Lessons I Learned From 3rd Graders

Knowing When to Get Involved

While I spent 10+ years working as a classroom/special education teacher, I now mostly work with teachers as an instructional coach. However, yesterday, we had numerous teachers attending a professional development training and I stepped in to help with a 3rd grade reading group.

I was instantly reminded why I chose to become a teacher: “Did you know you can get asthma from touching a rat?” I had no idea.

Children really are magical. The same part of them that drives me up the wall is also the part of them that makes them so enjoyable to be around. Keener can go from losing his mind not turning off the light switch one second to saying he is going to pray for me the next.

The role of a teacher, and parent, is incredibly complicated. One of the greatest challenges I am finding is knowing when to get involved. As the parent of a toddler, it’s whether to step in when you see your child having a hard time taking turns with the chalk. For an older child, the endless homework battle. Finding the balance of involvement is something I find myself thinking about often.

One place where I find myself almost always inserting myself with small children is when I hear kids being mean to other kids. While on the one hand, I don’t want to create a child (my own or a student) whose only strategy is to run to mommy/teacher when kids are being mean to them, on the other, I just can’t tolerate it.

When I was working with the 3rd grade group yesterday, two of the boys were being rude. Not terrible, but unkind, and I could see that the kids they were targeting were losing confidence by the minute. Learning can be hard enough for some kids – having other students bring them down is the last thing they need.

Of course once you decide to get involved, the next hard part is knowing what to say. I also know if kids are being rude, it is often because they are struggling with their own issues. A friend just posted a great article about empathy which is something I really want to explore more on my blog.

As I continued to hear the boys snickering, I realized it was about their tone. I stopped the lesson and gave an impromptu life lecture. Hang on a minute. Let’s talk for a second about tone. Do you know what tone is? Tone is how we say something. We can use the exact same words but the way we same them gives off a very different feeling. If someone makes a mistake, I want you to think about how else you could tell them using a kind tone. I left it there to see if they could come up with something on their own. One of the boys took the opportunity. “Excuse me, but I think you made a mistake.” Wow. Do you hear how much kinder that sounds? Isn’t that how you would want someone to let you know if you made a mistake? Let’s continue.

Will they use a nasty tone again? Probably, but maybe I got their wheels turning even a little bit.

In honor of Teacher Appreciation week, THANK YOU to all of the teachers, of children young and old, for your dedication and love to your students. You are changing the world.

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