“Do not train a child to learn by force or harshness; but direct them to it by what amuses their minds, so that you may be better able to discover with accuracy the peculiar bent of the genius of each.”
Every semester I have my students read a short article written by Harry L. Gracey called “Kindergarten as Academic Boot Camp”. The basic thesis of the article is that the most successful student is typically the child who embodies the rules and routines of the classroom. Gracey offers numerous classroom anecdotes to show how noisy children are quieted, routine is implemented and how school in general exerts a strong “normalizing” influence on children. For some reason, this article outrages my students.
Initially my students’ reaction to the Gracey article surprised and humored me. I couldn’t quite believe that it had never occurred to them that a large part of the learning experience was tied to understanding behavioral expectations. Over time, however, I began to see that my students were not outraged by the imposition of rules and routines in the kindergarten classroom. In fact, they acknowledge the necessity of creating structure. Their frustration lay in the method of communication used by the teacher in the article and, more importantly, the teachers of their collective memories.
It seems that many students “hear” behavioral reprimands as personal critique. Rather than understanding teacher’s words as an attempt to engage them in the routine of the classroom, students interpret reprimands as personal assaults. Thus, severely impacting their developing self esteem and, more importantly, pushing them to the outside edge of the communal classroom. Overtime children who interpret behavioral reprimands as personal assaults begin to feel isolated, misunderstood and alienated from the larger classroom experience.
I have thought a lot about why some children “hear” behavioral reprimands as personal assaults. I can only seem to come up with one hypothesis. Children are generally much better at reading the undercurrent of emotionality than adults realize. A teacher may simply be saying, “Sit still, Johnny”, but Johnny is feeling “Johnny, you are making me nuts.” Johnny is ultimately experiencing rejection from the very person attempting to engage him in the learning process.
We know that classroom success leads to self confidence. How does a young child grow his self confidence when he experiences feelings of rejection in the classroom? It doesn’t matter if the rejection is real or imagined, the perception is what impacts the child. Teaching is an interactional process. Every thought, word and action produces an influence in the classroom atmosphere. The feeling of that atmosphere is dependent on the quality of the vibrations flowing through the teacher. As a result a teacher with love in his/her heart will establish a more loving and nurturing classroom experience. As Jim Henson, the creative genius behind the Muppets once said, “[Kids] don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.”
Being a teacher carries with it great potential and great obligation. The current education landscape has as yet no socially based accountability for classroom etiquette. According to my students, teachers would do well to monitor their own stress levels in the classroom, communicate with love in their hearts and understand that children can feel the vibrations beneath your words.
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