This is NOT sweet talk

I received an interesting comment this week on my blog, with regards to my viral post on what students remember most about teachers:

“This is sweet talk about how important it is to relate to students’ lives. A certain amount of that is important or you can’t reach the students. It is also critical to actually teach in a way that assures students gain the best education possible based on their intelligence. Yes, everyone doesn’t have to be a doctor or an engineer, but some must or our society will suffer immensely. Teachers are not there to make friends of students, but learners. Whether they remember you, is irrelevant.”

To the commentator: I beg to differ, and to also call your bluff.

There are researchers around the globe who are putting forth scientific claims as to why care is vital inside classrooms. It’s not just sweet talk anymore—there is substantial theory and research underway existent to support both my sentiments as well as the premise behind care ethics.

Towards a broader understanding of authority in student-teacher relationships,” is the title of an academic research paper written by Macleod, MacAllister & Pirrie (2012) on the topic of authority utilized in school discipline, and the paper provides reason for a better understanding of “the student-teacher authority relationship” which is also central to understanding what goes on in classrooms; in particular, the authors of this article show how this idea of authority relates to school discipline (p. 494)

Authors Macleod, MacAllister & Pirrie (2012) put forward in this research paper that the common approach to discipline that educators have traditionally held to, in that they have interpreted authority with relation to use of power and domination. Thus, the apparent meaning of authority in this view would be one which enables teachers to engage in forceful action (albeit, not necessarily physical) so as to coerce students into doing that behaviour which is desired; if students do not do what is expected, they run the risk of receiving consequences for their actions. This understanding in Macleod, MacAllister & Pirrie’s (2012) view has led to a neglect of how teachers can use personal authority to elicit a more authentic, positive response to encouraging desired behaviours, doing so in caring, compassionate ways.

Macleod, MacAllister & Pirrie’s (2012) quote Gewirtz (2000) as saying “that pupils continue to be seen as problems to be managed rather than as individuals capable of making decisions” (p. 497). Although Macleod, MacAllister & Pirrie (2012) state that there have been positive shifts over the past decades in terms of how schools interpret discipline, doing so in a more positive light than in some previous eras of schooling, there still is a view to discipline that students must remain compliant if they are to avoid the teacher’s use of control to exercise authority. With the agenda of school boards and government departments geared at performance and output, it is no wonder that teachers believe that classroom control of some sort is necessary (at least this is the view of many teachers) if they are to get anything done inside their classrooms, so as to meet district-mandated benchmarks.

Macleod, MacAllister & Pirrie’s (2012) quote Wrong (2002)’s research as being significant in contributing to the theory of authority.

Wrong (2002)’s view to authority is that it differs in terms of how dominating, persuasive, manipulative and forceful it is in manifestation, as well as it differs in terms of the motivation for the individual to submit to the authority (changes which depend on what form of power is being used). Wrong (2002) lists five forms of authority: coercive, legitimate, competent, personal and authority by inducement, and he maintains that each has application to the classroom setting. In particular, Macleod, MacAllister & Pirrie (2012) take note of what Wrong (2002) says about personal authority, a form of authority based on a student’s compliance to complete teacher-directed tasks/do what is expected, and all because they genuinely like the teacher. This is a form of authority which Macleod, MacAllister & Pirrie’s (2012) state “is something which school children are naturally predisposed to recognize and respond to” (p. 504). Thus, the personal qualities of teachers—their caring and compassion, their trustworthiness, their ability to form relationships with their students, their understanding, their patience and respectfulness…all work in tandem to form a teacher’s personal authority inside their classroom with students.

Macleod, MacAllister & Pirrie’s (2012) claim that it is “in personal authority that teachers can find most optimism for their profession” and this because this form of authority lies directly within their means of influence. Teachers CAN decide how they will be when they show up to class each morning.

Will those teachers be fair?
Will they be respectful?
Will they be patient, compassionate, understanding and trustworthy?
Will they find ways in which to care?

If the answer to any of these lies in the affirmative, then the teacher’s ability to establish a positive, healthy presence of authority in the classroom is a hopeful possibility.

Both for the teacher AND the students.

When discipline is sandwiched in love

You know those kinds of days. Another long day in a stream of long days. More issues to deal with, more meetings to be had. More testing to be done, more papers to be sent home. Just more of everything. And coming on the end of the school day, sometimes all you want to do is just let a loud, mournful bellow out.

