Several days ago, I was talking with a teacher who was complaining about a student who had hidden his brand new eyeglasses. She told me that he had reported them lost, but he hadn’t left the room all morning. How lost could they be? Rather than having misplaced them, she believed them hidden. “He is just looking for attention,” this teacher informed me.
At the end of the day the same teacher delivered the news, the glasses were miraculously found. They had been on top of the book case all day. It’s hard to prove, but she thought that the student knew they were there all along. When I asked if she made a big stink about the student finding them, the teacher told me that she thought that’s what the student wanted.
I told the teacher that she should have stopped everything and celebrated the student’s amazingdiscovery. Write an ode to “glasses-finder of the year.” Take the student’s picture and mirror it on the screen. Etcetera. The teacher smiled politely, then returned to her room. I’m sure she thought that I was joking, but I was completely serious.
This little story reminds me of my dog Jane. She pines for attention whenever I am around her. It can be annoying. I’ll be walking through the kitchen, and she will flop down in my way, obstructing my path. She pushes her wet nose into my hand anytime it is within reach. While I wash dishes she is pawing at my leg. And, don’t even get me started on the whining! The thing is, it feels like there is no limit to the amount of attention that Jane needs. If I stop and pet her, she just pleads for more! My wife and I joke about Jane having a bottomless love tank.
The thing is, I’ve done experiments to see whether there is a limit to the amount of attention that Jane needs. I found that it actually is possible to satisfy Jane’s affection quota. It just takes some patience and sacrifice. One day, I sat down on the floor, after Jane solicited attention. I pet her face and rubbed her belly. She squirmed her 5o pound body onto my lap. She rolled around on my legs and tried to lick my face over and over. Not a fan of face lickings, I redirected her to simply accept my pettings. After a while, Jane got off my lap and wandered off. I was in awe. Wow, Jane’s love tank does have a bottom. I’ve done this affection dump several more times since then, with the same result.
Jane does not pester me any less than she used to, but she also doesn’t pester me more. I don’t always have the time to lavish attention on her. I think that it was helpful to me, that I found out Jane can have her affection quota satisfied. Her solicitations used to be a source of annoyance and even guilt.
I had a professor in college suggest that when a student walks into class late, rather than ignoring it, you could draw attention to it. Half the class’s attention is lost to the entering student, anyway. Just welcome them to class, and you will maintain the authority of the person who is in charge. I practice this all of the time. I also use the opportunity to summarize what I have been teaching for the tardy pupil as well as anyone whose attention had faltered before the disturbance.
Back to our friend with the missing glasses; Who is to say that providing a platform for attention will completely cure a need and fix all future solicitations for public recognition? Like Jane, they will probably seek attention again almost immediately. But, fighting it is like patching up a broken dike with chewing gum. That dam is going to burst. You could redirect the water before it drowns the whole town!
And, what if the student just found out that he needs glasses? Maybe he is dealing with something deeper than just a need for attention. Perhaps he has recently been teased about his glasses. What if his parents have been giving him a hard time about wearing them, and it is a source of conflict? The missing glasses could very well be bigger than just attention-seeking.
We all have students who crave attention a little more than others. Don’t stiff arm the solicitations. Redirect them, so that the student gets what they need, and the class can stay on task. “You can’t find your glasses? Hmmm… This sounds like a story I recently read… This might require some problem-solving, just like our math work from this morning… Can you remind me what they look like? Use as many adjectives/details as possible. If you were your glasses, where would you wander off? Walk me through all that has happened since you last had them on your face. Use sequence words like first, then, next, before that, after that, etc…” And, etcetera!
How do you handle incessant attention-seeking? What would you have done with our eyeglasses mis-placer?
One year ago I got in my head that I would share with my daughter Scarlet the theme of my classroom: “Be Classy.” Although, at 7 years old, she is increasingly similar to the students I teach in my third grade classroom, speaking to only one child is surprisingly different from talking to all 25 kids at the same time.
When I call students to the carpet, they naturally model for one another; First, one begins making his way to the carpet and sits down. His friends follow, one by one succumbing to the pressure of conformity, until we are waiting for one or two stragglers.
Scarlet is an only child, and when I ask her to do something, there generally isn’t a model beyond myself. Luckily for everyone involved, I am skilled at explaining the “why” of most things.
When it comes to describing what it means to be “classy”, however, I found myself searching for synonyms. It struck me that a classy attitude, and even actions, could be charted on a map or continuum. This is where the “Class-O-Meter” came from.
I grabbed some of Scarlet’s large drawing paper and sketched out a dial of sorts. Diagramming and categorizing levels of class made my thinking more clear, even to me!
The paper was left on the dining room table. We referenced it quite a lot at first. Scarlet and I talked about where certain actions would have measured with the Class-O-Meter. The idea was for it to get colored in and kept. In stead, it got “picked up” with everything else, during one of our house-cleaning sessions.
