1. Sarah “I can think of lots of reasons why I like my teacher, but the biggest reason of all is that she treats us kids like equals. She never talks down to me. I don’t just mean she meets me eye-to-eye; I mean she talks to me like I’m her friend. Sometimes she even asks us for advice on stuff in our classroom, like whether we should have a plant sale to make money for our field trip.”
Have you ever had the feeling while talking to people that their minds are off somewhere in the wild blue yonder, or they’re just merely telling you what you want to hear, or they think they’re better than you are, or they’re secretly laughing behind your back? Didn’t it bug you? If you think children are insensitive to these subtleties, you’re WRONG! Children know when you’re taking them seriously, and when you’re just trying to get them off your back.
I think if you keep this one golden rule in the forefront of your mind, you won’t go wrong, “Think of your students as friends.” This, of course, isn’t always possible. Sometimes children need guidance, discipline, limits, as well as other learning-about-life lessons which you wouldn’t impose upon your friends. Your attitude, however, should be the same–one of genuine caring.
2. Peter “My teacher is a really neat guy. He’s always pulling for us kids. Like this one time, me and Clayton were playing in the gym during lunchtime. And Mrs. Smith sent us to the office because we weren’t supposed to be there. We didn’t know they were setting up for the play, and we told her that, but she didn’t believe us. Anyway, Clayton and I were only sitting in the office for five minutes and our teacher came in. He spoke to our principal and the next thing ya know, Clayton and I were back outside playing around.”
The root of many children’s’ problems is they don’t have a secure relationship with anybody. They don’t have a warm feeling inside that somebody really cares about them. When they get into trouble, there’s no one for these children to turn to for support. This can exist even though a child has two parents, grandparents, and siblings all living under the same roof. It’s not the physical sense of having people around, it’s the psychological sense of knowing people believe in you and care about you. Life can be a lonely place if you don’t have a close relationship with someone.
As a child’s teacher, you may be the only person who really cares about him. This is a big responsibility. I’m not saying you have to bend over backwards for a kid, or treat him any differently from the rest of your class, but you do have to make sure the child has someone (not necessarily you) to turn to when his chips are down.
3. Raymond “Ya know, I’ve had teachers before that took learning too serious. Every time something went wrong they’d get up tight, and then we’d all wonder what to do so we could make things right. That’s why my teacher is so neat–she makes us laugh. Like the other day, she was trying to make a volcano erupt for our science class. We were all expecting a big bang, and all that came out was a little bitty pop. We all laughed, but nobody laughed as loud as our teacher. We thought she was going to explode. She knows how to look at things on the bright side, and this makes it easier for us to learn.”
There’s a saying that goes like this, “Do not take life too seriously. You will never get out of it alive.” (Elbert Hubbard) Anybody who works with kids knows this is true. Being around children there’s so many unpredictable calamities that pop up every minute of every day you’d never survive without a sense of humor.
Raymond’s perception that teachers tend to take teaching too seriously hits home for many. It’s easy to become preoccupied with doing our jobs right, so that when an experiment fizzles or half our class fails a math test we take it as a personal affront. Confident teachers don’t get up tight when their volcano experiment doesn’t go up in smoke, because they know their teaching reputation is not riding on a volcano. Learn to laugh at yourself; it’s a powerful antidote for stress and will take you a long way in seeing life through a bigger picture frame.
4. Chelsea “Almost every teacher I’ve ever had played favorites. They’d have their pets who got to take the notices down to the office or come in early from lunch to help set up for art class. Most kids wouldn’t say anything, because they knew they’d never become the teacher’s pet it they did. That’s why my teacher is special–everybody is her favorite. We all take turns doing every fun job in the classroom, and if there’s one kid she likes more than anybody else, nobody knows about it but her.”
Do you like some kids better than others? It’s hard not to. We like kids who are interesting, funny, good looking, independent, ambitious, and don’t cause us too many problems. And then all of us have our soft spots for kids who are pushed around a lot, have an extraordinary gift in some field, or have made it against all odds.
Sometimes we don’t know why we like or don’t like certain kids–we just do. And that’s okay. After all you wouldn’t go to your graduation with just anybody, would you?! Preferences are part of human nature. We need to accept the fact that certain personalities appeal to us, while others drive us crazy, and still others leave us feeling indifferent. And I don’t think we can train ourselves to like a personality we instinctively dislike. The key is, we don’t let our preferences dictate how we treat children. Like Chelsea’s teacher we treat all our students the same, even though we cringe every time one steps into our classroom, and wish another was our own. We don’t have to change our thoughts, but we do have to make sure our thoughts don’t influence our actions.
