Be the change, being a teacher

A Way Out


The poster hung above our sink, one of the most prominent spots in our classroom.  Every time my 4th graders washed their hands, they would see exactly what was expected of them, what the consequences were if they messed up.  Screw up and you get your name on the board.  Screw up again and you place a checkmark next to your name.  Screw up again?  Phone call home in the middle of class.  Clear, consistent and fair consequences, or so I thought.

I wish I could tell you that I saw the errors of my ways quickly.  That some sense was talked into me before I implemented it.  I can’t.  That poster and that system hung on that wall for more than a year, bearing witness to all of the kids who marched right up to the front of their room, dictated by my call of “Write your name on the board!”

I wish I would have known better.  I wish the students would have protested.  I wish the parents would have questioned.  I wish and yet, how often do our decision, whether poor or not, truly get questioned by those they affect?  How often do the very people we are supposed to serve actually dare to question our authority?

It is easy to cringe at a public display of discipline like that.  Of how I used public shame as a tool for compliance.  Of how I wielded my discipline system as a way to control and not to teach.  It is easy to look at others’ mistakes and forget the mistakes we have made ourselves, without questioning the practices we may have put in place now that perhaps aren’t quite as public, aren’t quite as harsh., but still serve as a visible reminder to kids of what will happen when they do screw up, because, let’s face it, all kids will at some point.

How often do we make a final decision because we think it is in the best interest of the child without actually thinking of the child?

How often do we set up rules so that all kids can be treated the same, somehow forgetting that all kids are, indeed, different?

How often do we stand so firm in our beliefs that we forget that part of growing up is screwing up and that is how we grow?

How often do we create rigid rules because we believe that it is in the best interest of the children when in reality they were really in the best interest of the adults?

A colleague reminded me today that there’s always gotta be a way out.   A way for all kids to actually succeed, to have some room, to still be a part.  To feel like even if they didn’t quite get there, there was still success in the steps they did make.  To feel like while they may not have fully succeeded, there was still progress nonetheless.

There’s gotta be a path forward even when we are exasperated.  Even when we feel we have tried everything.  Even when we think that there is nothing else that can possibly get done.

And while, sure, all kids need deadlines and consequences, at what times do we set them so hard into stone that they become unattainable for the most vulnerable students, for those who consistently find limited success within our schools?  Do we in our eagerness to be fair and balanced forget what that really looks like in the shape of each child?

Don’t forget about the way out.  About taking a step back and re-evaluating.  About keeping kids in mind.  About being a helper.  Being a believer.  Being someone who was willing to reevaluate just to make sure that we tried everything.  Because I would rather go home feeling I tried than knowing I stood firm at all costs, because at what cost do we really move forward?

A way out for all, a way in for all, so that we all can find success, somehow.

If you like what you read here, consider reading my newest book, Passionate Readers – The Art of Reaching and Engaging Every Child, out August 2017.  This book focuses on the five keys we can implement into any reading community to strengthen student reading experiences, even within the 45 minute English block.  If you are looking for solutions and ideas for how to re-engage all of your students consider reading my very first book  Passionate Learners – How to Engage and Empower Your Students.      Also, if you are wondering where I will be in the coming year or would like to have me speak, please see this page.


3 thoughts on “A Way Out”

  1. It’s a rough balance. Consistency is key, but when our students and ourselves are emotional, changing, growing beings it’s hard to be consistent without someone getting hurt. I appreciate your call to look for another way to move forward.

    Also, I want to congratulate your on upcoming speaking event at a Scholastic Summit. Wish I could be there to hear it, but seeing as my school ends the day before, It will probably be a wrap-up day for staff. Anyway, wishing you a lot fo success there and everywhere!

  2. Great share – and one I try to focus my students on / you/we may have earned a consequence but how can we get out of it (and partly why I encourage counting down to zero to indicate time running out because of the inconsistency of “counting up to 3? 5? 10? Unknown?)
    I will sometimes model this by (mindfully) counting down to zero and then staring “you” owe me one minute – and then faster 2, 3,4…. not because we are going to actually lose time to anything but so we can problem solve how to get ourselves “out of a consequence” – sometimes by doing a task, sometimes by another idea. As I learned: don’t cancel Christmas – it’s coming no matter what you do or say….so think about your thinking!

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