Bob picked up my class and walked away with it the day he did the hypnosis
demonstration. He actually got Carla in a deep enough trance
to stick a pin in her without her feeling it. He was enough of a ham about it to hypnotize the entire class in a sense. From then on the class was up or down. For a while it was up - alive, dynamic. We met just before lunch and I went to lunch too excited to eat because of the vitality of the experiences we shared.
Then it was down. Something happened to disturb him some where in his life and Bob proceeded with deliberation to pick the class apart bit by bit, and destroy it he did. He did it with my permission because I was not willing to move against him. Leadership talent like that was worth nurturing. I bided my time, waiting for him to sense the power that he wielded.
This took patience. Consider, for example, the day I took the class to the library. Seniors in our school were excused two minutes early at lunch hour, but senior privileges do not function in the library. I was in the back socializing with the librarian. When I came back to dismiss my students, I found every one of them gone. I did not need a movie camera to know who the first was out the door. Only Bob would do that and only him would they follow.
Then there was the arguing and the criticizing. He started it and it was highly contagious. I listened to the arguments, answered if there was anything worth saying, ignored them otherwise and continued to do the best I could with the content matter I was trying to teach. The students were beginning to get critical of Bob and I prayed he would sense this and not go too far. It was inevitable that he would demand a showdown.
We were studying mental health. Much of the content of this area centers around a series of excellent films which deal in a professional fashion with concepts that are difficult to handle. In order to make this number of films a learning experience rather than free entertainment (which gets very boring when presented this often), I required the students to write film reports.
Such a requirement was odious to Bob and he had not done them. Neither had a sizeable proportion of the class. Grades are unimportant to such students so I announced that on such and such a date I had a special film scheduled for only those students who were reasonably up to date on their film reports. No one believed me and the designated day arrived with many students delinquent, including Bob. I called the names of those not qualified, took them to an empty room and told them to get to work on their film reports. As we were on the honor system, I had the students choose one member of the group to be responsible for reporting any misconduct to me. I then returned to the classroom.
The film I was using included a brain operation that sometimes upsets students and I did not feel that I should be out of the classroom while this film was running. At the end of the hour two students rushed in to tell me that Bob had left the room. One of them was a close friend of Bob's who had been complaining to me about his freshness in class. The other was the student who had been designated to monitor.
I saw Bob in the hall that afternoon and he challenged me to go ahead and report him to the vice-principal in charge of discipline. Bob was certainly sophisticated enough to know that nothing would be done because there isn't any punishment in the school rules for students who have been left unsupervised. I just said, "That's too easy, Bob" and went my way.
The next day in class I announced that the class would see no more mental health movies until the person who had skipped out from the study hall apologized for betraying the honor system and made up the missing film reports. Needless to say, the entire class was stunned. They did not get really violently angry, however, until I attempted to put forth some arguments in support of group punishment.
I read from Gibran's "The Prophet".
So the wrong-doer cannot do wrong without the hidden
will of you all.
Like a procession you walk together towards your
You are the way and the wayfarers.
At that point the class was united against me. They always resent group punishment but no one had ever tried to justify it before. I had to do something.
As a Quaker, I am accustomed to silent meetings for worship. We sit in silence until we are moved to rise and share the thoughts that moved us to speak. We, of course, believe that God moves us to do this. I believe in the separation of church and state and I know that talking about God could get me in trouble fast. So I said nothing about God. I did, however, suggest to the class that we might benefit from sharing our ideas about what was going on in our class.
"Let's sit in silence," I suggested, "until we feel moved to speak. Then stand up and say what we are thinking. When we finish, sit down and let us return to silence. Leaving periods of silence between sharing our thoughts, others can share as they feel moved to do so."
This worked. The students got their gripes out of their system and began to weave constructive ideas into their sharing. We called these sessions, "Thinkathons."
Work on the mental health unit ended without films and we went on to our philosophy of life unit. The students liked thinkathons so much that we continued to use them until the end of the year.
The school was undergoing its first evaluation. Some of my students in this class objected to the "dressing up" we were doing to help us impress the evaluators. They thought it was dishonest. I thought they had a point, but did not give it much concern.
When the evaluators started their process, the students asked me if we could do a thinkathon if they visited our class. I, innocently, thought they were joining the bandwagon. and was glad to agree.
The evaluators did visit our class. It was hot. I had made dark blue drapes for my classroom windows so we could show films. A new building was under construction outside my windows. The construction was very noisy. I pulled the drapes so I could still let in a little air by not closing the windows.
Five evaluators marched into my room and took seats in the back beside my desk. According to my agreement with the students, I started a thinkathon. One by one the students rose and carefully aired their views about the dishonesty involved in the evaluation process. I sat at my desk completely stunned. Anything I would try to do would just make matters worse.
The evaluators filed out of the room when the bell rang, saying nothing. The students filed out too, probably snickering to themselves. I was completely devastated. What would happen to the evaluation because of the action my students had taken?
I did not sleep that night. I went back to school the next day despairing and exhausted. I could not blame the students for what happened. I respected their right to have their views. Facing the music started when one of the vice-principals asked to talk to me about what had happened when the evaluators visited my classroom.
"What did you hear about it?". I asked.
"Why was your classroom so dark?" he asked.
"Oh," I replied, "I pulled the drapes to cut out some of the noise."
"Well," he said. Perhaps you should have turned on the lights."
Believe it or not, that was all there was to it. I even got to the point where I could laugh about it later. Much later.
This class also requested that we use a thinkathon in our final class together. During this thinkathon, Bob stood and apologized for leaving the room when he was on the honor system.
This extraordinary class of mine parted close to tears.