This past week I was lucky enough to accompany my ten year old daughter Claire on a field trip to our waste management plant in Rapid City.
We were having a picnic at a park and I was visiting with her and her group of friends.
Claire had decided upon an experimental drink for the day, a carbonated water beverage without any kind of sweetener. She had brought a packet of Splenda to try to doctor it at lunchtime. I was visiting with the group of giggling girls, my daughter added her Splenda, and “KABOOM!” Her drink exploded in epic proportion, the likes of a science experiment.
We were outside, and so no one’s lunch was ruined and no one was even sticky. This is when it occurred to me that her thirteen year old brother who was at school, had packed the same thing.
“Oh no!” I said to Claire. “What about your brother?! I hope they don’t think he did it on purpose and he doesn’t get in trouble.”
One of Claire’s friends looked at me and said, “Teachers are always like that.”
Out of the mouths of babes.
I have frequently heard teachers using language that demeans, embarrasses, and takes away the human rights of their students. There can be a lot of barking and bossing them. This is something that applies to new and experienced teachers. New teachers do it because they are desperate to control, and experienced teachers do it because “they’ve heard it all before.”
The best thing we can do as educators is investigate. Jumping to conclusions about a situation can be very detrimental. “Sally took my block away!” a student says. I have overhead teachers say, “but she always causes trouble, I just know she did it.” If this was the one time the student didn’t, then you are reinforcing that it doesn’t matter if we make the right choice, the world will punish us anyway.
Acknowledge your student’s feelings. It only takes a second. If a child is hungry or tired or sad, it takes a moment to get down on their level and comfort them with one or two sentences. “I can see that you’re frustrated that we have to go inside. I wish we could stay out and play too. Once we do projects and eat lunch, we will come back out. Will you sing with me about it? Do projects, eat lunch, come back outside!” Different strategies work with different students, but oftentimes all a child is seeking is acknowledgment that their feelings are valid.
Help students label what they are experiencing, but do not tell them how they feel. There is s difference between saying, “I can see that you’re feeling uncomfortable,” or “It seems like you are feeling sad.” than “You can’t be cold it’s hot in here.” or “You’re not sad, you’re just feeling tired.” You are not inside of that child’s body, and you do not know exactly what they are feeling. This is where the investigation comes in to play again. If it was warm in the room and the child feels cold, maybe they are coming down with something. Maybe they are like me and their body temperature fluctuates (I learned long ago to dress in layers).
At the YFS Kids Fair in Rapid City this past weekend, our preschool painted approximately 300 little faces. Many children would approach cautiously. The moment we said, “Hi, I’m a teacher at a preschool.” the tension would ease out of their bodies, they would smile, and become happily talkative. The words “I’m a teacher.” instantly imbued us with their trust. Teachers wield more power with children then we can ever understand, and it is so important that we use it responsibly.
Checking in with my thirteen year old at the end of the day, he traded his drink at lunchtime. The drink did explode all over the young lady he traded with, but thankfully no one was injured or got in trouble from the teachers. I do think however, it’s going to take him giving her a few non-exploding drinks to build up their trust again.
In the comment area please share your feedback!
Do you remember a time when a teacher made an incorrect assumption about you? How did that make you feel as a child/teen/college student?
What is your experience with being an empathetic, investigative teacher or parent? What are your strategies that might help others?