Laws of Power Revisited

Jose VilsonEducation, Jose

When I last discussed the acclaimed 48 Laws of Power, I was still heavily entrenched in the workings of Mao, Bismarck, Talleyrand, and Lola Montez, and thus found myself quickly able to apply my readings into my daily work as a math teacher in the NYC public school system. It became especially apparent after talking to a cluster of well-known bloggers personally that these 48 Laws not only apply in the classroom but when dealing with administrators and other teachers. Let’s recap what my list of my favorite laws of power (full list here):

Law 3: Conceal Your Intentions
Law 4: Always Say Less than Necessary
Law 5: So Much Depends on Reputation – Guard it with your Life
Law 9: Win through your Actions, Never through Argument
Law 13: When Asking for Help, Appeal to People’s Self-Interest, Never to their Mercy or Gratitude
Law 17: Keep Others in Suspended Terror: Cultivate an Air of Unpredictability
Law 27: Play on People’s Need to Believe to Create a Cultlike Following
Law 28: Enter Action with Boldness
Law 29: Plan All the Way to the End
Law 30: Make your Accomplishments Seem Effortless
Law 31: Control the Options: Get Others to Play with the Cards you Deal
Law 34: Be Royal in your Own Fashion: Act like a King to be treated like one
Law 35: Master the Art of Timing
Law 36: Disdain Things You Cannot Have; Ignoring Them Is The Best Revenge
Law 44: Disarm and Infuriate with the Mirror Effect

Again, at that point, I thought I’d only mastered #3, 4, 9, 27, 30, 33, but according to some, I got a lot more down by now. I just want to highlight a few of the original 48, as reading through some of the conversations around the blogosphere leave me wondering whether 48 Laws of Power should be required in all those cool teacher education programs so many of us have dichotomous opinions about. These laws as far as educators (and anyone really) are concerned fall under 3 categories: pre-event, during-event, and post-event.

Pre-Event (#3, 5, 28, 34)

Before I even walk into the classroom, whether I have a lesson plan ready for the students or not (I usually do, but I have rough nights like other humans), I should at least come into the classroom ready to teach my students. I know what the students think of me, but I get to form that with a) a built reputation b) formlessness so they don’t get too comfortable and c) a vision for how you want to be perceived. The worst any teacher, new or otherwise, could ever do for themselves is to not believe in the persona they’ve established. If you’re the cool and fun teacher, then know what that comes with. If you’re the strict disciplinarian who doesn’t want anyone talking, then you should reflect that. Once I let the students dictate who I am, I’ve lost it. The topic of management (classroom or otherwise) has literally blocks of books dedicated to it, but only the good ones address this: my soul (or inner energy) determines whether I’m convincing in my role or not.

During-Event (#4, 9, 13, 17, 29, 30, 44)

During class, we need to stay focused on the task. That goes without saying. However, people often mistake nastiness for structure. My lessons are supplemented by my mannerisms. For instance, teachers’ questioning techniques help the students come up with their own thoughts about how to solve problems. Students get mad at first because they’re used to getting the answer straight away, but the more questions I ask, the more they’re forced to think about the questions I’m asking. In other words, I’m saying less than necessary. Also note that students often invite me to argue, and my response is always task-related. I always say, “Is it about math?” or “What’s your question related to the math?” Sounds a bit Draconian, but during the 42 or so minutes I have them, I don’t have time to waste and they shouldn’t feel that way either. If it’s not about math, they know not to bother me. If I can dead a conflict in a matter of seconds, I do it before other students gain courage to try anything with me.

Post-Event (#27, 31, 35, 36)

The crucible of my reputation and what happens in the classroom often comes with what I did and do after class, and the events not having to do with the classroom. If they asked me to showcase some poetry, I did,  and they’ll totally ate that up. If I see a student in need of a serious conversation or just a pat on the shoulder, I reach out and make it happen, still maintaining my teacher voice and face, but I invite them into my experiences, often empathizing with them a little. The little things I do and say as they’re walking out of class, and the way I approach students in the hallway and even the students I’ve had in previous classes make them evangelists. They’ll carry the message more than my voice ever could. I still have students who I had last year come by and visit even if they didn’t do very well the year before. Children have a strong intuition about who cares about them and who doesn’t, and no amount of experience, pedagogy, or Jedi mind tricks can dissuade children from knowing whether or not I’m in the job for social prestige (typically known as the “save the children” people) or if I really believe in students’ achievement.

The Adults

Oh, and before I forget, this also works with the adults around me too. I take the time to interact and get to know my fellow teachers and staff, but I don’t get stuck to any one. Some people usually did favors for me so they can look better, not because they were totally and genuinely interested in helping me. I never give too much away about myself, and I especially don’t tell anyone my true opinions about anyone in the building unless I’m 99% sure they won’t betray my trust. The job is hard enough with the students, but sometimes the adults reflect the worst of their own students’ behaviors. I always keep a foot above the fray, never too far from the madness, but with enough breathing room where I won’t be suffocated.

What Now?

As I’m moving up, more people have become aware of my extra-curricular activities (i.e. this one), and I’m fine with it. Following the 48 Laws of Power, I’ve also made myself invaluable to the school community. The best teachers in the school follow these laws quickly and effortlessly. Something we can all take heed from. Now, there’s a hint of amoral Machavellianism in the book, but our sense of morality varies from person to person.

My first recommendation, before picking up the book of course, is to think deeply not about you are, but the person you want to be. Make every action in that classroom reflective of that. There are a lot more factors that determine how the classroom will work (supportive staff, training, children’s background, the amount of sugar they had that morning), but you can’t go into a situation with that sort of fatalism.

It’s your power. Your move.

jose, who will follow this up with a post I started on Twitter a few days ago …