Just roar with the frustration of it all. (Teachers are no exception.) Because that chocolate milk that never got finished at lunch time? It just got spilled all over the school memos which I forgot to pass out and there are still a couple of kids that are not dressed and ready for the buses even though it is past time. And did I mention the email I forgot to write? Or the parent-teacher interview I have scheduled for two minutes past the bell?

Life. It’s all getting to me. The days, they seem like hurdles to clear, mountains to climb.

These are the moments when patience wears thin and tolerance breaks down. And just about the time you think that every reserve you have has been used up, you remember: this life we live is not about the stuff we do. The amount we get done in a given day. The jobs we tick off our endless lists. No, it’s not really about all that stuff, as important as it might seem in a given moment.

It’s about the living we do. The people we love.

And as teachers, it’s about the students we care for. The connections we make. The real life moments in which we see “our kids” as people. It’s about the time we take to share a smile. The moments we steal away from the regular grind to cut loose and relax. It’s about relationship and caring. It’s really about love when it comes down to it. The love we offer and the love we are given back from the ones who love us just as much.

I watched a video segment this evening edited from a television talk show on the subject of pre-teen behaviour problems. This particular segment concerned a young boy whose mother was considering sending him away to “boot camp” so as to deal head-on with his negativity.

He had apparently been disrespectful to his mother, and so she agreed to a drill sergeant intervening so as to “wake” the boy up from his reverie. To give him a taste for what life could be like if he should so continue on this path of disrespect and insolence. As the drill sergeant questioned the boy regarding whether or not he wanted to have a drill sergeant breathing down his neck for the next eight years, essentially acting as his makeshift “daddy”, the boy paused for a second. And he responded simply, ‘yes, sir.’ To which, the drill sergeant was completely taken aback — what kid would agree to having a drill sergeant on his case until they became an adult? The drill sergeant momentarily lost his composure and then turned to the boy and asked him ‘why?’ Why would he agree to this proposition. Agree to him (a domineering drill sergeant) being the boy’s ‘daddy’? The answer offered left him speechless. For the boy responded simply and honestly: “Because I haven’t got a daddy.”

We forget (and often): what our students, what our kids (both young and older) need from us as parents and teachers is not simply more discipline and rigidity. More chastisement, correction and punishment. They don’t need us to continually nag on them about what they are doing wrong. They don’t need more rules and structures to follow. What they need is committed, loving people who are willing to constructively invest in their lives. Yes, sometimes this is about discipline, but it is more about relationship than anything. It’s about building time into our children’s lives so that they know beyond a shadow of a doubt: they are worth it.

Our children need us to remind them continuously about what they have been doing right. What little things have we noticed about their “person” that are beautiful and admirable. What can we commend them on throughout the day? What is noteworthy? What praise can we lavish? What credit can we offer? How can we build them up so that they know their intrinsic worth as human beings? This is what it’s all about: acknowledgement. Affirmation.

I confess. I sent two children to bed tonight without so much as a bedtime story. It was a ‘rough mommy’ night coupled with that aforementioned busy workday at school. There had been constant whining (the kiddos) and repeated warnings issued (Hubby and myself). And through it all, I had stood my ground.

Whining/crying = early bedtime. No second chances once the final decision had been made. And while there is nothing wrong with taking the hard road once in a while, sometimes hindsight makes you wish for a ‘do-over’. Because the little note I found on my bed from my Middlest one made me wish I could turn back time.

Here’s part of what it said: “I’m sorry…please don’t hate me. I’ll never forgive myself.” Which only served to remind me: while our children need that discipline we must offer them as part of our parental love, they need it always cushioned in gentleness and empathy. Sandwiched in love. And if we as teachers can find it within our hearts to offer love, we must do the same. Sandwich discipline in between great big slices of compassion and empathy. We have no idea what ways that intentional decision to show caring concern might be the turning point in a child’s life.

Love — for the sake of our children. Discipline gently, lovingly, through word and deed. Be there for the children in your life even when it’s the hardest choice. Because we don’t ever truly know who needs a gentle word of compassion alongside that constructive advice. And sometimes it’s the ones we least suspect would ever want it who need it the most.

Parenting joy…

I think I just might need to start getting more creative with my overall life organizational skills as well as with my child-rearing methods, as my status updates are becoming increasingly redundant (a.k.a  ‘kids fight, I scream, exhaustion sets in, sanity starts slipping…’)    Here is part of what I wrote as my blog update last night, but almost decided against it because I felt it was just too stereo-typical:

It’s been an interesting, eventful, exhausting day.

