There is much debate today about what exactly grade schools should or should not be teaching their students. Debates range from subject areas like health issues to basic life skills, and parents, teachers, politicians, and administrators all have different opinions. And while that is an entirely different post altogether, what I want to extract from these debates is the fundamental principal that what schools do and do not offer or teach makes very clear the values they uphold or denounce.
If a school tears down an auditorium before construction on the new one has barely begun (like my high school did), that sends an administration-endorsed message that drama and band programs hold second-class status (at best!) in the hierarchy of school programs. If a school funnels money into an athletic program but consistently denies art teachers new supplies, a similar message is sent. To be fair, budget constraints and state mandates often play a large role in situations like these. If a school has to choose between hiring a new algebra teacher or a new drama teacher, it will almost undoubtedly be the former. Which is why I believe there is something else that speaks far louder and unmistakably clearer to the issue of school values.
The demeanor of the school’s teachers.
Here I cite an old adage I learned in elementary school: treat others as you wish to be treated. These words were emblazoned on a poster I can still recall to this day which hung in the library, over a picture of many people of different ethnicities gathered in harmony. Isn’t this one of the first things you learned in school or at home?
Perhaps one of the first learned and one of the first forgotten. No one is above this social rule. Not students, but especially not teachers. Many teachers today, for whatever reason, have mistaken rudeness for toughness and strictness. A bad attitude and lack of basic manners should not be hallmarks of an authority figure. Once they are, suddenly a teacher has endorsed and normalized rude behavior. And how does a student respond to rudeness? Likely with apathy, disdain, or-shocker!-rudeness. The thing is, students can get in serious trouble for that. But teachers don’t have to justify their behavior. I’m not saying that anything students shouldn’t do teachers shouldn’t do either. And I’m not saying that students are the best judge of meanness (I’ve been called mean for asking someone to put a phone away and do some actual work. What teacher hasn’t?). But I am saying that teachers need to be conscious of their demeanor at all times in the classroom. Teachers need to learn how to project authority without resorting to ditching common decency.
I’ve seen several examples of poor behavior from teachers over the years. Some are unsurprising, some leave me speechless. But here’s one that I cannot abide- because it is so simple yet high appreciated:
Saying ‘thank you.’
Teachers, you must remember these words. If you are sincere in only one way, let it be in your gratitude. Let it be known that, even if you’re the tough teacher, the mean one, you always say thank you. If a student turns in a test, or throws away a piece of trash from the floor. If you request that students desist using the r-word, or put away a phone. There are times when you’ve got to throw your weight around. Students may feel humiliated or angry, but sometimes that’s entirely out of your control. At least give them the dignity of expressing your gratitude. It’s encouraging. It’s professional. It’s the right thing to do.
I recently called out nearly an entire class for incessantly bullying a student. I’d witnessed the bullying on three separate occasions, I said, and would not tolerate it. The class was shocked. I doubt they remembered my name, let alone that I had subbed for them three times. To hear me say this clearly, loudly, and with command was not something they expected. I finally said, “So stop it,” then paused, looked around at them, and ended with, “Thank you.”
The bullying stopped. And the room got a little quieter too.
What was more surprising to them, my speaking out, or ending with thanking them? I’d like to think the former, but something tells me they don’t hear the latter very often.
Expressing gratitude goes a long way. Please try and thank not just students, but teachers, administrators, and even parents when you can. Your attitude is a reflection on your school. We all learn to be more aware of how our behavior affects others when we see positive behavior modeled by such inspiring people as teachers.
So let’s normalize sincerity and gratitude in schools. Then the rest of the world might catch on.
I literally just looked up at the wall of the school in which I’m writing this post and saw the words “Thank you” written at the bottom of a poster.
Not that hard, is it?