February is off to a good start. It began with an 8th grade class that played the heck out of a Monk tune, almost performance-ready in three classes. The focus of this particular group is extraordinary, not the usual swimming upstream against constant kid movement, chatter and xylophone tinkering while I’m talking and the result is that they learn quickly and it sticks. After the last note, I blew them a kiss and said, “You are one remarkable group of kids. With this music behind you, go forth into the day in peace and beauty!” One of them lingered a bit after class and said, in all sincerity, “Thank you. That was really fun.”
Later I had a class of 25 preschoolers playing a stirring version of Roses Are Red on frog woodblocks, triangles and conga drums. A five-year old turned to me on the way out the door and said, “You’re a great music teacher!!” “Why, thank you, “ I replied. “And you’re a great music student!”
And there was the perfect balance between the elder affirming the child for his effort and accomplishment and the child recognizing that it’s proper to also thank the teacher. I grew up in the “children should be seen and not heard” style of child-raising and yes, some sense of being seen by a few key adults occasionally came my way, but it certainly was not high on the adults’ “to-do list.” And so I devoted my life to a school where the children reigned supreme, called us teachers by our first names (and still do), where we didn’t (and still mostly don’t) even have a teacher’s faculty room. I can report back that children indeed feel known and seen and heard and honored and appreciated in our school and ultimately look back at it all with gratitude. Hooray for that! But a little more gratitude and respect for the teacher at each step along the way wouldn’t be a bad thing. In fact, it would be a wonderful thing.
I’m mostly in the camp that respect for the elder is something that is organically grown and earned by the teacher’s relationship with each child. Going through the mere gestures of respect often becomes routine and insincere. But respect is also a cultural value, a practice, an etiquette and something that adults need to inculcate in the children we raise. We certainly could do a better job at my school.
Just yesterday, a middle school class came in and sat on the risers as they do at the beginning of class. Now granted, 8:15 am does not show the 13-year old at his or her peak, but still, when I said “Good morning” to the group, I got a few random samples of a mumbled “good morning” with a hardly a moving lip in sight and no eye contact. So I told them how in many places I travel, the class stands up when the teacher enters and gives an energetic group unison, “Good morning!” to the teacher. So I suggested we try it for practice. I walked out the door and re-entered and they said “Good morning, Mr. Goodkin!” Of course, it was all in play, but may I freely confess? I loved it! It felt great!
Mutual respect and admiration. It's a good idea, easy to say, hard to come by. If you have it in your school, let me in on the secret.