I’m glad I taught before I had a kid.
(Of course, I don’t teach anymore. Well, I don’t have a classroom, anyway. At the end of last year, I applied for a job as a Technology Curriculum Integration Specialist (TCIS) with my school system, and got it. I did that job for about 3 months and then an opening came up in the Curriculum & Instruction department in the school system, and since it can be years between those types of jobs, I took it. So now I’m an Instructional Specialist working with teachers across the school district. I still get to do model lessons with kids, but I guess I’m no longer officially a “teacher”).
Anyway. Enough about me.
(Not really! Let’s talk about me some more! But I promise it will all get back to Eamon in the end!)
The thing is, after about 2 years in the classroom, I quickly learned the secret to being a successful teacher. And I am going to share it with you, the interwebs, for free. Are you ready? Hold on, I will give you a minute to get a paper and pen.
Okay, here’s the secret: consistency . If you say you’re going to do it, do it. If it’s a rule, make them follow it.
Oh, I know, it seems really easy. And the concept itself is…but pulling it off in reality can be difficult. Because the thing about consistency is that you have to do it every time. Not once, not just when you remember, not only on days when you’ve had enough sleep and you’re in a good (or bad) mood. You can’t make exceptions (except when you can…but that’s a whole different blog). The thing about being consistent is that you never, ever stop. In fact, that is rather the definition.
So, as a teacher, you spend the first 6-8 weeks teaching the kids rules. Teaching them procedures. Teaching them manners and how to pass out papers correctly and how to get along with 20-some other people in one smallish room for hours on end. And because they are only kids, they often do not have self-control, they do not think ahead to what will happen if they put glue in someone’s (or their own) hair, and they don’t possess a toolbox of ways to effectively communicate with other 9 year olds. You have to teach them everything, and every time they step out of line, you have to let them know that it’s not okay and that there’s a consequence.
And if you don’t? If you give them endless chances and too much mercy or you try to be their friend instead?
They know that you are weak. They figure out how to control you, and you have lost them. And your year becomes very miserable very quickly.
Because those kids? They think they want to be in charge, but they don’t. Not really. I mean, have you ever read Lord of the Flies? Mr. Golding wasn’t really exaggerating. Just ask any teachers you know what things have happened on days when they’ve had subs. It can get gruesome.
BUT, the nice thing is, the older the kid, the faster they "get it." With fourth graders, it takes about 6-8 weeks before they realize what’s expected of them, and that they’re not in charge, and that they didn’t really want to be in charge anyway, and ironically, that’s when they start acting like people who could maybe be left in charge (occasionally. With lots of supervision). They realize the benefits of being polite, they realize how much more smoothly everything goes with the routines, that stealing really sucks and lying just upsets everyone. And they start to behave like nicely-mannered little people, and no one roasts Piggy, and you can start to just teach and not worry about behavior all the time.
The younger the kid, the longer it takes.
It takes a long time with a 2 year old. (See? Do you see? Eamon is 2! Hooray! I told you we would get back to him eventually).
Sometimes, it is exhausting. No, wait, a lot of times, it’s exhausting. Whenever, whenever, he asks for something, we have to remind him to say “Please.” (or “Puh-wease.” Whatever). Our conversations always go like this:
EAMON: Mimi! Mo’ fish!
ME: More fish what?
EAMON: Mo’ fish puh-wease?
ME: Okay. Have more goldfish crackers.
EAMON: (assorted munches)
ME: Say thank you.
EAMON: (Perfunctorily signs “thank you”)
Every time. Each and every time. It would be so much easier to just hand him the darn goldfish crackers.
And cleaning up? I hate making him clean up. It’s such a process. You ask him, and he doesn’t do it, and then you have to go right over to him, even when you’re tired, even when it’s been a long day and it would just be so much easier to just clean it all up yourself, or even just ignore it until tomorrow when you’re not so tired.
But you get up anyway and you go over and you make him clean it up. And he does it slowly because he’s hoping that you’ll just do it for him, so you have to take his little hands and make him clean up faster (seriously, one dinosaur in the container per minute, with a seventy dinosaurs…that’s just not gonna cut it), and he gets annoyed and you’re annoyed, and you know that tomorrow or even five minutes from now he’s just going to dump out more stuff and you’re going to have to make him clean up that, too…and it would just be so much easier to give in, just this once…
But if you stay firm? If you never give in? Not even once? Then one day, you look over at what was 3 minutes before a huge pile of scattered dinosaurs and realize: it’s gone. It’s all been put away. Without you even asking. By a little 2 year old who then walks over with a smile and sweetly says, “Fish puh-wease?”
And that, my friends, that is easiest of all.