Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Giving Advice in the Classroom, and at Home

I think teaching has well served me as a parent. Because of teaching I know things I might not have if I wasn't. For example, I know the importance of explicit teaching, of  the need to teach everything. We know this, intuitively, when we are parents of young children. We teach them how to speak, how to wash their hands, how to brush their teeth - and how long. We know this as teachers of young kids. We teach them how to walk in the line, sit on the carpet, go to lunch, and learn to share. But I think, as they age, we leave a lot up to them that maybe we shouldn't, especially regarding our kids socially. We assume that once they are old enough to be independent of us, they will figure the social stuff out on their own. The blessing of teaching ten and eleven year old kids is that I know how untrue this is.

I've been teaching my students - and my sons - about life as long as I have been in the classroom. Kids tend to be a bit clueless, and very focused on themselves. I've found that I have to walk them through a scenario, explain why I think they should do "x". Maybe, just maybe, it will sink in. Often, it will require repeated teachings. Much like explaining to my boys how to open gifts when they were small, what they needed to say, we need to do this for social situations for our older kids as well.

I've taught my "kids" (this will be a loose term I will use for my own children and my current and former students to protect some anonymity here) how to be friends. How to make up after an argument. How to figure out if a friend is upset with you. How to talk to a girl or boy you like. How to say "hi" when you see friends out and you weren't invited. How to talk to your teacher if you weren't happy about a grade. How to apologize when you screwed up. How to comfort someone when they are hurting. 

I don't think there are right ways and wrong ways to teach this stuff to our kids, I simply think we need to. When we see our children - in the classroom or at home - are struggling with a friend, we need to give them guidance. Sometimes it isn't wanted, and we have to back off, but sometimes I quietly pull up a chair and say, "Man, I struggled with friends in school too. You know what often works, but is pretty tough? Asking what's going on. They might tell you - and maybe you screwed up and will need to apologize. Or they might ignore you. At least you tried." Kids will nod, not look at me, but nod. Then they come back later with a whispered, "Thanks." 

I don't think kids just become great students, great friends, or great boyfriends/ girlfriends, by accident. I think it is by quiet guidance, great role models, and letting them figure some of it out on their own. Just as a read aloud shouldn't end because the kids know how to read, I don't think our lessons should end just because they are no longer small enough to fit on our laps. Too many kids are coming to me woefully unprepared on how to be kind, how to think of others, how to navigate the waters of fifth grade and beyond. We must still be a life preserver for them, providing the support they need when the waves are too rough and the water is too deep.