In Their Shoes

It was 2:30 on Thursday afternoon, and I could barely stay awake. I needed to use the restroom, but I tried to focus on the class discussion and think of something intelligent to contribute.

I wasn’t the teacher; I was a student in Phoenix, learning a new method for teaching science. Our class ran from 8:30 to 3:30 every day, giving me a fresh appreciation for what my students endure.

Three insights I gained:

Groups are challenging. Though the curriculum included many hands-on activities, it was hard being with the same people every day and having little control. We worked in groups which changed every few days, and by Monday of the second week I had definite ideas about which group members I preferred. As an adult, I could tolerate annoying behavior and keep my mouth shut (it helped that this was short-term), but imagine being a moody middle schooler, knowing you were stuck with these people for a school year. While learning to work in groups is an important skill, group work can be stressful for everyone.

My vow: I will make sure I have a good balance of individual and group projects, and I will listen with empathy when students complain, rather than dismissing them with, “We all need to learn how to work together!”

School means too much sitting. My students have office chairs, but it’s still hard on one’s legs and tailbone to sit for so many hours. In Phoenix we had frequent breaks (and an hour for lunch), but I dreaded plopping into that chair every morning. Because of growing limbs and muscles, adolescents can be in agony if denied movement for too long, so I shouldn’t be surprised when they whine and ask to take another break. As a teacher in constant motion around the classroom, it’s easy for me to forget how long they’ve been sitting.

Mvow:  I will offer plenty of opportunities for movement throughout the day and will be more sensitive to the amount of time they spend in their seats. While they may look like they’re listening, odds are good they’re wishing they could get up and move.

Cell phones are both a blessing and a pain. I loved being able to check my email constantly, because our teacher trusted that we would be smart about our smartphones. When I got bored or irritated by the discussion, I could take a quick look at Facebook or Instagram to pass the time.  However, some of the teachers were on their phones too often, even hiding them behind display boards during group presentations. My students are used to being connected all day long, and while it’s good for them to unplug, it’s also important to teach them phone etiquette.

My vow: Though I will continue to ban phone usage in my classroom, I may – may – consider allowing small “phone check” periods at lunch, if they prove to me they can handle it. I still find it important to limit screen time, but I also appreciate the desire to check in with the “outside world.”

I consider myself a student-centered teacher, but it’s still easy to forget how things look and feel from their side. It’s my goal this year to keep putting myself in their shoes so they, their feet – and even their seats – are more comfortable!

1.  When we hear you say, “My kid tells me everything,” we shake our heads with sadness, because we know you are being seriously manipulated.  Your child tells you 1) what makes him look good; 2) what he thinks you want to hear, and 3) whatever will push your buttons to make you mad at the school or teacher and let him off the hook.  Seriously, what teen ever tells a parent EVERYTHING?

2. We wish you’d help us fight the dress code battle.  I had a parent once who, after I pointed out in front of her that her daughter couldn’t wear that at school, turned on her daughter and said, “See?  I told you!”  If she’d already told her, then why was her daughter at school in that outfit?  Why had she been allowed out the door in it?  I know why – because Mom wanted us to fight the battle instead of her.

3. It’s time to stop cutting the crusts off your teenager’s sandwiches.  This speaks volumes to us about your parenting style; you’re not ready to scrstls sndee your child as an adolescent.  You might also still be picking out his clothes, ordering for him in a restaurant, and cleaning his bedroom.  While you say you’re doing it because you love him, what you’re really doing is delaying his independence.  He won’t wake up one day and suddenly be a mature and responsible adult; you have to give him a chance to practice.

4. What seem like little things to you – chewing gum or texting at school – are big issues to us because they mean a student does not respect the rules.  “You’d really suspend my daughter for texting at school?”  No – we’d suspend her for repeated acts of defiance, because if she’s continually breaking one rule, chances are we’ve caught her breaking others.  When you downplay the situation, it only encourages her to keep seeing what she can get away with.

5. When we tell your child “No, you can’t,” and he gets angry and argues with us, we know he’s doing so because it works with you.  The same goes for whining – we know he’s using it on us because it gets him his way at home.  Hold your ground in the face of arguing and whining, and you’ll help your child to be more socially acceptable at school – and eventually in the workplace.

6. When we hear your teens use “please” and “thank you” without prompting, and we see them holding the door or letting others go first, we know you have taught them to be polite and considerate of others.  This is also true when they apologize, clean up after themselves, and refrain from interrupting.  It makes us think good thoughts about them – and about you!