Children Will Listen

My five-year-old, Hunter, got off the bus looking dejected and worn out. Always a source of unending energy and vigor, Hunter is only worn out when he is upset or sick. I asked him what was wrong, and he looked at me with teary blue eyes. “I got into trouble today.” I asked him what happened and he told me. He is persistent and confident. Hunter is not afraid of anything, and he doesn’t let anyone stand in his way when he wants to accomplish something. The story he told was that he didn’t finish his morning work, and he had to miss recess. He finished his work and his teacher told him to put his head down. She checked his work and told him to put it into his folder. He thought that he would be able to go outside after he was finished. Then she yelled at him and told him to put his head down. He said to me “Mommy, why did she have to yell at me?” I said, “Sometimes grown ups yell and they don’t mean to. I’m sorry that you got upset. You are a good boy, try to listen better on Monday.” She put a note in his folder saying that he needs to follow directions and learn that he can’t just do what he wants all the time.

I am a teacher. While I am taking a year off, I am a teacher in my heart. So, when dealing with my children’s teachers, I try to have a helpful attitude. Teachers are overworked, underpaid, and undervalued. My job as a parent is to act with understanding and calmness. I would never say that a teacher was bad, or assume that any teacher is picking on my child. When my children come home from school complaining about something that happened, I ask questions and try to make sure I have all the information before I act. If they get into trouble, I always ask them what they were doing at the time and what they were doing right before they got into trouble. I back up the teachers decision and talk to my child about how to correct his behavior.

The day that Hunter came home upset was heartbreaking for me. This is a child who is never thwarted by other people’s opinions. He is thick skinned with regards to emotions. Unlike his tender-hearted older brother, he does not allow other people’s opinions to sway his knowledge of himself. He is the most confident five-year-old I have ever met, and most of the time when he gets into trouble, he is unfazed. He is kind to animals, and he is a cuddly child. He was heartbroken that day.

When we are sending our children to school, we are trusting the teachers. We are trusting that everyone they come into contact with will deal with them fairly and calmly. While I do yell at my own children sometimes, as a teacher, the only time I yelled at my students was when there was a fight. I always felt that calm is strength and yelling only makes their adrenaline kick in. Yelling makes things worse. I subscribe to the thought that I don’t know what goes on in their homes. I have no idea if there is kindness or cruelty. I have no idea if there is care or neglect. While I am observant, and most of the time it is obvious when a child is not being cared for, I never really know what is going on in someone’s home. My actions could make or break that child, so I had better choose carefully how I will handle the precious thing that is their spirit.

Teachers are under a tremendous amount of stress in these “accountability” times. As adults, we are better able to deal with and compartmentalize our emotions. I am still considering what I will do to address this situation with his teacher. I am a volunteer at school, and have opportunity to observe the staff and faculty while I am there. I keep an open mind in my dealings with the school. I understand that children are often limited in their perspectives on things. When Logan was in pre-school at the Methodist Church down the street, his teacher said “I promise to believe only half of what they tell me, if you promise to only believe half of what they tell you.” She didn’t mean that we shouldn’t trust children, only that their experiences are limited and sometimes a child’s perception is not 100% accurate. This has been the underlying theme when I deal with teachers, and also when I deal with parents of my own students.

Now, with all these things in mind, the most important job we have as educators is making every child feel cherished and cared for. Children are not born being a Dylan Klebold. They are made with years of feeling isolated and unheard. While they may have a problem dealing with stress in an appropriate way, they deserve to feel welcome and wanted. As the caregiver in The Help told that little girl, “You is kind, you is smart, and you is loved.” We all must remember that every child is a gift and deserves to be treated with respect and kindness. After they leave us, they may forget how to find the square root. When they are adults in the world, they may never have to find the object of the preposition. They may not even have to use multiplication facts, given that every electronic device has a calculator on it. But they will have to navigate the world of stress and pressure. They will have to balance work and family. They will have to talk to people and relate to them. More than any academic lesson we give our children, they must learn to be emotionally educated. The legacy we leave our children is not academics, it is in our ability to treat everyone with kindness and care. Like the song in the musical “Into the Woods” says: “Careful the things you say, children will listen.” I am inspired when I think of the wondrous legacy we could all leave this world if we remembered to treat each other as the precious gifts we are.

