A Sticky Gift

As I handed out the envelopes on the last day before Christmas break, I cautioned my students, “Everybody has the same gift, so don’t open yours until everyone has theirs.  You will, however, find a personal message inside, so be sure you read it.”

They dutifully waited until I gave the word, and then the room grew quiet as they read their cards. A few looked up and grinned at me without saying anything, but one girl said, “I kind of want to cry now.”  Another girl echoed her agreement.  One student jumped to his feet and gave me a quick hug.

Inside their cards they’d found just a few specific lines about what I appreciated about them personally.  For one, it was how quickly he volunteers to help; for another, it was how hard she works to improve.  I told one that while some days he makes me crazy, his sense of humor always makes me laugh.  And I told another that even though she still has loud days, I appreciate how hard she is working to be more quiet.

I wrote 29 cards this year, but I’m pretty sure you have fewer teens than that in your life.  What if you took the time to write a few thoughtful, meaningful words and give it to them?  You don’t have to be eloquent; just mention one or two qualities or actions that you appreciate.

It’s a gift that will stick with them long after the gift cards are spent and the electronics are obsolete, and one that could make a real difference on those days when they feel unlovable.

Talking Back

chbrThis week I had to get after a student for two things in P.E.:  messing around on the chinning bar and goofing off with a friend.  He protested, “But my friend came over to me and was bugging me!  Is that my fault?”  I reminded him he was also in trouble for the bar, and he said, “Oh.  You didn’t mention that the first time.”

The fact was I had mentioned it, and I would’ve preferred his response to be, “Okay, sorry”  in a respectful tone of voice.  In my book, he was talking back to me.  He, however, would see it differently.

I saw a T-shirt that perfectly expressed the feelings of teens:  “To you it’s talking back, but to me it’s just explaining.”  This is also what students told us when we wrote our middle school book.  The reality is that we all want the chance to explain ourselves and there are right ways to do so–but teens often choose the wrong way.

Keeping in mind that adolescents are trying to figure out how to be adults, take the time to teach the proper way to explain.  Start by modeling an acceptable tone of voice and comparing it to one that makes the listener defensive.  Then explain the value of the words “Sorry” or “I’m sorry,” especially as a lead-in for what comes next.  Finish up with the difference between making accusations and explaining one’s actions  Suggest a better response: “Sorry for messing around on the chinning bar, but my friend was the one who came over to me.  Guess I should’ve just told him to go away.”  All spoken respectfully, of course.

It’s a lesson I teach every year, and it takes lots of patience (for me) and practice (for the students), but it’s an important step in learning to be a considerate adult.

I’ve always said it’s part of my job to civilize them. . .