Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Attention to Detail by Andy Jobson

Working at a military academy brings its own set of priorities.  Our literature promotes the JROTC program as a structural support for academic success, and in many ways that is true, despite occasional conflicts between military and academic goals. 

One element that I have grown to appreciate more over the years is the emphasis on attention to detail.  For a JROTC officer, that entails making sure your gig line is straight, your insignia is correct, your shoes are shined, and your room is “squared away.”  As a teacher, I emphasize the same thing in different ways.  Have you followed the directions as written?  Have you produced neat work?  Have you paid attention to margins and the heading I require?  Are you using punctuation appropriately?

Sometimes the boys get frustrated with my demands.  I work with eighth- through twelfth-graders, and like many teenage boys, they tend to overlook ‘minor’ details.  (How many times have my own boys at home simply not ‘seen’ the piles of clothes and toys in their room?)  There was a time in my educational journey where I might have been willing to forgive such niceties; did it really matter if the boys used the heading I suggested or something else?  The older I get, though, the more I find myself insisting that the boys pay attention to my expectations and meet them.

I think I resisted some of this because I didn’t like the ‘factory’ model, where we were training our boys to be laborers under the industrial system.  The ‘new education,’ we were told, was to prepare students to be critical thinkers, not clock-punchers and automatons.  I agree that critical thinking and independence is vital (hence my association with izzit!), but I also see that paying attention to the directions is a vital skill for success.  Can you say “tax returns”?

If all I’ve done is to train my boys to follow directions, I have failed.  At the same time, though, if I haven’t trained them to read and follow directions, including MLA citation format and the works, then I think I have also failed.  Details matter.

An educator of 22 years, Andy Jobson has taught government, economics, and U.S. History. Currently teaching English literature at Riverside Military Academy in Gainesville, GA, he’s also been an administrator, a STAR teacher twice, and taught elementary school with Teach for America.