Thursday, October 28, 2010

Choosing Words Wisely

Every now and then, I say something to a child that I wish I could undo.  It's almost like I hear myself say it only after I say it, and then it's too late.  It's said.

For instance, I catch myself asking children something when I'm really telling them to do something.  "Can you please put your boots on?"  That was a question.  It implies choice.  What I meant was, "Please put your boots on."  If the child replies to my question with a "no", what can I say?  I did ask, after all.

But that's an easy one.  I can patch it up with a "would you like to put them on now or in two minutes?"  And then it still gives the child a choice.

However, every now and then, I can't patch up what I've said.  I've said it, and I must follow through.  That happened to me just today.

A child asked to borrow something and bring it back the next day.  She didn't ask me directly, but she asked her mom.  So I replied, "Okay, but if I let you borrow it, I'd like you to give me a high-five or a hug or say goodbye." (She was leaving).  In other words, acknowledge me for letting you borrow the thing.


As soon as I said it, I thought, "Why did you do that, silly.  Now you have to follow through." And of course, the child didn't want the high-five, or the hug, or to say goodbye.  (That's why I felt the need to strike a deal).

Aside from the obvious issue that I had turned it into a manipulative way to bargain love, I was not role modeling good "sharing" behavior.  Not that I endorse forced sharing, but I was modeling sharing in a way that is in exchange for something.  A "what's-in-it-for-me" kind of sharing.  That was not sharing.  That was manipulating.

But that's not the point I am making.  The point is that I had to follow through even though it was a sort of unreasonable request.  

There were many reasons not to follow through.
1.  It's easier not to.
2.  It was the end of the day.
3.  The behavior management quota had already been achieved.
4.  I want the child to be "happy". (But does happiness based on giving in to their every whim really make them happy?)
5.  It was about ice.  Yes, a blue ice pack.  That's all.  (But it's never about the thing.  It's the principal and the precedent.)

When she didn't yield to my manipulative tactic, I had to take the ice pack because that's what I had set up in the first place. The child was upset, and I still had to follow through.  It was really not what I intended to sign up for. 

If I had gone back on my word and not followed through, I would be sending several message to the child:
1.  Don't trust me because I don't mean what I say.
2.  If you cry and act helpless, you will get your way.  Just like a helpless Disney princess.
3.  When you are unhappy, the world becomes unstable.  See?  Everything changes when you are upset.  Don't trust the world.  It can change on a dime.
4.  Your school environment only has integrity when certain people are there.  Rules change depending on who is present.  (This is so not true.  I want kids to trust Beansprouts and make sure the our rules apply even at 5:29pm.)

So by not following through, in my opinion, I would do a huge disservice to the child.

You see, sometimes, the teacher's hardest job is following through once we give the child directions.  Isn't it easier to put a child's shoes on for him?  That's way easier than waiting for him to do it.  But letting him do it is better for him.  He gets to see himself work through a challenge, persistence finally paying off in the end.  Rescuing him from the discomfort, I send a message that he is helpless and incapable and in need of the big adult to rescue him.  It's hard work letting kids struggle through putting on socks or pulling up pants or finding a space to sit.  But they learn to be independent that way.  We are very supportive during those times of struggle.  We just don't do it for them.  They get to experience the satisfaction of success that comes from succeeding at challenging tasks.

Of course, if I could go back I'd probably just hand over the object and say, "Okay, you can give me that high five tomorrow."  She's going to be accountable, and I'm not going to spend lots of time beating my head against a wall.  But I wasn't that creative in the moment.  I had used up my thinking-on-my-feet capacity for the day.

And next time, I'll try to catch myself two seconds sooner before something crazy like that comes out of my mouth.  I'll get lots of opportunities to practice.  Because each day at Beansprouts is a new adventure.



  1. EVERY DAY I say something I wish I hadn't.
    I just hope my retirement money pays for all my kids' therapy.

  2. One of my favorite teacher qualities: recognizing your mistakes and sharing them with other teachers. I love when Teacher Tom called himself a jerk for playing the blame game (when they were building towers to the ceiling) - this reminds me of the same situation. We all screw up - some of us more than others - and we bcome better teachers/better people when we reflect on our mistakes and share our screw-ups with others. Thank you!


Thank you for the comments! Always appreciated : )

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