Written by Bridget, #2
Full disclosure: I love my job. That being said, the job of a teacher is changing. It’s not so much that the kids are changing; they are still curious and easily amazed. But the crossover between home and school has shifted dramatically and the manner (pun intended) in which kids are being raised now significantly changes classroom dynamics.
Having read my mom’s take on the most crucial manners to instill in children, I feel compelled to share my response from a teacher’s perspective.
- Please and Thank-You
“I speak here of the everyday, mundane interactions between you and the kids and between siblings.”
There is something to be said for spending seven hours,
every day, often in the same room, with the same people. It becomes easy to under-appreciate each other. If I spend $50 of my own money to buy pizza and chips for a class party, it seems common sense that at least one kid would say a quick thanks. But middle schoolers and common sense don’t often go together. However, I will never forget one 5th grade student. No matter how mundane class had been, as he packed his belongings to go next door for math class, he never failed to say “Thank-you for a great English class; I hope you have a great next class!” This particular student was, by no means, one of my highest performing students, but with manners like that? That kid will go places.
“Teaching a child to stop what they are doing and look at the person talking to them is a skill that will take them far in life.”
Please forgive a quick teacher moment here: The common core standards for 5th grade English/Language Arts actually says that students should be able to contribute meaningfully to a discussion by adding on to the comments of others. I spend ALL of 5th-grade training students to meet this standard. Really? You mean a simple manner instilled in the early years could actually lead to academic success later on. Imagine that!
“As an adult, when someone speaks to you or asks you a question please tell me when it is acceptable to completely ignore them.”
One day, after saying that the morning work was to independently finish their weekly Latin root flashcards, I stared incredulously as 80% of my students proceeded to instead talk about what they had done yesterday after school. I wish I could say that this was a rare occurrence… I once taught at a school where students were expected to listen to teacher instructions. Period. Though it was certainly not a perfect school, the sheer amount we accomplished in a day still amazes me because my students were simply expected to listen to and obey their teachers. Imagine how much more productive and, dare I say, fun our school day could be if teachers could excite students with the adventures and tragedies hidden in books (read: doing what they were trained to do) instead of having to deal with basic skills that should be taught at home.
- Meaningful Apologies
“You, as an adult, have the maturity to see the other person’s point of view. Kids don’t have that skill built in. It needs to be taught.”
I learned early on not to force students to apologize to each other. It did little for genuinely repairing damaged peer relationships. Instead, while still inviting children to apologize, I spend more energy creating a classroom culture of perspective-taking. When empathy is a natural part of the class culture, I have found my students much more likely to independently apologize for poor behavior choices. Though any teacher can model perspective-taking, even the most tight-knit school community cannot teach and enforce the skill of empathy taking and meaningful apologies in isolation. In order for children to exhibit empathy towards their peers and teachers, this skill must be reinforced and constantly practiced at home.
- Finish what you agree to (No quitting!)
“Teach your kids that walking away from something when it’s not going their way is a terrible trait to bring into adulthood.”
My dad really hammered this skill home when he annihilated me in our first game of Hearts…I was 9 and quickly realized that my days of being allowed to win at Candy Land were over. So it is frustrating for me to watch students in my afterschool club quit games within moments of starting. But I am most disheartened because I see a direct correlation between quitting a difficult game and a lack of stamina in the classroom. The most useful skill we teach our students is the perseverance and resourcefulness to find their own solutions to problems they encounter. Yet today’s instant gratification culture constantly contradicts this. This past year, a third of my students were put on contracts to incentivize them to retrain poor academic habits. Each contract included some form of “demonstrating grit and stamina in academic tasks” as one category. Perhaps if they had learned simple habits, such as not quitting a game of cards when they were losing, such contracts would not be necessary.
- Learning Each Other’s Strengths
“They didn’t need to agree on these differences, they just needed to see them and respect them.”
An inside joke between me and my students is that I do not have great handwriting. I tell them that I can write well enough for others to understand me, but I will never be one with beautiful handwriting. I model this weakness to show my own imperfection, indicate that this does not excuse me from writing all together, and then enjoy watching groups of students sit together and realize that the student with Dysgraphia is still a great “quote finder” and the student who excels in art class makes the best “scene illustrator”. What starts with appreciating your siblings, cousins, or friends when you are little, makes it much easier to prepare students for a world that frequently requires effective teamwork.
“They have just been taught to think of others and respect others and listen to others.
In short, they are aware of themselves and others.” I will never forget taking my first 6th-grade class to the mountains with other local 6th graders for a 3-day outdoor science camp. Standing with another chaperone as our students played in the GaGa ball pit one evening, we laughed at how obvious it was to tell which students had siblings at home. They were simply more aware of others. One particularly sweet girl, the oldest of five, took it upon herself to make sure that everyone had fair playing time and that the quieter kids (several very shy homeschooled students had joined us for the camp) were made to feel included, even if it meant sacrificing her own time in the ball pit. The next day, while completing a low ropes course, the students who had been taught to be aware of others were the first to encourage a struggling peer. Clearly, their brains had been inundated with the message of thinking of others first. It made a noticeable difference.
“When they start thinking they can interrupt anything that you are doing, it very quickly gets not cute…Teach them to wait quietly for your attention.”
If I could get a penny every time I am helping a student only to have another student come up and start talking to me as if their classmate isn’t even there… Almost daily this past year, I asked one 5th grade class to exit and try entering again after they barged in shouting, as if the louder they shouted, the better they would command my attention. At their core, almost all of my students show a desire to be good. But it is true that, developmentally, children think that their needs at that moment are the most important. They need to be explicitly taught, long before they reach middle school, that they are not the only people who deserve to be given attention and the value of waiting their turn. The number of times I have to remind my students to “try again” when they interrupt reveals that it is a skill being taught far less regularly than is necessary.
- Learning How to Interact with Adults
“You can make your kids look people in the eye. You can also make them shake hands!”
A student I privately tutor is quite advanced academically, but his mother is always asking me what he needs to be successful. I assure her that his skill level and accelerated classes are setting him up for academic success but try to suggest that he needs practice interacting appropriately and maturely with adults. It is a successful evening when I can get more than 1-2 word answers out of him (let alone expecting that he make eye contact!). Every week I ask him how his school day was or how his latest track meet went. He has yet to ever return the questions, not because he is inherently rude, but because he has not learned & practiced the skill of holding an actual conversation, especially with an adult. I was ecstatic to learn that he recently got a summer job at a local grocery store (I could go on forever about why this is a benefit!). All the academic know-how in the world will not compensate for an inability to interact with adults.
- Playing appropriately
“The kid that is kicking sand and banging trees with sticks may very well have been the kid that was banging a toy car on a window or pulling off all the paper wrappers from the crayons without ever coloring.”
One day, when my 6th graders were acting particularly crazy, I said something along the lines of “You wouldn’t do this at home, so why are you doing it in our classroom?” Two girls looked at me confused, implying that this rambunctious behavior was exactly what they do at home. I have since stopped any such preposterous insinuations. The nerve! Though most of my students do follow basic classroom etiquette, there are always a few each year who have clearly not been taught to choose appropriate behaviors for certain environments. Kicking sand is not appropriate play in a sandbox, just as slapping your homework agenda on your desk or your face is not appropriate in a classroom.
Just like the original post, my take on these top ten manners are simply my opinion. This opinion is formed from years as a full-time classroom teacher, tutor, and teacher’s assistant. Take my opinions however you would like. But the truth is that the demands placed on students and teachers are markedly different than they were in previous generations. Teachers can model and practice good manners, but they need help with the training process. That is what home is for.