Would you rather be in Shawshank Redemption or Braveheart?
I don't know that I have ever had a conversation where someone wished they could be Andy Dufresne- but I have definitely heard many folks wish they could be William Wallace. Which is odd, because Andy gets away, but William dies.
Both stories are about freedom, and ultimately the protagonists get freedom. But the prison imagery is not one we want to subject ourselves to in our fantasies, while riding freely across the Scottish Highlands to fight tyranny is.
Now, place yourself in your role as an educator. Would you rather create an experience for your students that is more Shawshank, or more Scottish independence?
I truly hope you choose Scotland, and if you do, there is a key mindset shift you have to develop as an educator.
Are you a Warden, or a Warrior?
Both are about control- about order. But they go about handling that in different ways. I believe that the Warden mentality is the one that has historically been present in many school systems- one that seeks to create conformity over individualized strengths. Warriors seek to create a collaborative environment for mutual success. So, what does that look like in practice?
Wardens expect bad behavior, Warriors cultivate good behavior
I have seen and heard many teachers in my life say this phrase: "Kids are so irresponsible." I have been guilty myself. I have also experienced educators that seem to expect the worst from students in an effort to 'be prepared.' That is a Warden attitude.
Warriors will know that bad behavior will exist, but actively work to train students with positive behavior modifications. They will not sigh, shake their head and say "About what I expected" when a student makes a mistake- they will work with the student to shape future choices.
Wardens stand above, Warriors stand with
A Warden will stand above their charges literally AND figuratively. They will put a physical distance between themselves and students. But more significantly, they will distance themselves from students emotionally. They will expect students to share and engage, but they will not reciprocate. They will be on their phone during duty time instead of interacting with students. Wardens know all about their students, but their students know little about them. This can lead to resentment on the part of the student, which in turn leads to a double down on the Warden's side.
Conversely, a Warrior stands with the students. They walk among them, chatting, connecting and being present. Warriors will share their heart- with boundaries, obviously- so that students can know the human behind the teacher. When things get tough, the student does not need to run to a Warrior, the Warrior is with them already. The Warrior will also stand between the student and a Warden- defending and advocating for the student.
Wardens hate their job, Warriors revel in it
Wardens never smile. They complain about hours and pay and respect and then take it out on students.
Warriors never stop smiling. Sure, they have bad days, but they know that long hours and poor pay are pale in comparison to the joy of seeing student success.
Wardens fight with, Warriors fight for
A Warden picks a fight. Sad to say, there are some educators who see education as a battle against unwilling students to comply. Oh, they would never say this, but their actions show it. Condescension, harshness, lack of empathy, even embarrassing a student to prove a point. Wardens are teacher bullies, and yes, they do exist. Wardens end up creating problems for themselves because of how they treat students- as targets, not learners.
A Warrior is in the trenches of the day to day trying to help students win. They are the admins that take a second to speak to the emotional need of a student instead of coldly addressing a violation without regard for reasoning. They are the teachers who spend their lunch time tutoring. They are the paras that will do ANYTHING for their students.
So, which are you?
The next time you begin an interaction with your students, ask yourself- Shawshank or Scotland? Do you want your students to feel they are trapped in a prison of school, or fighting to free the knowledge and skills that waiting to be learned?
I teach Psychology, Sociology, World History Honors and Debate at College Station High School, as well as coach the debate team, sponsor the TED Ed Club, and I am the Lead Innovator for LEADS CSISD (A student leadership empowerment program for 5th-8th graders). I am an aspiring administrator.