5. Donna “In my mom’s eyes, I’m either a `good girl’ or a `bad girl.’ My mom doesn’t understand me. Luckily my teacher does. She knows I’m not a box. You can’t wrap me up and say, `Look how pretty,’ or `Oooh, how ugly can you get.’ A person can be pretty and ugly at the same time, and they’re still okay.”
Clementine is right; adults tend to see children in simple terms (good or bad). It’s easy, and sometimes we just don’t know what else to say to our kids. What would you think if your spouse referred to you as “good” or “bad.” You’d probably think, “Who does he think he is?” And if you’re like most people you’d probably go out of your way to prove him wrong, even if his perception of you is flattering.
Let’s face it, kids are not good just because they erase your chalkboard for you, or bad because they kick someone in the shin. Erasing a chalkboard and kicking someone in the shin are behaviors which any child can do, even the same one within a five minute time period. Your star student may turn around one day and slug the kid sitting behind him, or the one who makes you cringe may burst a gigantic smile across your face with a wonderful picture or letter. The point is, don’t think of children as good or bad, think of them as complex human beings each capable of many behaviors. Once you appreciate the potential each child has, you won’t get caught off guard when one acts “out of character.”
6. Fiona “You know sometimes I go to school and I’m in a really bad mood. I don’t feel like talking to anybody. My teacher always knows when I’m having one of those mornings. She doesn’t try to tell me I’m not in a bad mood, or that I have no reason to be in a bad mood, she just lets me be me. Usually by recess time I’ve snapped out of it and I don’t mind talking to people. Ya know the best part is I don’t have to be afraid that she’s not going to like me later on. She always accepts me the way I am.”
Most parents and teachers want their children to do what they ask of them, and fit into their image of normal children. We’re happy to be the parents or teachers of children who are behaving. On the other hand, we can turn ugly when our kids turn ugly. Our children can bring out the best and worst in us, depending on what they are doing or saying.
The challenge of being a parent or teacher is not in smiling when our kids are happy; it is in being fair and patient when our kids are not happy. You want your children to have the security of knowing you’ll always love them and care for them regardless of how they feel or what they do. Children should not be afraid you’ll hate them if they step out of line. This makes them hide their true feelings from you, and maybe even lose touch with what their feelings are in the first place.
7. Thomas “Some kids in our class are really smart. Learning is a snap for them. It’s too bad I’m not one of them. My teacher says I don’t learn the same way as everybody else; that’s why it takes me longer. Sometimes I try and try, and then I still can’t get it. I feel like banging my fists on my desk. My teacher knows when I’ve had enough. He just says, `Looks like you need a break Tom; why don’t you do a job for me?’ That’s what I like about him, he knows when I need to stop.”
Not every kid can grab learning by the tail and do what he wants with it. For some, learning is a struggle they face from the minute they enter your classroom to the minute they leave, plus the time they spend catching up at home. Unfortunately it’s the kids who find school the hardest, who end up spending the most time doing it, and getting the most frustrated. It’s easy to get carried away with these kids. Before you know it, you’re bombarding them with work, hoping to unlock the keys to their learning..
Not many children benefit from an overdose of schoolwork. They may struggle through it, but they won’t like school any better for it. Children with learning problems need balance, just like any other kid. Sometimes the best correction for a failed science test is a swim or bike ride with mom or dad–not dissecting every wrong answer on the test and making it right.
School for children with learning problems often equals failure. It chips away at their self-confidence. You can’t blame them for avoiding it. Most of us like to keep our egos as intact as possible. We need to make sure that we balance deflating experiences of learning with inflating experiences of fun. We need to preserve children’s self-esteem, and give them reasons to keep trying.
8. Gordon “So far I’ve had four teachers. Out of these four, I liked Mr. Pickle the best. He knew how to make learning fun. I even liked arithmetic. He showed us how to use oranges, apples, and even pumpkins to add and subtract. Everybody else just used numbers and expected us to remember everything in our heads. I learned so much that year, and the best part is I didn’t even know I was learning.”
Do you ever wonder why you remember certain details and forget others? I remember spending hours trying to memorize my textbooks, and then still drawing a blank when the questions stared me in the face. On the other hand I can recall without any trouble what I ate on a special occasion years ago. The key is interest. I don’t share the same love for textbook theory as I do for food. It also helps when we’re relaxed. Usually when we’re cramming for an exam we’re anything but relaxed, which makes it hard for us to remember information. Children are the same. When learning is fun and interesting, it comes naturally to them.
You don’t have to go overboard and turn your arithmetic class into a daily event. Even just having a small twist in your presentation of numbers, like the apples and oranges, is enough to make it stick into children’s’ heads. Think like a kid and let your imagination go wild, and see what happens.