The little white lie, the unconscious or sometimes conscious offensive turn-of-phrase can wound, but let’s face it, it won’t kill you. It is a disappointment. In the grand scheme of things, the person who gossips or cuts me off in traffic is not my biggest worry. The safety of my family and the core beliefs I hold are worth defending, but if you need to go faster than me on I-20, knock yourself out. However I will be hoping that the DPS will give you a big, fat ticket as you speed by me.
It is an entirely different thing when children disappoint you. Over the past twenty-one years of teaching I have seen some kids say and do some pretty awful things to each other. I vacillate between instantly swooping down with “the appropriate thing to do” and waiting to see if the aggressor and intended victim can work it out themselves. Kids have a highly developed sense of justice. Watch them divide candy and you’ll see what I mean. I am always optimistic that they can learn how to treat each other kindly. If not, I am there to intervene. Quickly.
Good behavior, defined in my class as what you say and what you do, should be modelled first by me, explained carefully and specifically and followed up on consistently. Sounds easy, but it isn’t.
Testing the “truth” boundaries is a normal part of growing up. I think of kids lying to me as a kind of, “Let’s stick my finger in this electric outlet and see what happens.” sort of moment. If the lying has consequences, then a child learns not to do it again. But your response to lying has to be smart and appropriate to the offense.
These favorite teacher phrases produce very predictable results.
Did you do that? ” I didn’t do anything.” (What did you think they were going to say? ” Yes teacher I did it. Take me away.”)
Were you running? ” I was just walking fast.” (Teacher, did you define running, skipping, hopping and other modes of movement as off-limits? Yes, I have actually had a line of students practice walking. Sigh.)
Were you talking? ” He was talking to me.” (Did you define talking? Which in my room means talking, whispering, singing, humming, making sound effects and talking to yourself, your friends or your imaginary friend.) A footnote here is the uncanny ability of kids to drum or make noise with ANYTHING. I have a theory about this. Each child that drums on stuff is creating their own identifying sound, like animals saying, “Here I am.” in the muffling noise of a forest. No proof, just a theory.
Did you take it? ” No.” (What did you think they were going to say? Even when it is hanging out of their pocket.)
Did you hear me? “No.” (What did you think they were going to say? Duh.)
But recovery, forgiveness of the lie, is an integral part of the learning. It says , “Your behavior was bad just then, but I still like you.” I can usually muster up that feeling when looking at a sweating ten-year old who just got caught in a lie.
I hope that when I handle these situations correctly, maybe we can avoid that adult who thinks it’s ok to go through the fast check out lane with fifty items instead of ten or to park in the handicapped place when they are able-bodied. The bigger stuff adults will just have to reason out on their own. And quitting drumming on the table.
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