Think back on someone memorable, an adult who made a big impact on you when you were a child. What do you remember well about that person? Do you remember something they said? Do you remember something you saw them do? Do you remember a pattern of things, or single moments? If you’re like me, you have a variety of answers, depending on the person you are remembering.
Now, think about these two questions: What do you think the adult was intending to teach you? What do you think he or she was hoping you would remember?
When you are a teacher (or in any way a significant adult in a child’s experience), it’s almost impossible to say for certain what choices are making a permanent impact, positive or negative, on your students. I truly believe that the best thing we can do is to continue striving to live our own lives with integrity and character, and build positive relationships with the children in our care as well as the other adults in our lives. But once in awhile, it’s good to reflect upon those things that our students might be seeing us do and hearing us say.
Yesterday, I was at a quilt show with family, including my 2-year-old niece. She is impressively aware of her behavior and is visibly developing self-control. Someone who doesn’t know her would be surprised at how few times she touched the quilts. And each time she touched the quilts, her momma picked her up and talked to her about how she shouldn’t touch the quilts, and since she touched the quilts she would have to be carried for a few minutes and then she could try again. And after a few unhappy moments of being carried, my niece would say, “Don’t touch the quilts.” And my sister would put her down, and my niece would toddle around and look at the quilts (and people, and everything else) and keep her little fingers away from them for a good long while.
One time, I was pointing very closely at something on a quilt, and almost immediately, my niece touched a quilt and was picked up for her “momma time-out.” I realized, when we pointed so closely to the quilts, it might look like touching. So from her toddler perspective, it was possible that we were telling her not to touch the quilts, but we were modeling touching the quilts. I decided to test this theory a little bit, so when she was just about done with her “momma time-out,” I picked her up and cheerily taught her how to point at things we like. Then I set her down and followed her around for a few minutes, letting her choose what to point at. A bright and cheery “Don’t touch, but point” became my mantra for a few minutes, and we oohed and aahed at bright colors and boats and butterflies. It mostly worked, but it just as easily might not have, depending on if I was right about what she was noticing, or a multitude of other factors as well.
The point is, as a teacher (in any capacity of relating to kids), it’s good to examine not only my own choices and intentions, but also what I might be modeling unintentionally. I might be wrong about their perceptions. In fact, I certainly will be wrong sometimes. I can’t read their minds. But you will be close enough to right often enough to make this a very helpful thing to think about, in the classroom and beyond.