Friday, February 1, 2013

Mutual Admiration

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.


  1. Ah, fantastic subject!! It's got me typing away at a response, trying to organized many, many thoughts. And now I've run out of time, thoughts still a bit jumbled. But I'll get back to you. : )
    First, in a nutshell, having the greatest benefit to children be the central mission of the school shouldn't be confused with allowing the children to feel like they are unconditionally the center of attention. In my mind the drawback to that goes way beyond it being a bummer for the teacher not to feel appreciated. More importantly it's destructive to the present and future happiness of the child. So "child centered" doesn't have to be worn all over the sleeve. It's craftier than that.
    I have more, but that will wait. : )

  2. What I like about your style, Doug, is that you appear to have a really good balance of acceptance and high standards. Everyone is fine exactly the way they are. BUT, only the ones who are catching on get to be selected and put on an instrument (memorable experience in Funga Alafia). And that’s a wonderful “natural consequence”. It sure made me want to concentrate.
    However, about the middle-schoolers… At that awkward age I think there's an advantage to kids having learned very specific social customs such as greeting someone when you see them, using eye contact and their name. If they have experience with that being required, then they don’t have to wonder what to do when they feel insecure.
    Now, about your specific occurrence… “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!” Maybe you told them, “Even though that was totally contrived, it still made me feel great.” I would. I don’t know that there’s really a norm in America for how 20 people greet one person. As a matter of fact, I can see this being a discussion with them. (Remember the Saint Louis Shoo Fly workshop? Allow problems and see what solutions students come up with?) “I’m not feeling very good about how we greet each other at the beginning of class. And it would be a lot better and more fun for everyone if the teacher feels good at his first sight of you. Any ideas?” Hey! You could draw a parallel to other rituals such as walking through the gate at New Year’s, or ringing the gongs at the beginning of the year. Maybe when entering the room one student would ring a Tibetan singing bowl and everyone would bow and say, “Good morning, Mr. Goodkin!” (I know you have a Tibetan singing bowl.)

    On an unrelated subject, SORT of. I know others occasionally comment on your blog. However often times I feel very alone and exposed out here. This little comment box feels like a high snowy peak howling in the wind and I'm holding onto a precarious ledge of ice. I know I'm not the only reader. ...Or am I???? Is there a proper etiquette for readers who see one lone person making comment after comment and no one else chimes in? Isn't that kind of like 13-year-olds giving a one-syllable grunt when greeted? I digress.


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