I’m very excited and honored to be writing this chapter. This could be the most important words that I type throughout the entirety of this project.
Some of the teachers reading this book might be on their last straw. You’re reading my words looking for a sign. I know the question you’re asking, because I’ve asked it too. Should I quit this job, or should I stay and try to make it work?
There’s a lot of things I can’t speak for. I don’t know your administration and whether or not they support teachers. I don’t know what your workload looks like or how many IEP meetings you’re in. I don’t know if you feel physically threatened or unsafe in your building. If any of those things have you pushed to a breaking point, then maybe it’s time to throw in the towel or at least look for a new job somewhere else.
What I can speak for, though, is your relationship with children. If you come to work every day (well, most days, hopefully) and you love those kids, you see their potential, then we want you to stay! On the other hand, if you’ve been pushed to the point that you’re losing respect, you feel resentful, or if you’re edging towards hateful feelings for the students, then let’s look for new career paths.
Why Cherish the Child?
In Pia Mellody’s book, Facing Codependency, she defines the role of children and adults in the maturation process. Although this is more of a self help book, I found within it a lot of takeaways on how a functional relationship between an adult and a child should look like. Most of these can be applied in the classroom. First and foremost, let’s look at what children are, and what we can realistically expect of them.
By simply existing, a child has value. Period.
Children are not capable of setting or enforcing their own boundaries. This makes them vulnerable. When a child’s boundaries are being disrespected, they will not be aware that what is being done to them is wrong. As adults, we must protect and respect the boundaries of children.
Naturally, children are not adults. They will make many mistakes as they learn, grow, and test the limits of the world they live in.
Children are not yet capable of meeting their own needs. Most of the time they are not capable of even articulating what their needs are. Adults must help children learn what their needs are and how to get them met in a functional way.
A child cannot be treated as a mature adult. There are many implications of this fact for those of us working with children. The child should not be punished for acting their developmental age.
The Role of Adults Working with Children
In short, our role is to guide our students towards becoming a functional adult. It’s important to remember, throughout every step of this process, that it is a work in progress. Do whatever work you need to do within yourself to squash any resentment, anger, blame, or disappointment in a child for being all of the things that I listed above. Instead, cherish these qualities. These are the things that make children great. Children bring joy into our lives and give us hope for the future! Let’s take a closer look into our role as adults.
In our journey to raise functional adults, one very important job you have is to model the process of setting healthy boundaries. You can do this through classroom management. First, you’ll model the process of setting your behavioral expectations. All functional adults should have acceptable standards by which they insist on being treated. You can teach your students a lot simply by showing them that functional adults have a line and they respond calmly and appropriately when that line is crossed. They do not allow themselves to be repeatedly disrespected.
Additionally, model to your students the process of communicating boundaries. When your expectations in the classroom are not being met, you refuse to proceed. You do not become angry or irrational, you simply restate the expectation and wait. Do you think your children are getting to see this at home? I suspect that many of our kids are coming to us each day exhausted by the emotional atmosphere in their homes. Let’s show them that there is a way to respect others while healthily limiting your involvement in their drama.
Remember, also, that it is part of the nature of a child to make mistakes and test limits. Doing so allows them to grow into the change makers that we want them to be. Children need consequences as a natural part of their learning process, but avoid punishing or blaming a child for simply being a child. Children who are not allowed to be children develop various dysfunctions.
I’ve found Instagram to be a gold mine of useful psychological content, and I’m including one helpful post here. I’d encourage you to dig deeper into this topic if it interests you. What I’ve learned is that many adults are unsuspectingly participating in the cycle of abuse. As children, we were not protected. Our boundaries were disrespected. We have grown into imperfect adults, and that’s ok. We now have a responsibility, though. We can grow and learn. We can provide a safer environment for the kids we meet today. The child cannot cherish or protect himself. It is our job to cherish and protect the child.
In conclusion, I have to admit that several of my favorite children have been badly behaved in class. I’ve loved them not for their obedience, but for their fire. Their personalities and energy. I developed this attitude knowing that their actions weren’t always about me, and they usually don’t mean any disrespect to me. They are simply kids. They don’t know how to get what they want or need, and they’re going about it all wrong. I admire these kids for their willingness to be vulnerable. For their look of shame when they know they let me down and their determination to come back better tomorrow. I like their silliness and their love of fun. Some of my “worst” students have been the ones I am the closest with today. (Not going to lie, it is much easier now that they’re out of my room!)
Remember that classroom management is not about achieving a silent room. It’s not about military tactics, punishments for disrespectful students, or rigidity. Classroom management, especially in middle school, is about setting high expectations, and clearly mapping out the path to meeting them. It’s about making every day a new day and an opportunity to try again. It’s about being an adult that kids want to work hard for. It’s about creating relationships where children can feel dignified and respected. Teaching and learning should be fun, and they can be! Likewise, teachers and students should enjoy one another. It’s not impossible. With a baby step every day, we can get there.
If this blog post was helpful to you, or if you think anyone else could benefit from these classroom management strategies, please consider pinning the following image to help me expand my reach.
- Classroom Management Strategies: Praise Publicly, Criticize Privately - May 25, 2020
- Classroom Management Strategies: Positive Framing - May 11, 2020
- Classroom Management Strategies: Cherish The Child - May 4, 2020