I was pleasantly surprised when it resurfaced yesterday. And, looking it over sparked new thoughts.
At the time of its conception, I liked the idea of having a go-to-goal of classy behavior being slightly beyond simply positive. As in, it isn’t good enough to “not be bad”. Strive for class. Don’t just clean the car. Wax it. Polish it. See your reflection in its finish.
Of course you can’t live your life at “award-winning” levels of class 100% of the time any more than you could constantly drive at 100 miles per hour! It would be dangerous to drive through town at that speed. Navigating sharp turns might mean slowing down to “good.” How might the people around you feel if every single thing you did was outstanding?
Continuing the metaphor, if you were to get stuck in traffic, it could very well be beneficial to put the classy vehicle in “neutral”.
Here’s a controversial thought: Is it ever appropriate to be rude or mean? Could it be that, while not classy, it is sometimes necessary? I’d love to hear thoughts about that!
Mommy and daddy are having Scarlet do more and more things for herself. Taking care of her lunch box at the end of the day is one of her new duties. Huffing and complaining, or requiring her parents to hound her to take care of this is far from classy. That is rude behavior. Needing a reminder, but taking care of the lunch box independently would be neutral, neither classy not “unclassy.” Doing the chore without any reminders, and doing it effectively and immediately would be good, which is moving closer to a classy attitude of taking care of school materials in general, working toward being a helpful contributor to a friendly family life. If you want to be really impressive, you could ask if there is anything that mommy or daddy need help putting away, take care of things other than just the lunch box, keep toys and supplies nice and neat, etc.
I’m pleased to announce that Scarlet has performed a commendable act recently, in that she has been asking to learn how to wash the dishes. There aren’t any awards for classy family life, but if there were, would you win one? How are you training your kids or students to behave in a way that would get them recognized for being classy?
My head is swimming in a storm of figurative language, ideas, memories, and desires to share stories right now. Room 207 is a buzz with homonyms. Twitter is popping with robust vocabulary that is inspiring existential, pedagogical philosophies. I have stumbled across a heretofore unknown superpower, asking “Why?” –Soon to be blogged.
And finally, have you ever had the experience of someone seemingly reading your mind? There are those friends who know you so well, or the two of you have shared so many of the same experiences that he/she can tell what you are thinking throughout a conversation. The idea of completing one another’s sentences is the costume for this super power. But, have you ever met someone who simply shares many of the same interests, experiences, life values, and goals; so many in fact that you seem to have known each other far longer than you actually have?
It is frightening how “same page” we are getting! As I was thinking through my blog 📝 just this morning, I was also having some coffee questions bouncing around in my 🧠. Ode to follow. 🧐🤣 pic.twitter.com/YupPmHVot2
I only just met Kate Lindquist, and that only virtually on Twitter, a few weeks ago. But, the way she is tweeting things that are right up my alley reminds me of the relationship between Rodion Raskolnikov and Porfiry Petrovich from the godfather of dual personality psychology thrillers, “Crime and Punishment” (Dostoevsky, 1927). Petrovich, the local detective, has no idea Raskolnikov committed murder, but the latter feels like Petrovich is on to him through the entire novel. The recent tweet is a perfect example.
The picture at the top of this blog is from my very first year teaching. Those kids are in high school, now. I was doing all kinds of culture-building activities, mixing in art, philosophy, and story-telling. This was the year that I dreamed up “The Polite Pirates”. One of the special days throughout the year was “hat day”. This theme spurred all kinds of ideas, one of which, as you can see by the picture, was making pirate hats that did the opposite of filling strangers with fear and dread; They were to spread cheer and peace. We also came up with new classroom roles: The Peace Pirates.
One boy and one girl would be chosen each week to be incharge of making sure that the classroom was manageably quiet. They were given a “Peace Tool”, which is a little plastic drum with beads in it. When tilted slightly, the beads spill, simulating a beach-like sound. The class whispers “So peaceful” in chorus. They love it. And, it works.
The next year I added to the theme by making two “Peace Hats” that the Peace Pirates may wear. These were made of gigantic cardstock fronts that every student added some peaceful idea to, decorating the front with color and peaceful symbolism. There were words, pictures, cartoons, etc. I had to readjust the band that held it onto the students’ heads each week, but that was part of the formality of picking new Peace Pirates.
It was the following year, year three of Peace Pirates, that I finally wrote a story for the Peace Hat policy. [This is wear (get it;) Kate’s tweet comes in.] The story is about the power of the hat. I wrote it to bring power to the Peace Hat, but it is about hats having meanings or messages.
