Saturday, February 9, 2013

It Takes a Village

This week I had one of those days, a day where I was a bit overwhelmed. Overwhelmed by everything we need to teach, overwhelmed by the needs of my students, overwhelmed by a never ending to do list. And then, in a conversation with a fellow teacher followed up by a conversation with a student, more was added to my plate. See, I found out that my fifth graders are no strangers to social media. And, as eleven year olds are wont to do, they jumped in with both feet and didn’t look back. It seems that some kids needed some lessons on better choices: what to put up, privacy, “friends”, etc. My mind reeled.

We’ve already talked about the digital world often this year. We’ve created an Edmodo classroom page. We discuss good digital citizenship. But I don’t think I’ve been clear enough. So when I heard about the social life they were having outside of the classroom, I was concerned for them.

Sometimes I am grateful I grew up in the 80s. That my mistakes, while burned forever into my mind – and I’m sure my friends’ minds as well – are not visible to the entire world on the Internet. Today’s generation does not get that luxury, and that is a tough lesson.

So we talked. I pulled up my Instagram account, my Twitter account, my Facebook account. We talked about:

·      What I would post, what I wouldn’t.
·      What privacy looks like.
·      How to lock down your account.
·      Who I allowed to follow me, who I block.
·      And on, and on.

They shared with me, I gave advice. I explained that I cared about them. That I didn’t want them in tears in my room when they were older – wishing they could take back a post, a text, a photo. I’ve comforted former students through that before and my heart broke. I don’t want to experience that again.

And then I sent a letter home, sharing with the parents what I taught that day. I explained the tips I shared and I heard back from just a few parents. Many thanked me, some lamented that they were a “bad parent”, that they should have ensured that their child was completely safe on the internet. They asked if they should just take away all devices, not allow them on. They asked, “What is the best choice?”

To that, I have no answer. But this I know – they are not bad parents. Most parents are trying to do the best they can with what they know – just like I am. Technology is moving faster than most of us can keep up with. As I type this my boys are playing a PS3 game online. I have no idea who they are playing against. We talk about what to share – we talk about their online lives. Is it enough? I think that is the perennial question of parenting.

This tiny town I live in is where I grew up. And when you only have about 5,000 people in town, there are always eyes on you. I grew up knowing that if I got in trouble at school, my parents would know before I got home – even if the principal didn’t call. If I was hanging out on the square – where I was not supposed to be – they would know. People watched out. (And gossiped, but that’s another story.) And so many years later, it is pretty much the same way. I have been on the receiving end of the phone call for a less than stellar act by one of my children. And while it is a bit mortifying, I’d much prefer everyone looking out for my kids – the good and the bad – then turning away. So that’s what I continue to do as a teacher.

I also build the relationships in class – so when I am giving this talk about our online lives, and telling them that I care and want to help them, they know I do. They know that I am taking time out of reading class not because I feel a need to lecture but because I want to protect them. The relationships we have with our students allow them to receive this message with the given intent.

Thinking though this week I was given this link to Kid President’s Pep Talk.

One of my favorite lines, although it is hard to choose, was towards the beginning:

If life is a game, aren’t we on the same team? I mean really, right? I’m on your team, be on my team.

Parenting is tough. Teaching is tough. We are all on the same team, with the same goals. Raising these kids, these students? It takes a village. And I want my students’ parents to know I am on their team.