Confessions of a now-dad educator, part 2
Teaching is parental training ground.
Last week, I discussed how becoming a parent has begun to change my practice as an educator. This week, the question is reversed: has being a teacher prepared me at all for parenthood?
YES!! In many cases, teachers and coaches are our children's very next line of guidance outside the home. I have had the good fortune of directly interacting with thousands of personalities, both in my classes, around my school, and through Yay Math's online community. Thankfully, the same morsels which aid my success as an educator seamlessly transition into use as a parent. Honestly I can't wait to implement what I've learned thus far with my new little one:
Kids seek fairness, justice
The seed of fairness and justice is consistency. Since younger individuals deal with so much change on a constant basis, any structures we create that remain consistent for them are deeply beneficial. They have a keen eye for consistency, as they continuously search for it in every wrinkle of their existence. When consistency falters, they use descriptions such as "not fair."
Poll any student and I guarantee that a massive pet peeve is when teachers include content on tests which was not readily visible in review materials. The same poll would reveal deep resent for a teacher who disciplines inconsistently. For example, suppose a student disrupts the class by socializing. The teacher asks the student to stop: no big deal. Then suppose another student does the same thing, but this time, the teacher asks him/her to move desks, which is more punitive and potentially more embarrassing. This alerts their unfairness radar, or "unfair-dar" if you will. Kids everywhere are quick to demonstrate how strong their unfair-dar is, even though many times their assessments are actually wrong, as they are based in their perceptions. For the record, within the same class period, I have asked one student to stop socializing and another to move desks. However, I did so with the awareness that anyone I ask to move means I have had a history of publicly asking him/her to stop socializing in the past. They know who they are, so they know that they are in line for a seat move if they continue disrupting. In communicating why I ask people to move, I use the justice angle right back on them. I illicit their own unfair-dar, directly towards themselves. In plain language, I explain that there are people in class trying to concentrate, thus talking during that time prevents those students from doing their best and being successful. Talk about justice - now THEIR actions are potentially unfair to their peers, and such self-awareness helps them to instantly fall in line.
Kids want to be heard
I grew up in a generation in which the kids' opinions were never really part of the conversation. In my home and in those of my friends, with my teachers, and with athletic coaches alike; everywhere I turned, I saw the authority's way or the highway. Dissension was strictly rebuked. You either got with the program, or bust. There is some value to this system, I concede, in order to establish discipline and a baseline respect for authority. But wouldn't it be great if the very people we try to inspire have a voice within this dynamic?
At the highest levels, we see this playing out. For example, the new breed of effective NFL coach is both master strategist AND masterhumanist. Gone are the days of coaches standing nose-to-nose with the players, screaming unilaterally, intending to stir some deeper beast of performance hidden within. I believe that the newer generations have soured away from these shaming and power-play tactics. Younger people now simply write off the unilateralist leaders, and instead gravitate to those leaders who make tangible efforts to hear and respond to the sentiments of their flock. Leaders can still be tough, as long as they have the capacity to listen as well.
Kids want to be understood
Our children regularly confront a personal challenge known as their "awkward phase." In short, their instinctive attempts to exist in peace and self-comfort are less successful than they wish. Maybe they don't say the right things, or act in a certain way. When they self-judge or judge each other's perceived awkwardness, pangs of self-consciousness kick in.
My antidote to this has been to directly inquire about whatever it is they intend to say or do.Here's what I mean; the following scenario happens too often. Let's say Jake says something in class that didn't come out exactly right. Through nervous laughter, Jake then beats others to the punchline by offering that his previous remark was awkward. Then usually non-maliciously, peers and friends nearby will laugh along, having been given permission to laugh because Jake did first. Then the whole incident is swept under the rug, as routine. I see this unfolding and I publicly ask Jake, with genuine curiosity, what he meant. I listen, and ask a few followup questions to make sure I understand. This way, he has a chance to figure out whatever he wanted to say, and we can even start an ongoing dialogue about it. By being genuinely interested in his words, nothing he can say would be awkward, so the awkward moment no longer exists. I hope to create a home in which the idea of 'awkward' never happens, because awkwardness can not exist alongside true understanding.