Glass Half Full: Firm, fair and funny — that’s what our kids need from us
November 11, 2016
Many years ago I "excused" a young man from my 6th grade class for being disruptive. As he sat outside the classroom, a fellow teacher came along and asked him why he was there.
"Mrs. Glass told me to 'Get the H*#!! out of class!"
My colleague mused, "Josh, I don't think that is what she really said."
"No, but that's what she meant!"
I do not recall precisely why I sent young Mr. Obler to the hall (I had yet to learn many of the techniques and patience that would avoid future such scenarios), but I have never forgotten the story.
In much the same way that students sometimes said I yelled at them, even when I had not raised my voice, Josh heard in my tone of voice exactly what I am sure I meant at the time. He could be a very pesky fellow. At that early stage in my teaching career, I was not yet fully aware of the potential power of my words and actions.
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Fortunately, I grew and matured in my role as educator. With the help of hundreds of students along the way, I was allowed to learn invaluable lessons about communication. One student, now a school Head himself, once advised me not to smile at his class right after I had scolded them for something.
He said he knew I did so because I had expressed my frustrations and wanted to let the class know that everything was now okay. But, he noted, I needed to give my students time to process and recover.
Ultimately, that cushion time became a bit of a joke that allowed a return to normalcy on both sides. "Okay, Mrs. Glass, you can smile now!" was permission to relax.
The thing is, we adults wield a tremendous power to inflict feelings of pain, humiliation, and fear in children. It's not that we don't have the right to express our feelings. We do.
In fact, we have the responsibility to help youngsters understand when they have made poor choices and how they might correct them. What we need to remember, always, is that they pay close attention to the ways we express ourselves. Our choices must be wise if we expect theirs to be.
Firm, fair, and funny. That's what our children need from us, whether we are in the role of parent or teacher or family friend. We have to know what we stand for and where our lines are drawn.
We need to demonstrate kindness and empathy when we talk with children and each other; we need to model for them any behaviors we expect of them.
This week the election season will finally be over. I worry a great deal that too many adults, both public and private, have not considered how their words, their tones of voice, and their actions have been perceived by the young people in their lives. We need to be careful. We are the stewards of the future for our children.
Ruth Glass is headmaster at Lake Tahoe School. She can be reached for comment through her blog at http://www.laketahoeschool.org.
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