. They must create a plan, stick with it and encourage unity not just among the citizens but in the halls of leadership as well. Our future may depend on how well or how badly they manage to do that.