When do rules become more important than people? by Amy Smith

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

When do rules become more important than people?

The day I became a mother, I became a better teacher.  This is true for me.  To say that you have to be a mother to be a good teacher would be a faulty statement.  I was a good teacher prior to being a mom . . . it's just that I became better after I held my child in my arms for the first time.

It's a powerful type of love.  It created a shift in my classroom from having the focus be on me and what I needed to accomplish to seeing what the children in my room needed to accomplish.  Don't get me wrong, my classroom is usually well-organized chaos.  It's a place where kids can contribute, be pushed to excel, and find their voice.  Many leave the room with a visible shift toward a love of learning, a love of words, and the skills to face the future.  Along the way, I've made many mistakes.  I've discovered that the most important thing I can do is be honest with my students in these situations.  As an adult I have to swallow my pride at times - simply because it's the right thing to do.

But this really isn't a story about me and my classroom.  It's about being a mother.

Actually it's my son's story.  My youngest is an amazing child. (*Disclaimer -- all of my children are amazing and unique children; this just happens to be about my youngest.)  He's a cross between a skilled ninja and a giant teddy bear.  His ability and vocabulary can rival most educated adults, and he has a passion for learning.  He constantly asks questions - about words, vocabulary, life.  He creates solutions to problems, builds crazy contraptions, and enjoys experiments. He sees the world in black and white, and he is willing to fight for justice.  Sometimes I just watch him go about his day and wonder at the adult he will become.  

Other times I worry because the world is sometimes hard for ninja-like giant teddy bears who see the world in black and white.  

But let me step back.  My youngest is a big kid for his age.  At 11, he is the size of a small adult 5'5" and quickly growing out of his size 10 men's shoes.  He reads voraciously, and prefers stories about the underdog - and llamas, he loves llamas, but that is a different story.  When he's upset with his brothers, he writes parodies about life where the underdog is successful.  One of his latest works is the story of the "Three Little Llamas," a parody of the classic three bear story.  Needless to say the moral of the story was that doing a little research about life will result in a successful launch from your parents home -- instead of having a life of llama trauma or being relegated to the basement of your mother's house being addicted to video games and Cheetos.  On the athletic front, he has found success in football.  He loves his position at lineman, and he is willing to fight for position.  In the off-season he does CrossFit.  To say he loves CrossFit is not strong enough.  At times he's frustrated because he's the youngest in his group, but he continues to work to be the best he can be.  His strength continues to grow as he does.

I think he's pretty incredible.  Of course over the years it hasn't always been easy for him.  Having a vocabulary like his in a young body can cause friction in the wrong situation.  Oftentimes his peers didn't understand him.  Depending on the adult in charge, seeing the world's injustices could result in battles.  Battles that left scars - probably on both ends.  I can tell you stories about our path through elementary school.  (As I write this, I think of the character of Scout.  Most of his battles were epic, but one sided.)  His story may be novel worthy.  

As a teacher you've probably had a child like this in your class.  Building a relationship with him will cause him to move mountains for you -- because he's found someone to trust.  Or you can choose the other option - poke at him until he feels like a bear and comes out growling.  Both options will affect the person he is destined to be.

Therefore, as his mother, I implore you to SEE the children sitting in your room, eating in your cafeteria, walking down the hallways as children.  All weekend I've been struggling with something that happened last week in school.  

My son has had an amazing year in school.  Reunited with a teacher who cherishes his gifts, his questioning nature, his unique spin on life, he has grown in leaps and bounds.  Over the last two years, things have calmed down, smoothed out some.  His maturity is growing as well as understanding of others.   He's learning to grow as a leader, take responsibility for his actions, and he's starting to love school again.  It's been a process of a couple of years to get him here.  To say that two years ago was rough would be an understatement.  A year of poking the bear in school and out of school cause some eruptions.  Some were his fault, others were not.  As a parent, we worked together to take ownership of what he was doing wrong.  We worked through his responsibility, and ways to survive the year. It took a year of healing and a few special teachers along the way to even make him want to walk through the door of the school.

Though that work was undone temporarily last week.  It was a huge set-back.  You see, in an assembly he was invited by his first grade teacher to go see a picture of him in her class.  She said it made her smile, and permission was granted for him to go.  After the assembly he went to her room, saw the picture, and was feeling like he was a king.  It doesn't take much to show a child that he matters.  

Walking back to his classroom, he wasn't running; he wasn't causing problems; he wasn't doing anything but walking down the hallway feeling special.  That's when another fifth grade teacher called him out for being in the wrong space.  She questioned his answer, that he had permission to be there and asked if either teacher would be willing to support his story.  He said, "Yes.  Ask them."  Of course his back was to the wall at this point.  Any positive feelings were crushed in the fists he had by his sides.  Again, he was being accused of being wrong when he had done nothing to be wrong.  This is a theme for him in this situation; one that has happened often enough in his school career to make it occasionally a truth.  The act of being the child simply makes you the wrong person in the party.

Think about that for a moment.  The act of being the child simply makes you the wrong person in the party.  

The adult then asked his teacher if he had permission to be in the hallway.  Of course, he did.  

Her apology to him was along the lines of, "I'm sorry, but you're always doing bad things around here."

Yes, this one will hurt.  This one will show him that adults will let him down.  What lesson did she teach him?  It wasn't one of compassion.  It wasn't a positive learning experience.  What she taught him was that some people have to have the last line.  That adults are afraid of being wrong.  That you don't get a chance to learn or change.  That in school rules are more important than people.

No child is perfect.  No adult is perfect.  If you watch one long enough, you will see mistakes.  You'll see a momentary disregard for rules.  Sometimes you'll get caught.

As an adult, this is when one should.  The apology should be said with sincerity for their actions because  the "but . . . " that isn't necessary.  It's an opportunity to teach compassion.  There is no need to turn a mistake back upon the child.  

My child is expected to do the same.  

I go back to the beginning.  Becoming a mother has made me a better teacher.  It's opened my eyes to see each of my students as a child who is learning and growing.  As an adult I've learned that sometimes I need to adjust my expectations to match the child - instead of the other way around.  I've learned that relationships are key, that kids respond to sincerity.  I feel fortunate that my child had his teacher there to decompress the situation immediately - to validate that he didn't do anything wrong.  Bless her for just being there when he had been torn down.

After all, it's not really what you say that matters.  In 20 years they'll probably forget specific lessons, either they will be ingrained in the reality of their life or a vague memory.  They will remember, however,  how you made them feel.

This shift in perception is an important one.  I ask my students the following question often; "How do you want to be remembered in 20 years?"  Then I encourage them to discover the path to be that person.

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