All Children Grow Up

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Dec 14 2011

Dignitas Personae

Sometimes it is easy to forget why I took this job.  I come home from work, completely drained, but feel like all the energy I put into my day was for nothing – the students still don’t understand the objectives, they still are pushing against authority, and then, to top it off, students I had at the beginning of the year are starting to come back.

The dialogue of my days seems to always be some version of this now:

“Hands behind your back”  “Get back in the classroom” “Watch your language”  “Do the problems I assigned, and stay in your desk!” “Step outside the classroom so we can have a conversation”….and on and on and on….

Last Thursday, I went to church for the feast of the Immaculate Conception.  While I was waiting for Mass to begin, I read some brief reflections for Advent, and the theme over and over again was service to others.  Suddenly I felt a nagging inside that I had started to forget that I moved halfway across the country to serve others…and then I came across the phrase “the dignity of human life”.

Dignitas Personae. I took this phrase for my url because of this document by Pope Benedict XVI.  It is a phrase that fairly well summarizes the classes I took my last year at UVA.  Again and again the theme seemed to be recognizing the dignity of the person, the “I and Thou” in others.  I wanted to help bring the “I-You” relationship of Buber and Karol Wojtyla into the classroom.  At the beginning of the year, it seemed possible, but after Thanksgiving break, I just kept hitting a wall – my patience was running thin, and I didn’t even think about my original purpose.

After reading numerous reflections on Thursday, I reflected once more on my classroom, and thought again of the “dialogue” of my classroom.  It’s not a dialogue really, more of a series of commands and criticisms.  I am not seeking the “Thou” in the student when I continuously have to tell them to tuck in their shirts, get in a straight line, to stop whistling, to stop rapping during class, to focus on the work.  In those moments, I seek peace and order, but I think only of my own “I”.  The “I-You” relationship is non-existant.

Of course, the fact of the matter is I teach at an alternative school, and discipline is part of my job.  My students need to learn social skills, they need to learn discipline, and they need to learn to follow the instructions of those in authority.  The struggle is, how do I teach them that while maintaining a relationship that shows (in a way the students can understand) the respect due to all because of the inherent dignity of the human person?

One Response

  1. mches

    This is a constant struggle for me as well. I’m still trying to find the right balance of exerting authority while respecting the student’s dignity. The closest I can get is letting them know that my sternness or firmness is an outgrowth of my desire for them to be successful and learn the behaviors for them to be responsible adults and citizens, and that it is not borne out of any personal animus. But sometimes that can be hard to convey with a dirty look and a “Shush!”

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teaching at an alternative school…

San Antonio
High School

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