Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Change of Plans

Ladies and gentlemen, children of all ages, the blog post that I had originally planned to post today is being preempted. Today's post was going to be about the first grade class that I observe and the awesome activities that their teacher provides for them. Specifically, I was going to mention how she let them make their own pizzas to help them learn about fractions and ice cream to help them learn about mixtures and liquids and solids. It was going to be all about how she tries to make science and math fun for her students.

But after today, I'm reminded that she and so many other teachers out there deserve more than a blurb on a barely read blog in appreciation for what they do. What happened today? I'm glad you asked.

Before I begin, I'd like you to do me a favor. I want you to clear your mind of any preconceived notions that you may have about little children all being perfectly innocent little angels. If you could spend just 15 minutes with this woman's first grade class, you would realize how false that notion is. It's a nice fantasy, but it's just unrealistic.

First, you should know that this first grade class isn't a very large one. For most of the year, she's had 17 students. Recently, one moved away, so she's down to an even 16. To say that these 16 children are a handful would be a severe understatement. I, myself, have not spent a great number of years observing children of this age in the classroom. However, early in my career, I did work closely with teenagers and middle school students. I have never witnessed poorer attitudes or as much disrespectful behaviors as I have seen this year coming from these 6- and 7-year-olds.

Today was the straw that broke the camel's back. For a moment, I thought this teacher in question was going to walk out and quit on the spot. I had left her classroom for just a few moments in order to check on some clients across the hall in the 2nd grade class. While I was in there, one of the 2nd graders complained to their teacher that the 1st graders across the hall were being too loud. Soon after, I heard a door slam. In walked the 1st grade teacher, near tears, venting to her fellow educator. She took a moment in an attempt to compose herself, then went back to her classroom, slamming her door a second time.

Honestly, I wasn't sure how to react. Specifically, my job description is to deal only with the children that are assigned to my caseload. But I've come to think of these teachers that I work with as friends. So I wasn't about to sit back and do nothing while a classroom full of children continued to completely disrespect and belittle their teacher. The moral obligation I felt to take some kind of action was a lot stronger than any contractual obligation I may have which tells me to ignore the kids that I'm not paid to work with.

I didn't know what I was about to do. But I crossed the hallway and entered back into the 1st grade classroom. Now, wouldn't you think that witnessing your teacher slamming her own door twice might cause you to change the way you're behaving? What about seeing her sit at her desk at the back of the room without uttering a word to the class? What about seeing her break into tears? It would affect me. And I don't have a soul. But it did nothing to these 1st graders. As I walked into the classroom, they were loudly talking to each other, some were out of their seats, moving from place to place without a care in the world.

I crossed the room and looked to the teacher. I don't know what I was looking for. Maybe a cue or some kind of non-verbal permission to unleash hell. I'm not sure that I got that permission from anyone, but I unleashed anyway.

A couple days ago, the teacher got me to prove how loudly I can whistle. At the time, it was just to get the kids' attention during recess, letting them know it was time to put the basketballs away and line up to go to lunch. My whistles are, indeed, loud. And that was in a gym. In a smaller space, like, say, a classroom, the volume seems to increase dramatically. The whistle was enough to startle each child into silence. But I didn't stop there.

"I want every one of you to shut your mouths, right now!" I yelled. I was loud. I was kind of scary. I definitely had on my angry eyes. "The first person I hear say a single word will flip their card! You have work to do, get busy!"

Little did I know, they didn't even really know what they were supposed to be doing. They were out of control before their teacher could even finish telling them what their assignment was. She later let me know that as soon as she had them get to their seats and began passing out the materials for the project, they were running around, talking and yelling and acting as if she wasn't even there giving them instructions.

For five minutes, the only sounds that could be heard in that classroom were the sounds of papers being cut by scissors. "Do you hear what it sounds like in here right now?" I asked the students. "This is how it should sound all day every day. The way you act is incredibly disrespectful to your teacher. And I know you know what 'disrespectful' means, because that's the way most of you have been acting all year. When she tells you to do something, you do it."

It stayed quiet until they went to PE. Well, mostly. One little girl spoke. I made her flip her card. Not that she cared. This is one of those children who gets in trouble all the time. She's one of those kids who has a parent that doesn't seem to care about anything the kid is involved in. Since the parent isn't involved in the kid's life, the kid doesn't care if she does well or does poorly on the average school day. There are no such things as consequences in most of these kids' lives.

I cannot wrap my head around the way these children act. When I was their age, I was terrified of getting in trouble. Not because I was afraid of consequences when I got home. It's not like I grew up in a house where I was beaten severely for stepping out of line. My fear was in disappointing my teachers and my parents. More and more, these days, it seems that kids don't care about that kind of thing. They're raised to question authority, not respect it. Too often, the parents of these children are lazy and ineffective. If a teacher sends a negative note home that by chance is actually read by a parent, they're somehow able to turn it on the teacher. It's the teacher's fault that their precious little angel isn't doing well or is getting in trouble. It can't be because of anything he or she actually did. It can't be because that person is failing as a parent.

I still love my job. I love feeling like I'm actually doing something to make a difference in one or two lives. What I do as a counselor is still so much better than anything I've ever done in my professional life. Working with the kids I work with is incredibly frustrating and incredibly rewarding all at once. But there are days like today that make me question whether or not I want to have children of my own.

I don't question that choice because I would doubt my abilities as a father. I don't question it because I would doubt the love that I would have for my children, or for the amazing blessings that I would see them as. No, the question comes when it's time to send those children to school. Would I want my own children sitting in a classroom each and every day, being influenced by kids like the ones I saw today? Would I want my children to be influenced by the children of parents are are lazy and ineffective and self absorbed and self entitled? As hard as it is to predict how children will behave when you control their environment, it's impossible to see how they'll turn out when surrounded by so many other personalities for 7 hours a day.

They're not all horrible, I know. After I yelled and gave my speech, I received this from a little girl in the class.
She gave one to her teacher, as well. Which is good. Because the teacher is the one who deserved the apology. And she didn't just deserve it from one of her students. But that's what she got. One apology out of 16 that should have readily apologized. The sad thing is, most of them don't even know the meaning of the phrase, "I'm sorry." To them, sorry is just something they say because it's what an adult wants to hear. If they actually mean it when they say it, most likely it's because they're sorry they got caught.

If you're a parent who actually gives a crap about their kid and the people who educate them every single day, take a little time to thank them. Bake them some cookies. Write them a thank you note. I've noticed in the past year that being a teacher is a mostly thankless job. It can be very discouraging for these women and men to go to work every day believing that the parents of their students don't care about the job they do. I'm sure it wouldn't take much to actually make them smile every now and then. The school systems in this country certainly don't pay them enough, but keep in mind, they didn't get into the education game to become rich. We should be shouting from rooftops, thanking the teachers who helped to shape us into the people we've become; thanking the teachers who are shaping our children into the people that they will one day become.


  1. Good post.

    My daughter isn't even two but she goes to "school" (daycare). She has art class, gym class and structure just like any school.

    I always thank her teachers every single day and I never forget them, even on little holidays like Valentine's Day.

    Teachers are so very important. And teaching your kids from the beginning to respect their elders is a must.

  2. Love this post!

    You would be an excellent teacher. And father, too.