Let me start out by making a HUGE confession....in my 8 years of teaching I have treated more than one student unkindly. Looking back, I can even say in some cases I might have been downright mean. There, I said it. And I will also admit I was wrong to do it in some of those cases, but in some I was not. And before I go any further I think I have been far kinder than I have been unkind. I know some of those on the outside looking in may not agree with me, and even the student who was the subject of my unkindness may not agree. What I do know is that I am human, which means I am not perfect, and in many cases I was dealing with a student in the manner I thought (at the time) was best for the situation and the child and for the benefit of the rest of my class.I am not excusing my behavior, because is most cases I definitely would change my words and reactions if given the chance at a "do-over."
Something I do know (and sometimes forget) is that I am dealing with a 10 or 11 year old CHILD, and that child is someone's baby and as my favorite principal always said...these parents are sending us their BEST, their child and we have to treat them as such.
As I read this article today it brought up a wound that I have buried deep inside my heart over the last several months. It is a wound that hurts because I know it is true, mostly. Someone in my building was talking to a friend of mine and referred to me as "harsh" with my students. I will admit, it stings to hear an adult say that about me because if a grown up thinks that, than imagine what the kids think. I went through a range of emotions as I processed that one. I know I have used a harsh tone, harsh words and even have been harsh when doing our consequences. I am not that "touchy-feely/all awrm and fuzzy teacher." However, I love my students. There is not one I can not say that about. They know I love them and they understand for the most part that my reactions to their behaviors come from my wanting the best for them. I am not mean jsut to be mean. But I have an Irish temper, and a short fuse, and sometimes that gets the better of me. When I let those things get the better of me in reacting to a student, I always go back and apologize, and let them know my behavior was wrong as much as their was. I know students learn how to be adults from the behaviors they see adults displaying. Believe me, 8 years of teaching in a high-poverty school has taught me that!
As with all experiences in life, both in and out of the classroom, we must learn from them. In this case, I will stop and think more before I deal with student behavior. I will consider the child, and their circumstances, and I will think about the impact my words and actions are going to have on this child and how they may/may not impact the memories of their time in my classroom.
I am not going to justify my actions by listing off the great things I have done for my students, my achievements as a teacher or parade out the stories of great relationships I have had with my students. They really don't matter in this case. What does matter is that from this point on...for however long I have in the classroom I will CHOOSE TO BE KIND.
Here are a few points that the article made that really struck a nerve with me, because I know I have been guilty of not "choosing to be kind" in similar situations in the past:
1. "When I look back over my notebooks and journals from the past 21 years there are plenty of things I regret. What I do not regret were the times we educators chose to be kind to a kid. The times when we gave a child a second–and then third and fourth chance. The times we decided to let a kid go on a field trip, ignoring some misdeed that might have excluded him from the trip so that a child who had never been further than the county line could see the world writ large. You know the drill."
2. "There is no benefit to this toughness. Getting tough on kids will not make them tougher or any smarter. Forcing educators to act like their hands are tied at the most important moments in a child’s life only teaches children that the adults in their lives are powerless. "
3. "Being kind is not always easy. It’s easier to declare that a child earned the punishment he or she is receiving, and that they need to learn a lesson. Unfortunately, the only lesson that child will learn is that sometimes adults are more interested in rules and punishments that they are in children."
4. "We can teach our children a better lesson. We can teach them, as I’ve seen hundreds of children learn at my school, that when the chips are down teachers come through. We can teach them that when it seems like there is no way out of the hole that they have dug, a member of the school staff will show up with a shovel. We can teach them that no matter what silly, dumb, or downright ignorant thing he or she has said or done in the past, caring adults have short memories for minor mistakes and longer memories for serious work and accomplishment."
As I write this, I am reminded of the book "Wonder" by R.J. Palacio. It is the story of a horribly disfigured boy who navigates school and the people around him. It reminded me that we are all disfigured like August, the main character is, in one way or another. Some of us just wear our battle scars inwardly instead of outwardly.
So to wrap this up (it went a little longer than I intended), as I prepare my classroom for the next school year, I will also prepare my heart, and even when faced with a difficult situation, or difficult child, I will try my hardest, to take a step back, not react before thinking and give as many second (and third) changes as I can. I promise to do my best to always CHOOSE TO BE KIND, no matter how hard it is.