While the story was only okay, it took on new life when it was changed into a play to be read during a readers theater for parents. I love engaging top notch students’ help with projects as a way to differentiate through enrichment. The year that I made “The Peaceful Hat Story” into a play I had a student named Brandon help a little. We were learning Google Docs that year, and I had Brandon reformat some of the text, separating paragraphs into speaking parts. Honestly, I did most of the work, and had to fix some of
Brandon’s help, but he felt like a million bucks, having participated in the project. As a reward and payment for his participation in the project, I put his name on the bulletin that I printed out for parents. Of course Brandon was in this play during the readers theaters performance! Some of his crew congratulated him with comments in the shared Google Doc. My favorite thing about this experience, though, was the ending that Brandon gave the play. I have left it just as he typed it all of these years, explaining to future classes that a student wrote that. It cracks me up, and I can’t think of a better way to end the thing!
The Peace Hats are not worn as much anymore. This year’s haven’t even graduated from artwork to hat! But, the Peace Pirates get to sit at our classroom island. Looking out over our classroom from their peaceful perch, they still use the Peace Tool to encourage a quiet environment. In this way, none of my Polite Pirates will need to dawn the invention explained at the end of the Peaceful Hat story.
And, here it is in play form.
A Peaceful Hat Story Readers’ Theater
by Mr. Weimann
Captain Iron Knee
Narrator 1: (in a gruff old piraty tone) Behold, ye landlubbers be sittin’ in on the finest collection of courteous kids these here parts have ever known. We have a tale to share saving shenanigans for silly sailors and piraty persons performing peaceful feats!
Narrator 2: (in a normal voice.) Oh, good grief that pirate talk is hard. And, I’m pretty sure it didn’t make much sense, either. What my friend meant to say was that this class of students has a story to convey through one last readers’ theater. And, guess what! It is a polite pirate tale.
Narrator 1: Yeh, there be some strange personages patroling these planks. Watch out for the disease. It be catchin’ ye off guard, and shir ta frighten ya.
Narrator 2: My friend is referring to Onomatopoeia, which is no disease, but rather the literary term defining words that represent sounds.
Onomatopoeia: Grrrrrr. Argh!
Narrator 1: There she is! That was thee disease. She roams these waters. Be plenty oh pirates ‘fraid of her.
Narrator 2: Sure. If you are unaware of Onomatopoeia, you may be frightened by…
Onomatopoeia: Wham!!! Slam!!! Bam!!!
Narrator 2: But I just told everyone who Onomatopoeia is, so we’re good here. Let’s get on with our talel.
Narrator 1: If you insisteds. You be the boss, with yer fancy talkin’ and profesionalies explainin’.
Iron Knee: (bursts in on Zeus stirring a pot) What’s for dinner!? I’m starving!!
Onomatopoeia: CRASH! (pot falls to the floor) SPLAT! (Sauce lands on Zeus’ hat.)
Zeus: Oh, no. Look at my hat. What a mess. I cannot cook with such a messy hat.
Iron Knee: I’m so sorry, Zeus. I did not mean to be such a distraction. I should have walked quieter and closed the door gentler.
Onomatopoeia: Sob, sob
Zeus: I forgive you, captain. I just don’t know what to do.
Iron Knee: Well, you could wear my hat, if you must have one. I’ll have one of the swashbucklers clean up yours.
Zeus: I couldn’t possibly! Your captain’s hat doesn’t belong in the kitchen.
Iron Knee: Nonsense. What does it matter where it is worn? It will cover yer head. That is all.
Narrator 2: It did not require much persuasion for Zeus to dawn the captain’s illustrious hat.
Narrator 1: There was much need, those, for the young piraty cook to be wearin’ many dishtowels on his little roundish head. For the captain, he be havin’ a rather largish head, so his hat be hugish on top oh the cook’s.
Zeus: This feels better… pretty good… almost too good… powerful… Back to that sauce.
Onomatopoeia: Swish, slosh, splirt… (Zeus stirs the sauce.)
Narrator 1: Every stir that cook took made the hat-wearin’ rook look… power caused him to shook…
Narrator 2: Are you a poet now? I don’t think shook is even a word.
Narrator 1: It most certainly is! The cook shook with might. And, maybe. Maybe I will be the Poetic Pirate!
Narrator 2: You might shook with…
Onomatopoeia: Clank! (Zeus drops the stirring spoon.)
Zeus: Sauce, I am tired of stirring you round and round, round and round. I want you to thicken, and I don’t think that I should have to slave over you to make that happen.
Narrator 2: As if in answer to the person wearing the captain’s hat, a humungous bubble rose up from the surface of the brown goo.
Narrator 1: (with gusto, like a professional actor) Zeus grabbed a knife from the counter, and held it like a cutlass high above his head.
Narrator 2: Don’t steal the show. You’re only a narrator.
Zeus: Insubordinate gelatinous mutineer! You shall pay dearly for your rebellion. I will have no rivalries on my ship!
Onomatopoeia: POP! Splat.
