This 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. . .