The Habit of Standing Up

Resulting from the long “holiday week” and a couple of sick days I came back to school today after about 1,5 weeks to my first class of the day. I put my stuff on the desk, waiting for everyone to get ready to and saw some students getting up and slowly most students were standing after a while. I saw some students tell other students to get up too, so that we could start. I couldn’t help laughing at the sight of the standing class and said: “It’s obvious I’ve been gone for too long, since you all forgot that you don’t have to stand at the beginning of my class.” Even then, after reminding them that this is something they don’t have to do, there was some confusion before everyone got back to their seats, some admitting to a certain stupidity for having forgotten this.

I never let students get up at the beginning of the lesson, in no class, not even in substitute lessons. This, as I have been told many times, always irritates everyone at first for the simple reason that they have to do that in every other lesson. Maybe there are exceptions I’m not aware of but as far as I know, every other teacher lets them go through this ritual at the beginning of class, normally coupled with a 30-second singsong of “Gooood Mooornnniiiinnnng, Miiiisteeeer ……” I just let them say “Good morning” or “Hello” like normal people. Every class needs at least some weeks to get used to not doing that, sometimes it takes months. And as I saw today (and often after holidays), they forgot it again because it’s so engrained to do it.

Obviously I don’t agree with this ritual for two reasons. First of all, I just don’t like it. The standing is not so bad, but the welcome singsong is so unbearable. It takes forever, it sounds horrible and tedious, I don’t know what to do while they’re doing it, it makes me tired and depressed and worst of all, it is one of the most inhuman sounds I can imagine coming out of actual people. It’s like someone drained every single emotion from them, every ounce of relationship that could exist between people who spend years together in a teaching environment.

And that is where reason number two comes in. I detest the purpose behind it. Sure, on the surface it is supposed to set a clear starting point for the lesson, to get everyone on the same track, but this can easily be achieved by a simple “hello” while the students are sitting. The real purpose is to show obedience, to show that you have to listen to this one person in front of you, which you just have greeted like a real master from which you stoically repeat everything you are told.

In some way, this symbolizes for me one of the basic problems in our school system. We pretend that this creates a respectful learning atmosphere, but it dehumanizes, de-personalizes a relationship that should be all about how teacher and students interact on a personal level, not as ruler and servant. It’s just one of those things everyone does without really thinking about its meaning, purpose and consequence. And I strongly believe that questioning those little things can be the only start for changing the big picture.