Pee-yew! What stinks?

Last week my biology classes conducted experiments in diffusion.  Before you yawn, you need to know that first they removed the shells from eggs by soaking them in vinegar (at home – I learned this the hard way), and then they brought them to school to immerse them in a new liquid.

As they opened their egg containers in the lab, the students began to plug their noses and complain about the smell:  “I think I might throw up – can we prop the door open?”  I’ll admit it was a little smelly; the combination of vinegar, that sulfuric egg smell, and all the liquids they’d brought in – think bleach, maple syrup, sesame oil, grape juice, soy sauce, and various juices and sodas – created quite an aromatic cocktail.

But here’s the point – it didn’t smell that bad to me.  Not because I like those kinds of odors, but because my sniffer doesn’t work as well as theirs do.  There is a physiological issue at work here that many parents don’t realize:  kids have more acute senses of smell and taste than adults do.

They actually have more taste buds on their tongues, which means strong-tasting foods can be sharp and unpleasant to them. Because taste and smell are so closely related, this is also why odors that we merely notice (fish, smoke, expensive cheese) cause them to exclaim – sometimes rudely, in our opinion – “What’s that smell?!?”  It’s why we might not like cottage cheese or black licorice (or lutefisk) when we’re young, but may learn to like it as adults.

Adults need to be aware that these complaints are usually genuine – it really is “that bad” for the kids!  If nothing can be done to change the situation, it might be a good opportunity to teach tolerance (with empathy) – “I know, it really does!  But hang in there; it’ll go away soon,” and courtesy – “When something smells bad, you shouldn’t make loud comments, because you might hurt someone’s feelings.  If you must say something, keep it neutral, like, ‘Wow, that’s strong!'”

(This is also a good phrase for parents to use with biology teachers.)

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Nothing But the Truth (Mostly)

It’s early in the school year, but before too long I expect to see Concerned Parent at my classroom door.  Don’t know yet which version I’ll get – the Stormtrooper, with eyes blazing and nostrils flaring, the Frowner, with furrowed brow and downturned mouth, or – my favorite – the Chuckler, who already knows what I’m going to say.

Regardless of who shows up, the question for me will begin the same way:  “Did you really tell the kids. . .?”  Over the years the end of this question has been:

  • “. . .they couldn’t use wide-ruled paper?”
  • “. . .it’s okay to swear in class?”
  • “. . .they should have 10 pages of notes from each of 10 sources?”
  • “. . .you believe kids should get paid to go to school?”

The answers to all of the above (and many more, the details of which I can’t remember) was and still is “No.”  It’s just that what I said in class is sometimes misinterpreted by half-listening students or deliberately mis-repeated by more manipulative ones.

It works in reverse, too.  Once I had a young lady tell the class that her mother had encouraged her to sleep with as many men as possible before she got married so she would know what she liked.   When I contacted Mom (to let her know my response), she was shocked and vehemently denied ever saying such a thing.  She had encouraged her daughter to date many men, but that was all.

Once in awhile a parent will tell me that a student feels I don’t like him or her.  This surprises me, because I work hard to stay connected with all my kiddos, making sure that even if I’ve had to get after them for something, they know I still like them.  This is usually done with an inside joke, a hand on a shoulder, or a request to run an errand for me – some little thing so they know it’s the behavior I object to, not the student.  I do warn parents, however, that complaining about a teacher’s dislike often precedes a phone call about a behavior issue.  It’s an effective deflection technique:  “It’s not that I misbehaved, Mom; she’s just picking on me because she doesn’t like me!

When I’ve had the chance to explain myself to parents, and to tell them what I’ve actually said, most of them become the Chuckler.  They learn what I’ve learned from many years of dealing with young teens:  Believe only half of what they say they’ve heard, and be sure to check out the other half.  In fact, it’s an agreement I should make with parents at back-to-school conferences in August.

And I promise it’s what I’ll do with anything allegedly said at home.

Proactiv(e) – It’s Not Just For Your Face

This past Friday night we held Junior High Fun Night at our school – around sixty 7th and 8th graders spent 2 1/2 hours playing volleyball, basketball, ping-pong, foosball, video games, and board games.  Of course, they spent lots of time just eating, talking and laughing together, too.

Some readers are thinking that sounds like a nightmare – all that time with junior high kids?  I’m happy to say the biggest “problems” we had to deal with were kids trying to walk out of the “food room” with drinks in their hands, because they’d forgotten the rule about keeping all food and drinks in one classroom.

The evening’s success was due in no small part to the awesome kids and parents we have at our school.  But there’s another reason for the lack of behavior problems, and it’s a technique I often used with my own sons when they were younger:  being proactive about expectations for the event.

In the week before the Friday event, we teachers spent time with the students going over what the rules were for the evening, as well as reminding them that they needed to behave appropriately (and take responsibility for cleaning up their own messes).  We do this before every field trip, as well.  We’ve found that when we take the time to make very clear our expectations and standards for their behavior, they are much more likely to behave appropriately.

In my own home, my husband and I did this before family outings or big family gatherings.  We let the boys know that they were expected to smile and shake hands when they were introduced, that they were to use their best manners at all times, that after spending a few minutes with the adults they were free to go off with each other (or with their cousins) and do “kid stuff,” etc.  When the event was over, we’d tell them how proud we were of them.

Too often we adults expect the kids to automatically know how to behave, when the reality is that we’ve never taught them what they need to know.  By making the effort to clarify ahead of time what your expectations are, you can head off many problems before they ever arise.

And maybe then you can relax and play, too!