Kids woke up angry, one slamming a door, another had a nose bleed, (no drips hit the floor)

A day of lost e-mails, payments forgotten, to-do lists unmade and I felt plain old rotten.

Complaints about long hair, missed appointments galore, work overdue, stuff all over the floor.

My kids in my classroom, no after-school care, will someone please teach them, just how to share?


And that was just a glimpse of life during my work day.  Don’t get me started on home life.

A friend recently told me I should take up running.  That would certainly help to balance out my craving for Lay’s chips at bedtime, but I don’t quite know what it would do for my child-rearing skills.  That is, unless I am running away from my children, which sadly has occurred a few more times than I should publicly mention.  I had another friend confide to me that someone who has read my blogs regularly thinks that I live a ‘troubled’ life.  And I thought writing about it was helping me, being my own therapist and all.  Instead of helping myself out, I realized this.   Not only am I still troubled, but half of P.E.I. as well as representation from select provinces and several of the United States, know specifically what kind of trouble I am in, and why, each and every time I update my status.  And they pity me for it.

So, it is time I start nailing down some solutions and offer what it is I actually do when the ‘rubber hits the road’.  Thus, I am writing tonight so as to offer the rest of the story, or as it might more aptly be titled: ‘what happens next, after the funny stuff goes down’.

While sitting at the rink tonight, shooting the breeze with the other rink moms who were watching their own kids skate their hearts out, we talked discipline ideas.  And we pretty much only got to one idea, because the information flow stopped after this one mom got finished.  She was telling us about her method over the years for dealing with her kids who back-talked/used bad language/mouthed off.  She washed their mouth out with soap.  We listened with rapt attention as she described in great detail how she would wait until they were not watching, and then swipe the inside of their mouth with dish detergent.  And I personally shuddered with horror as she told tales of pressing bars of soap inside their mouths which she would then scrape across the first row of their teeth.

Uh.  Yikes, girlfriend.  And more importantly: what kid could ever be convinced to take a shower with soap, after that appalling experience?  But this mom swears by it.  It was for her a cure-all for those hard to tame children who used their mouth as a weapon.

When I was little, we had a stick in our house.  It was called ‘Heat for the Seat.’  And on the stick was a picture of a little boy, bent over at the waist with giant tear drops welling at the corners of his eyes.  Just thinking of that poor, unfortunate boy makes my tushie feel sore.  His own bottom, red as a tomato.  I swear, heat radiated from that slender board.  ‘Heat for my seat’ occurred at regular intervals throughout my childhood.  And I can remember on those rare occasions when the crime was too serious and grave for my mother to handle, she would issue those ominous words: ‘You just wait until your father gets home’.

I will never forget one long road trip we took when I was old enough to know better.  I committed an offense while attending a church function with my parents, the punishment for which was the portentous and ill-omened ‘heat for the seat’ upon our family’s arrival at home.  And this, after enduring a two hour return road trip.  It was for me, a long, long drive home.  And I spent most of that two hours thinking about the eventual heat coming to my seat interspersed with desperate prayers to God that my parents might have had a miraculous change of mind of the supernatural kind, derived from their church experience earlier that evening.

Of course, they did not.  And I probably deserved whatever came my tender bottom’s way that night.

My own methods of discipline differ somewhat from that of my childhood.  I will clear the record once and for all: my own children have never felt the wrath of that slender board called ‘Heat for the Seat’.  However, I do support the ‘Chicken Little method’ of child discipline.  And it goes something like this.

Me: “Who will help me clean up this gigantic mess, which looks for all the world as if an enormous Crayola box barfed all over the table?”

Children: “I didn’t do it!”  That’s not my mess, it’s hers!”  “Uhhhhh, mannnnnn!”

Me: “I did not play with these crayons either, and if someone doesn’t remove them pronto, forget about eating lunch (or desserts, snacks, Halloween treats, or whatever else might suit your fancy…).”

And as the story goes, we all know who wins this battle.

(Cue the light bulbs going off in children’s heads)

This method usually works.  However.  Just for this very select issue, that being “toy clean-up time”.

I still haven’t perfected some other key areas of discipline, those being…

  1. Dealing with whining
  2. Dealing with laziness
  3. Dealing with fighting
  4. Dealing with melt-downs
  5. Dealing with arguing

So, if anyone might have any suggestions, I am open for advice.   Being a parent is a learning experience like no other, with ample room for failure.  One might be good at a lot of things, but being good at parenting takes time, patience and practice.  So as I plug away at this most important job, blogging my way in the dark down that elusive pathway called parenting, I will count my blessings as I go.  And when I win some, I won’t worry about the battles I’ve lost.  It is enough for me to have won the all-important ones.

