Throwback. . .Classroom?

Respect HatHannah, my most frequent dress code questioner, had a valid question: “Why is it wrong for guys to wear hats inside the building?”   I told her I was sure that once upon a time there was a good reason, but all I knew was that it was tradition, a form of courtesy that isn’t always observed anymore.  I told her -and the class – how sad it is for me to see men with their hats on in restaurants and even in church.

I went on to discuss how much of what used to be common courtesy has gone by the wayside, which in turn has led to strangers screaming at each other in public, road rage, and bad sportsmanship at basketball games, among other unpleasant displays.

My students were curious about what other traditions have disappeared or are disappearing.  I told them that men used to stand up whenever women entered or left the room (it happens in almost every episode of Downton Abbey!).  In fact, I said, there was a day when students would rise to their feet every time an adult entered the room.  They were intrigued:  “Can we do that?”  I told them they could and cautioned them that it would have the most impact if they were silent as they did so.

They started it about a week ago and have kept it up, delighted and surprised at the reaction of teachers when they experience such a show of respect.  On Friday a parent volunteer came in and seemed embarrassed at the attention.  As I do with all astonished guests, I murmured, “Invite them to be seated.”  She did, and they sat, pleased with themselves.

I don’t know how long it’ll last, but secretly I hope it will become such a habit that they will forever be known as “That really respectful 8th grade.”

September 11

SofLTTIn my 8th grade class we spent a little time today discussing the events of September 11, 2001, a day on which none of them were any older than 2.  I led off by asking what they knew, only to discover some of them had their facts wrong:  “Some terrorists blew up the Twin Towers.”  “A couple of terrorists crashed their planes into the Twin Towers.”  A few of them knew the correct story, and most of them knew that the Pentagon was hit and another plane “crashed somewhere else.”

As I described my experiences that day, I strove to get them to feel what I felt – the fear, the uncertainty, the disbelief.  They were attentive, listening closely and asking good questions throughout, and I could see understanding dawning in some of their faces, especially when I pointed out that we didn’t know for days – weeks, really – where the next target might be.  I also described for them the eeriness of having no airplanes fly overhead for three days, as well as the wave of patriotism that swept the country.

But I know they don’t really grasp the significance of “9/11,” nor how it turned the world upside down for most of us who experienced it.  It was the same when I was their age and my mom would try to tell me about December 7, 1941.  It wasn’t until the events of September 11 took place that I could fully understand what our country went through when Pearl Harbor was bombed.

It’s a little disappointing that I can’t make my students comprehend on an emotional level what that day was like for me, but I have to admit – my prayer is that they never find out from firsthand experience.

A Teacher Prayer

(After I wrote this for devotions for my faculty, I decided it just might be worth sharing as a blog. . .)

Lord, thank you for calling me to be the teacher of this class with these particular students.  Forgive me for the times I fail to see the needs of their hearts in the busy-ness of all I have to do every day.  Help me to remember that my first, instinctive response might not be the best one, and show me how to love them like You do:

  • When faced with an obnoxious student, help me to remember more attention is needed, not less;
  • When worried about an overly quiet student, help me to step inside the circle rather than keeping my distance;
  • When challenged by a hostile student, help me to look for opportunities to give more approval instead of disapproval;
  • When annoyed by a dramatic student, help me to be the voice of stability in an overly emotional ear;
  • When frustrated with a perfectionist, help me to show that it’s okay not to be perfect;
  • When waiting for a slow student, help me to have extra patience, not impatience;
  • When concerned about a tearful student, help me to speak words of understanding, not disdain;
  • And when blessed with students who don’t know You, may I be Christ to each and every one of them.

Lord, may I always realize my first responsibility is simply to love your children as You have always loved me.


The Big G’s of Christmas (and Birthdays)

Christmas is a time for the big G’s – Generosity and Gratitude, but often parents are sorely disappointed by the lack of one or both in their teens.  Instead parents may find themselves on the receiving end of the big G’s evil twins – Grinchiness and Grumbling.

