Thursday, January 10, 2013

Kid Gloves

DISCLAIMER- the following is somewhere between an intellectual post and a rant. I apologize.

After a recent event at work, I feel compelled to voice some thoughts about the way that things are being handled with out current generation of kids. I know each generation has at least one major fault, so this is nothing new... my generation can't handle conflict for example. However, I feel like this takes inability to handle conflict a step further: pretending that nothing bad is happening at all. I feel like Portland as a whole does a good job with this one, my friends and I have playfully dubbed it "the city where we like to pretend nothing bad ever happens." I feel like we are playing that game with an entire generation of kids right now.

Why is it a problem to say that an answer is incorrect if the answer is actually incorrect? What good are we doing these kids by hemming and hawing and trying to find what's right about it when it's really just wrong?

This is spurred by an email I recently received from a parent telling me that my students feel belittled. My initial reaction was horror. Anyone that knows me, even only a little bit, knows that there are few things that matter to me as much as my students. I love them to a fault. After almost an entire of day of feeling like I was going to vomit from shame and angst over the way my students are apparently perceiving me, I came to. The reality of it? I am incredibly caring; I ask about their days, we start every class with gratitude, I end every class with "I love you all, have a great afternoon," I smile at them and chat with them in the halls, I never pass up an opportunity to compliment them, and never turn a student away when they come to my door. Clearly, there was something else at play here.

I read and re-read the email. Most of the things that I was quoted as saying were twisted and tweaked and taken well out of context and that's when it hit me. The things I was saying were valid (my reality), but the things my students were hearing were different (their reality). When I was expressing displeasure at their lack of effort or un-reached potential, they were hearing "you're dumb and I hate you." Their reality is no less real than my own, but clearly something is being lost in translation. This brings me to the conversation I had with my coworker about it. Kids aren't used to criticism- constructive or otherwise. Their parents are afraid to say no to anything and when their kid hands them a rock they found and put a dot of paint on, they expound for hours about how it's the greatest piece of art they've ever seen. Parents and teachers are afraid of telling kids that something is wrong for fear of crushing creativity or spirit. I get that. Especially at a young age. But there is a limit! There comes a point where teachers take off the kid gloves and start treating kids the way the world will treat them: honestly. This, happily enough for me, usually happens in middle school.

So now, I have a classroom of kids who have never been told anything but how wonderful they are. And they ARE wonderful, don't get me wrong; I am blessed to have an incredibly intelligent, creative, and funny group of 7th and 8th graders. I honestly adore them all. I am a firm believer in the powers of positive energy, thought, and praise, but I am not a liar. If a student turns in a test that they clearly haven't studied for, I'm going to tell them so. If a kid brings me a project that I saw them scribbling in the hallway 5 minutes before class, I'm going to call it out. My question is, how is this seen by parents as a bad thing? I get that kids (especially at this age) are incredibly sensitive, but if I went home with a bad grade my parents didn't ask me why my teacher was so mean, they asked me if I'd studied hard enough. So, when a kid goes home and tells their parents that their teacher told the class that they clearly hadn't used their brains on the last test, why am I getting yelled at? Let's break that sentence down: they have a brain (intelligence), they chose not to use it (potential). So, this would be me telling them: "I know you're smarter than these test grades show me." This would be when parents SHOULD ask, "well, did you use your brain?" And if the answer is yes and the child did well on the test, then clearly I wasn't addressing that child! And if the answer is no, then they should acknowledge and own their own failure and learn from it. Failure is not the nasty thing we have made it out to be. Failures spawn great achievements!!! However, this is not how this event generally transpires. It usually goes a little more like this:

1. Kid gets a bad grade on test OR teacher makes a blanket statement about how students didn't study for the test
2. Kid goes home and vents to parent about how awful their day was
3. Parent believes every dramatized word their child says and sends an incensed email to the teacher (or joyfully, even better, the principal)
End Result: Teacher gets yelled at for being too mean

Hopefully, you see where this little scenario goes amiss. Middle school students need to vent. They have bad days, their hormones are crazy! But we don't need to take their rantings as gospel truth! We need to take it all with a grain of salt and preferably ask questions BEFORE making accusations because at the end of the day, I think we all just want what's best for the kids. Even me ;)

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