The rest will follow.

The Joys of North American Parenting…

I am standing at the back of Coles book shop, my head buried in an interesting new read I have found tucked in between a few other books on discipline.  The book happens to be Bringing Up Bebe, by Pamela Druckerman, her controversial book on how the French parent differently than their American counterparts.  I am fascinated by the new interest that North Americans have in French parenting and its emphasis on educating the child rather than over-using discipline.  I glance down every once in a while to make sure my own little brood is not tearing up the book shelves with exuberant reading or  exhibiting other such inappropriate public behaviours.  So far, so good.  Since all is well, I continue reading while the evening employees make excessive trips past us to the book supply room.

We manage to make it through the entire shopping trip without any meltdowns, fights or crying, although I am asked a few times by my off-spring to buy one item or another.

On the way home, my husband and I listen to the radio while the kids play video games in the back seat.  Suddenly, screams erupt from my youngest as she yells at her sister that she hates her and will forever.  I try to think of one good reason why we took the kids with us this evening instead of going with the original plan of hiring a babysitter.  And then I remember that it was easier to take them than make other arrangements, considering one was crying and begging to come and the other would have marooned himself to his room for the evening.  The youngest would have generally created mayhem.

And so amidst the current screaming and crying that continues to persist for the remaining time we are in our vehicle, I am left to wonder if the French do indeed have the corner market on raising kids or are there other reasons for why North Americans continue to live with our temperamental children?

To understand my own thoughts on this subject, I had to look back on the events that unfolded previous to said meltdown while we were homeward bound.

Earlier in the day, we had packed up the three we were keeping for the evening and then sent one to a friend’s house overnight.  As I shared above, it takes us quite a while to get up the gumption to go anywhere with kids in tow, so we arrived in town quite a bit passed our family’s regular supper hour.

By the time we enter our restaurant of choice, the kids are past hungry and I am still feeling the after-effects of the cat nap I had on the way down during the on-board movie.  As our luck would have it, the restaurant is booked solid, with line-ups eventually out the door.  The staff inform us they will only have a table available in twenty minutes.  We decide, against our better judgment, to tough it out.  Our name goes to the bottom of a long list.  After a few trips down the hall and to the washroom, I take the two youngest and sit on a bench as close as possible to the waitress station.  At least we will be noticed here.  I tried to look as saintly as I can muster strength to do so within myself, all the while realizing that it will be my child’s plaintive cries of hunger that will get the waitress’s attention.  Twice I hear her say that families with young children should be seated first.  I think to myself that this plan of action is working.

Meanwhile, I strike up a conversation with a former co-worker of mine just finishing his meal, and when we are through speaking, and he is just meters away, my youngest asks me who he is.  I tell her he is a retired teacher.  While he is still in listening range, Little One asks me, “Why did he retire…was he just tired of screaming at the kids?”

I discreetly try to explain to her that is not the true definition of retirement, while my other child, with pressing concerns of her own, is trying to convince me that her guidance counselor at school is 73 years of age.  “Daughter,” I say turning to her, “You know Mister is not 73 years old.”

She thinks for a split second, and then replies, “Well, he is 72 then.”

Mercifully, the waitress has now rescued us from these interesting, albeit humorous fallacies, and we are now heading for a back table next to the kitchen.  From this vantage point, we will be able to hear the door slam every fifteen seconds, as well as be privy to insider information about the goings on inside the restaurant’s kitchen.

How delightful.

I can only be grateful we are away from the watchful eyes of most of the other restaurant patrons, as I am sure there will be a few kerfuffles before the night is through.  My expectations are not disappointed in this respect.  We barely are seated when Little One starts whining and crying about one thing or another. I am ready to check in to a table for one, but Husband saves the day by allowing our youngest to sit on his knee while I try to focus on deep-breathing exercises.  The waitress arrives with our menus creating a new source of tension as I now feel pressure for everyone to act appropriately in her presence.

Of course, someone does not.

Our waitress is fast and efficient, and apart from ordering too much food, the meal goes over famously.  With only a few crazy moments, we pay and are out the door to the shops for the rest of our afore-mentioned evening’s entertainments.