Before continuing, you might want to take a refresher course in The Bubble Syndrome , that unavoidable trait which causes teens to be thoughtless and inconsiderate.  Remind yourself that you haven’t raised a horrible child; it really is a phase and shouldn’t be permanent.

I say “shouldn’t be” because its longevity rests partly on your shoulders, and the big G’s – or lack thereof – are great examples of how you need to help your teen learn to be civilized and to use good manners.

“What?!” you cry.  “I taught them manners when they were barely old enough to speak!”  I’m sure you did, and I’ll even wager your toddler was very faithful with his Pleases and his Thank yous.  But how often do you hear them from your teen?  Somehow, the very fact that manners were learned as a toddler renders them childish, and “Please” and “Thank you” can be the first to exit a teen’s vocabulary.

Case in point:  I often hand out chocolate as prizes for games in my classroom.  As I wander from table to table, Ziploc bag in hand, I’ll ask what kind they want.  When the answer is, “Snickers,” I’ll stand and wait.  “SNICKERS,” the student will repeat loudly.  I’ll look her steadily in the eye until she revises the request to “Snickers, PLEASE,” sometimes at the prompting of a fellow student.  (The “Thank you” then follows without any reminding.)

Here’s an interesting concept:  the best cure for ingratitude is actually generosity.  Which, by the way, also has to be taught.  It’s only through giving that a teen will learn how much of yourself you invest in a gift, and why it’s important to know your gift was appreciated.  Give her a chance to spend her time as well as her money on a gift, and she’ll gain a new understanding of the value of a sincere “Thank you.”  She’ll also learn how good it feels to be the giver!

If you find yourself on the receiving end of ingratitude – as in, “Why’d you get me this?  I won’t use it!” – try not to overreact (and commit the teenland sin of “going off.”).  Respond civilly, through clenched teeth if necessary, with something neutral:  “Oh, sorry.  Hand it over and I’ll take care of it.”  Act like you don’t care, and resist the urge to respond sarcastically.  Later, hold a private conversation and explain how and why those kinds of responses are hurtful.  Then follow up with an education in receiving gifts graciously.  Teach your teen that there are certain things you never say, and that it’s okay to just say thank you and not express disappointment at all.  (If the hurtful words were spoken to someone else – Grandma, maybe – then an apology might be in order.)

Whatever happens, don’t give up.  Like driving, learning to behave as a civilized adult requires time and practice.  Whether your teen is rude intentionally or thoughtlessly, you should be consistent in your responses and view each incident as a teachable moment.

Eventually their cold little hearts will grow three sizes, just like that of the original Grinch.  (It just won’t happen in one day.)

Follow-Up to “I Bit My Tongue”

On March 14, I promised to keep you posted on the ongoing saga of “Will-He-Make-Me-Late-Today?” About a week after I wrote that blog, I stopped by my son’s room on a Wednesday evening. “Do you know what tomorrow is?” I asked. “Yes,” he said with a sigh. “It’s a Stressful-Early-Day.” That’s all I needed to hear. The next morning we were up and out the door exactly on time.

But there’s been a new development in the process: his baseball coach has been requiring before-school study halls at 7:00 on Wednesday mornings. Can’t you just feel the temptation I’m facing? On the Tuesday night before the first study hall, he reminded me, “We need to leave by 6:30 tomorrow, Mom.” I raised my eyebrows at him and he quickly said, “I know, I know. Now it’s my turn to have a Stressful Early Day!”

I so wanted to dawdle and make him late, just so he could see how it feels. But I have to remember that I am the adult here. Besides, what would making him late prove? Just that I hold all the power, and he really doesn’t need me to keep throwing that in his face. The point is that he now understands the tension I experience at the thought of having to face someone in authority after arriving late.

Empathy: it’s a two-way street. Teaching it to teens is just as important as showing it to them.