The Last Word

Because I said so! 


As teachers we have all used our ‘power’ to get stuff done the way we want it done as opposed to the way the kids would like to have it done. We do this because we’re tired and can’t be bothered with the kerfuffle, we do this because we’re tired and have an endless list of teacher things to get on with or, we do this because we are just too tired! I get it, and in some cases this power may be necessary…

“Andrea*, you need to remove that stick from your left nostril. 

“Andrea, you need to take it out. 

Now. 

Andrea! Seriously.”

This is important in order to keep small (and the not so small!) humans alive. But I see you there. You have your lanyard ’round your neck and those keys are a jingling… They open all the doors. You have some power there my friend. It’s pretty nice isn’t it? My problem with this power is that it can creep into the classroom and school yard a little more than it should, in areas where it really shouldn’t.

This teacher power can appear any time we open our mouths. When we say hello, when we teach, when we see a kid jump in a puddle. It’s an automatic reflex. We’re looking for trouble and we’ll pounce like a hungry lion as soon as we see it. Sometimes we assume trouble is about to take place so we stomp all over that possible misdemeanour, because Alan* and Tina* were definitely/maybe trying to climb that tree and those things are dangerous!

On yard duty last week a student ‘dobbed’ on some girls who weren’t sharing the flying fox in the playground. It was outrageous. She expected that I would storm over there and give them a what for. Mind you, she wasn’t a part of the flying fox fiasco, she was merely a concerned school yard citizen who felt it was important to tell me the goings on in the Grade 3/4 playground. I thanked her for such concern, explained that for now I would watch them and hopefully they would find a way to sort it out. By making my way over there immediately would mean I didn’t give those girls an opportunity to solve anything for themselves. So I watched. No one was being violent. No one was being bullied. Everyone was alive. It was just a bunch of girls with hands on hips and lots of finger pointing. So I continued to observe. Eventually they saw me, turned to each other, chatted a little and then… they took turns. It may not have worked out that way but in this instance it did. I gave them space. I didn’t use my ‘power’ to tell them off. They are 8 years old and sometimes sharing is hard. Yelling, lecturing and using all the big words won’t necessarily get you the result you’re after, and it isn’t always teaching them much other than, if you yell people might stop for a bit.


In the classroom we love to talk and sometimes we have a habit of saying the same things in a variety of ways. Often we repeat these things because there is always that one kid who just doesn’t listen to anything you say.

“Jim*, what did I just say!?”

Frustrating I know.

But if that’s the case, why say it ten times for them to still not hear it? Other times we just talk because we like to hear ourselves say impressive words. Or is that just me!?

Make your point. Explain as needed. Invite discussion. Listen!

I’ve been very guilty of talking too much and during my first two weeks back this year I have made a conscience effort to talk less and listen more. This doesn’t mean I am being a lazy teacher, if anything there’s more teaching taking place. It enables me to observe students and support them in the moment.

Last week as my grade 1/2 students explored the concept of measurement using informal units I noticed a few boys playing with the tape measures. One was trying to use it as a skipping rope, another was trying to whip his friend with it. In the past I would have said:

“Hey boys! Stop that! Give them here.” 

But on this day I didn’t. Instead I said:

“Hey boys! What are you measuring?” 

That change in me led to something wonderful. It shifted from what appeared to be a ‘naughty’ episode into an amazing teaching and learning experience. We measured how tall we were. We discussed the numbers we saw. I explained centimetres and inches. We discovered that a tape measure can be used to measure the circumference of our head. We used the word circumference! We worked out who was taller and the difference between our measurements. A-mah-zing!

I know none of this is ground breaking. We all know we should be doing these things but sometimes we forget or it gets lost along the way. By making a conscience effort as much as we can to really stop and change our approach or direction can lead to some wonderful teaching moments. By ignoring my initial response to a problem and taking a few seconds to think about how I could say it differently, led to something I hadn’t planned for. For those students, it made them feel special. I was giving them my time. I was listening. I wasn’t stomping all over their discovery. They stood up with pride at the end of the lesson and explained to the class what they had learnt. I didn’t interrupt. I didn’t reword their explanation. I let them enjoy their moment and share their experience. It was really quite lovely.

So let’s all listen a little more. These humans we teach are still relatively new to the world and they’re looking to us for guidance. Getting the last word in doesn’t mean you won anything, it probably just means you’re not really listening.

* Names have been changed.

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