And so I am left to wonder, do the French have it best or do I?  My parenting skills, far from perfect, are food for fodder for most of the funny stories I write.  Without the meltdowns of my youngest, the disparaging comments of my oldest and the whiny inquisitiveness of my middle one (not to mention the one MIA this evening with her silly sense of humor), what then would I write about?  I would certainly have no funny stories to share with all of you.

So, although I appreciate the French and their handle on educating the child, I will stick with my “fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants” approach for now.  Because for the time being, it has allowed me to write my stories.   And that is one of the main reasons I find myself laughing at the end of the day, instead of crying.

Joy Found in Teaching

I am sitting on the blue rug in my classroom with three little boys.  Guilty, they wait for the final verdict from me and if they are lucky, a pardon.  I look at one, and ask the question, “Why did you push Little Girl on the playground?”

Pause.  I can see the wheels turning in his head.

“Because,” he answers, “She roared like a lion at me and I thought she was a weel  lion.”

“Little Boy,” I say firmly, “You know she is not a real lion.  You know that, right?  There is a difference between what is real and what is not real,” I say, disbelievingly.

“No,” he insists.  “I thought she was weel.”

He looks at me insistently while the two other accomplices barely flinch.  They are working out in their own heads what creature they can devise for Little Girl to be when the time for their grilling comes down the line.

If a travelling vaudeville troupe was auditioning for casting calls in my neck of the woods, I’d be the first one to sign up.  It has been quite a day, or as we say sometimes at school, “whadda day.”  It might take a clinical psychologist to give me valuable insight on how to speak to the mind of a five-year old delinquent, adorable as he might be sitting there before me on the mat.  I hardly know where one begins unravelling the mysteries hidden inside the five-year old brain.

My own little pumpkin, now turned five herself, came home from the babysitter’s the other day.  She was playing play-doh quietly at the table when I came in the door.  I could see that her mood was a bit blue, so I asked her how her day was.

She reported to me a litany of grievances she had with a couple of children at her daycare.  I gave her a hug, and I asked her, “Why do you think they were mean to you?”

She looked at me with the most serious of expressions and then matter-of-factly replied, “Because…they’ve got sin.”

So, I guess she has them pegged.

I have just come downstairs from tucking Littlest One in bed.  She would not go to sleep alone this evening, so I lay down with her and held her tiny hand until she drifted off.  I watch her sleeping, so peaceful.  Her cheeks still full and plump, hair framing her face.  She asked me just before falling asleep, “Mama, what did you do today?”

I could not bring myself to answer.  What did I do today?  It blurs behind me like a streak of black ink poured from a fountain pen.

My days have been challenging lately, and today, a few unforeseen events seemed to be the straw that finally broke the camel’s back.  Discipline issues, work challenges, parenting dilemmas, relational breakdowns, insecurity, insensitivity, disappointment…you name it.   It all came flying at me today.  And at the end of the day, here I am wondering this:  Is there really any joy to be found?   Am I fooling myself with the pursuit of joy which cannot be found?

I almost said it today: I hate joy.  The very idea of it taunting me in the midst of my pain.  “Feel joy! Feel joy!” it laughs at me.  The pursuit of which, the bane of my existence.  The pursuit of joy: it is the search for gold at the end of the rainbow.  The elusive, the hidden.  The tunnel without a light at the end.

I hear a still, small voice remind me again and again, for I am a slow learner.  “Joy is not a voice, nor is it a feeling.  It is not a figment of my imagination.  It is a choice.”  So I will persevere until I find joy again and claim it as my own.

If there was ever a reason to feel joy, it is now.  I know this in my heart of hearts, and so I write to experience it again.   Joy.  The ability to rise above difficult circumstances and therein feel contentment.  Joy.  Gratitude winning out over Disappointment.  Joy. Inner peace that requires nothing from without but everything from within.  Joy. Contentment with who I am, where I am and what I am at this very moment in time.

Will I ever know it for sure?

Joy.  I almost felt it had slipped from grasp.  Like sand between fingers, it slips away.  How easily we confuse joy with happiness.  But the latter does not preclude the former.  I can seek out joy even when I feel anything but happy.  It begins with a choice: I choose joy today.  I refuse to be robbed of this moment, this fleeting window of time.

I choose joy.

My children, they remind me again and again of why I must soldier on: they are four precious reasons for choosing joy.  It is my legacy for them, this pursuit.  It is the example I leave for them to follow.  What more valuable of legacies could I ever leave than to instill in them a desire to pursue after and know joy?  I can think of few better gifts to give.