7 replies on “Children Will Listen”

“I promise to believe only half of what they tell me, if you promise to only believe half of what they tell you.”

I can’t tell you how frightening this thought is to me. Holy cow, that makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up worse than when authority figures say “I can be your best friend, or your worst enemy.”

I wouldn’t leave my kid in a room with someone who said “hey, only believe half of what they tell you about me, okay?”

Chavisory, the teacher who said that wasn’t trying to be authoritarian or cruel. She was explaining how easily misunderstandings can happen with teachers and parents. The particular teacher who said that was my 3 year old son’s preschool teacher. For example I could feed my kiddo chicken and rice with salad for dinner, and then give him popcorn when we watch a movie later. The teacher could ask my child what he had for dinner, and he could answer “popcorn.” Now popcorn isn’t a nutritional or filling choice for dinner, and if that’s what a teacher thought I was feeding my child, she would perhaps think I was neglectful.
He may have a day full of learning activities at school, and watch a video for the last 20 minutes. I can ask him what he did at school that day, and he will say, “just watched movies.” I could take that at face value, and write a scathing email to the school about letting my child watch videos all day, OR I could understand that he is 5. My main point in that paragraph was that a child’s perception is limited because their experiences are limited. If we only rely on what they say, and don’t keep the lines of communication open, we are only getting part of the story. The point is to have faith and trust in fellow human beings and ask questions before jumping to conclusions.

I’m not saying don’t think about what children say or not to clarify or check into it if there’s possible cause for concern before going off the handle on someone …but oh man, I was a kid who worked very, very hard to be believed about what I was experiencing, to very little avail with anyone in my life. The results were not good. Time proved me far more correct about what was going on in my life than any of the adults who wrote off what I said.

So there’s just no way that I can hear that saying with much but horror. However a teacher *intended* it, I’d march a kid of mine right back out of the classroom of anyone who said it.

Is this her first year or is she close to retirement? I find that I am a lot more aware of how I respond to children now then I was in my first year. One of my master teacher’s was so close to retirement that she didn’t give a care about the kids. I think she just had student teachers in so that she wouldn’t have to teach and still got paid.

I have a similar struggle with my son’s teacher. My son is an amazing boy who loves to help and do things right. His teacher does not appreciate his kindness or know him at all. He yelled at him for making books fall on purpose. My son loves books, and treats them with respect cause he knows what a great thing they are. For this teacher to assume my son would pull a prank irks me. Being a teacher I try to give her the benefit of the doubt, being that teacher’s aide for a couple of months, I find it beyond me sometimes to give that benefit to her. I know what she is like and how she treats children.

One of my biggest compliments my students give me is to call me mom, in that way I know they love me and are comfortable with me that it slips out. I have wonderful students!

Thank you for your response. I appreciate your feedback. It seems to be her second year. I do think that she is overwhelmed and stressed out. I wish she didn’t project so much frustration onto the kids. They are 5, they should love school and think their teachers are rockstars! One solution that I have come up with is to help and volunteer as much as I can.

This is a great article, and it strikes some chords. This can be such a tough balance. I know in my last long-term substitute position, I got a call from a parent telling me her child had been very upset because he got in trouble for talking and had to “walk” for five minutes at recess instead of playing. I tried to explain that he wasn’t in any sort of trouble and that he was a really good kid, he was just talking during a test. She then tried to tell me WHY he was talking (he was telling other students not to talk) and why it wasn’t his fault and that she told him to “stand up for himself.” And the whole conversation upset me, because I had talked to the child about it after the test. I explained to him why he got in trouble and that I wasn’t mad at him, it was just that his behavior wasn’t very nice while his friends were trying to concentrate. (It was also too bad, because the kid was a personal favorite of mine: bright, high-spirited, and ready to learn.)

I guess what I’m trying to say is that any kind of teaching, especially when it comes to social education, can be a VERY hard line to walk, as I’m sure you know.

Thank you for sharing that with me. I can’t tell you how many times that has happened to me also. I know that it is such a fine line, and there is so much room for misunderstanding. In my early years of teaching, a veteran teacher told me that if at all possible, no matter what happened during the day, try to make sure that each kid leaves feeling good. Sometimes circumstances get in the way, but I tried to keep that in mind with my students. I do believe that my most important job was helping them to feel cared for and valuable. Those things can’t be measured on a standardized test, though.

Leave a Reply