“The future of the world is in my classroom today.”
~ Ivan W. Fitzwater
When I lay down to sleep at night during the school year, I am utterly wiped out. Teaching in an elementary school will do that to a person! I usually fall immediately to sleep. But it’s my slightly-rested brain that gives me trouble around 4am when I’ve gotten just enough sleep to function the next day and my brain thinks it’s the perfect time to have a long thinking session about anything and everything going on in my classroom. It’s usually these times that I have awesome ideas for a blog and so out comes the phone and I email myself all of my brilliant thoughts. Fast forward to this very moment when I have to decipher all of my middle-of-the-night ramblings and come up with a coherent blog post. Hmmmmm.
Well, let’s start at the beginning. Was I the perfect parent? Oh Lord no. Am I the perfect teacher? Not even close. Have I had a hand in raising hundreds of kiddos? You bet and it’s from that experience that I speak. Am I the final authority on all things children and school? Some days I really want to be. But no, I am not. Take anything positive you can from my blog posts and run with it and the stuff you don’t like…simply don’t use. It’s just my take on things after working in the school system for so long. Of course, just when you think you’ve seen it all, you have a year like I’m just wrapping up. It’s been a humdinger to say it nicely. I’m going to need some serious blogging therapy to recover from this one!
So this past year my school decided to focus on six character traits that the KIPP schools promote: grit, self-control, optimism, zest, social intelligence, and gratitude. On career day, one of the speakers my students listened to was a very bubbly and enthusiastic legislative assistant. The kids were captivated, and so was I when she told about how she collaborates with others on projects all the time. If you had been in my classroom this year, you would know that collaboration of any kind was a challenge that many of my students could simply not overcome, no matter what types of endless team-building activities and group discussions we tried. They resorted to yelling, name calling and it was so difficult for my students who were capable of positive group interaction to be in a situation where four or five bad apples spoiled the entire basket. So after the legislative assistant spoke about her collaboration, I asked if she would speak to my class about how she dealt with colleagues who were bullies in a group setting. I know that her words really spoke to my students who were struggling to remain positive when having to work with so many peers that were negative and determined to drag everyone down with them.
Fast forward to the end of career day when I had a chance to chat with the owner of a business who had spoken that day. He happened to notice the character trait posters located in classrooms and around campus. He told me that he took a picture of them in order to show his employees. “Why,” you ask, “would adults in the work force have to be shown posters about positive character traits?” Well, it’s because the adults in his office (and he said there is a high turnover) can not collaborate with others without resorting to…you guessed it…name calling, bullying, and yelling. I was absolutely floored that adults would act like that in a work setting, but now that I have had a chance to reflect, I’ve decided that I shouldn’t be surprised at all. These are the same students who sat in classrooms ten and fifteen years ago and bullied others and ruined productive collaboration.
And what are those important character traits that his employees are missing? Self-control and social-intelligence. And if I had to pick the two that our current generation of students are missing, it would definitely be those exact traits. Many children are not being taught self-control at home. Additionally, they do not seem capable of feeling empathy or showing sympathy towards others, which are the two behaviors most associated with social intelligence. To be an adult who functions successfully in society, you have to be able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.
I’m not sure what the answer is for our future adults. I think self-control is the easier of the two for teachers to work on if parents can’t accomplish this entirely at home. But how can we do a better job of showing our youngest children what it means to be empathetic and sympathetic? That starts in infancy and it absolutely, positively must begin at home. It requires parents to not only show compassion towards others, but to speak out loud about their feelings, emotions, and actions so that their children can fully understand both behaviors.
And here I am. Another Sunday night. Will it be the night that I sleep until my alarm rings in the morning? Or will there be another tome waiting for me in my email when I arrive at work.
One more week of school…Bring It On!!!