Have you ever been publicly shamed?
It was in first grade. Our desks were arranged in a U shape, one next to the other, and we were supposed to be silently reading.
“Who is your best friend?” whispered Kerry Latzah (name changed to protect the innocent) who sitting next to me.
I started to answer, but before I could finish the teacher swooped down upon me and the public shaming began. Listen, I was six, so don’t quote me on historical accuracy here, but there are two things I remember very well:
- My only thought was, “But she asked me a question, what was I supposed to do?”
- My desk was pulled out of the U into its own satellite island because I could not be trusted not to talk.
Here is what I else I remember, this is around the time I started hating school. And I hated it for a long time.
As an adult, I think there must have been much more to the story, either I was constantly talking and I don’t remember it, or the teacher was having a really hard year, but the personal experience remains- I felt unwelcome, I felt incapable, and I felt embarrassed. I did not work harder to earn back her trust and my way back into the U of community. I worked harder and harder to fight the teacher and what she wanted, it all seemed so unfair. There was Kerry, right in the U, here was me, back corner, by myself. Not to mention, all I wanted to do was answer a question, what kind of person just stares straight ahead and ignores a question? Where in humankind is that the way we want people to interact?
When I started teaching, I learned all about this color system, you moved a child’s card from green to yellow to red with each infraction. The idea is that a child has a visual cue to see that they have broken a rule or something to that effect. I tried it, and soon after, a child whose card had been moved to red, walked over to the chart and systematically ripped it to shreds. The hatred directed at the chart gave me serious pause as to what it was actually doing.
How was it any different than making one child sit outside the U shape that contained the whole class?
How is it any different than posting teacher rankings?
I have come to learn, under the tutelage and mentorship of many great teachers that teaching is not about control and compliance, not if we see our classrooms as a microcosm of the world. What are we doing making our classrooms versions of a police state? Teaching is about mentoring children into a larger community. They may know how their family unit runs, but now its learning how to interact with people that are different than us and many many more of them then they have ever seen before. It is our job to aide children in understanding how the world works, not punish them for not having that information. Shame doesn’t work, it breeds embarrassment and resentment. It hurts a child in ways they don’t forget, and it keeps us, the teachers, from helping shape a better world than the one we have today.
I think all teachers, at their core, want to do right by their kiddos.
I also think teaching is hard, and I will be the first to admit that there are days when I feel like I cannot find one more ounce of patience.
Yet it is our duty and responsibility to not just do what the people around us do, or what we were taught, if there is a chance we can do something better for kids. So if you use a color change chart, its not enough to suggest you stop, what’s more critical is figuring out what to do instead.
- See your role differently, you don’t enforce, you instruct. View all behavior as a child’s best attempt to exist in the world (see more on that mind shift here: http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2015/05/schools-behavior-discipline-collaborative-proactive-solutions-ross-greene)
- Have reasonable expectations. Expect young children to want to play rough, expect everyone to talk, expect sharing to be difficult. That doesn’t mean you won’t have conversations about it, but be reasonable! Don’t make rules that forbid children from being children. “Sit still on the rug” is an impossible task for a small child, “listen the best you can” is achievable goal. I don’t know who decided listening and moving were incompatible but that person is nuts.
- See everything as an opportunity to learn. It is a slower and longer process to talk to kids about why they did what they did, and what might work better, but its better than just flipping a color. One action (talking and teaching) tries to help the child be a better community member, the other (flipping a card) is a penalty with very little chance to learn. Not to mention, we are not omniscient, sometimes we are wrong when we assume a child is acting in a way that goes against expectation. Trust that your children are trying to do right, and make all decisions from that viewpoint
- Have class conversations constantly, role play solving problems, reflect on actions and how they went, make being a better human part of your curriculum.
- READ BOOKS ABOUT THIS! Get smarter to teach better!
- The Whole Brain Child 9http://www.amazon.com/dp/0553807919/?tag=googhydr-20&hvadid=50464217225&hvpos=1t1&hvexid=&hvnetw=g&hvrand=2109473965483827658&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=b&hvdev=c&ref=pd_sl_6vqwuk00bf_b)
- A Mindset for Learning (http://www.amazon.com/Mindset-Learning-Teaching-Traits-Independent/dp/0325062889/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1441311355&sr=1-1&keywords=a+mindset+for+learning)
- The Explosive Child (http://www.amazon.com/Explosive-Child-Understanding-Frustrated-Chronically-ebook/dp/B00GLS4XT4/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1441311397&sr=1-1&keywords=the+explosive+child)
This is a much bigger conversation. Its just I got a new student, he is 4. He went to a school with a color change chart and ended up on yellow or red every single day. He told his mom that he thinks he is “bad”, but really, he is four. That’s true for all our kids- they are four, they are six, they ten. They are growing, they are changing, they deserve opportunities to be treated the way that we want to be treated. See your classroom as the world to come, choose kindness, choose optimism, choose better for kids.