Narrator 1: (with a flat boring voice) Zeus removed the captain’s hat.
Onomatopoeia: Utter silence.
Zeus: Oh no, what have I done? Captain’s hat is covered in mutinous muck.
Onomatopoeia: Creek, click. (the door opens)
Swashbuckler: Hey, what are you doing with the captain’s hat? I have yours right here, all cleaned up and ready to go for you.
Zeus: What?! The captain gave this to me! I did not steal it. You can go stick your nose in someone else’s business!
Narrator 2: Now, the swashbuckler, who had returned with the chef hat that he just washed as a favor to both the captain who had asked him to, but also as a courtesy for his good friend the chef, could not help but laugh out loud. Little did the chef realize, but he looked ridiculous with a pile of dishtowels still atop his head. As he yelled, the pile swayed to and fro like something out of a Dr. Seuss book.
Onomatopoeia: Ha, ha, ha, chuckle, chuckle, chuckle
Narrator 1: (incredulous) A Dr. Seuss book? Really? This story is so far removed from Dr. Seuss, that…
Narrator 2 : (cutting off the other narrator) Rather than experience the wrath of his friend, who was turning as red as a beet at this point, the swashbuckler backed out of the kitchen still clutching the chef hat.
Onomatopoeia: Step, step, step
Swashbuckler: I wonder what got into him. Where should I leave Zeus’ hat? I’ll just wear it until I find a place.
Narrator 1: (back to a piraty voice) Well, my mateys, this fine friend of a fellow forgot all about the look shook cook’s hat he took.
Narrator 2: (to himself) Oh brother. (to the audience) Even when another sailor asked him…
Sailor: What’s cookin’?
Narrator 1: (piraty) He be still forgetin’ he be dawning that puffy white hat!
Swashbuckler: Nuttin’ much.
Sailor: Tis that a new dish?
Sailor: What we be havin’ for mess mate?
Swashbuckler: What mess? I cleaned this deck this morning! It’s as shiny as your bald head!
Sailor: (a little hurt) Hey. I just be wonderin’ what’s the eats we be slavin’ aways fur.
Narrator 1: (still piraty) Look here. This sailor fella be thinkin’ that a regular old swashbuckler be the chef o’ the ship. He be thinkin’ this ‘cause the swashbuckler be keepin’ that chef hat on top of his dare head.
Narrator 2: Are you going to keep talking that way throughout the entire play?
Narrator 1: (piraty) It be startin’ to grow on me. That there be an idiom, if ye not fir-mill-yaaarrrrrrJ
Swashbuckler: I can’t take this anymore! I’m outta here. (throws chef hat on the ground)
Performed on “International Talk Like a Pirate Day”, September 19th
Onomatopoeia: Kirr whop!
Sailor: I wonder if he realized he was wearing the chef’s hat. I think…
Onomatopoeia: Churn churn churn
Sailor: I think I might be able to have a little fun with this.
Onomatopoeia: Slosh, swish, swoosh, ring, slosh, swish, swoosh, ring
Swashbuckler: Hey chef, I’m starved. What grub we got for supper?
Narrator 1: (no longer piraty, but kind of confused) Wait a minute. Is that the same swashbuckler from before… like two minutes ago?
Narrator 2: Yeah, that’s right. We should probably infer that some time has lapsed. You’re a narrator; why don’t you tell everyone?
Narrator 1: (still regular voiced) Could it be that the chef hat has some kind of magical power, so that it transforms the appearance of anyone wearing it?
Narrator 2: I think you are over-thinking it. These are pirates. They probably just see a chef hat and assume a chef is wearing it.
Narrator 1: (a little hurt) Oh, so pirates are less intelligent than other people, huh.
Narrator 2: Not this again… Look, this whole tale is about hats. I think it is safe to say that there is something going on with the whole who wears a hat, and what hat it is matters business. Let’s find out how the tale ends.
Narrator 1: (piraty again) I be hearin’ correctly? Somebody mention themselves some grub?
Narrator 2: Here we go…
Swashbuckler: You ignorin’ me man?! What grub we be eatin’?
Sailor: Grubs, man.
Swashbuckler: I asked you what grub. Why you be askin’ me what grub? You is bein’ the cook ain’t ya? What you doin’ foolin’ me dis way?
Sailor: We be eatin’ grub my matey!
Narrator 1: (normal, and out of piraty character) Is he saying “grub” like the animal, or grub, as in the slang term for food?
Narrator 2: Narrators are supposed to supply information, not ask questions. The sailor is playing a joke on the swashbuckler. The word grub can be used both ways, and he is implying that the swashbuckler will be eating actual insect larvae for lunch.
Narrator 1: Wow! The swashbuckler did not seem to appreciate the joke. He just dumped his whole bucket of dirty water on to the trickster sailor’s head.
Onomatopoeia: Wham!!! Bam!!! Slam!!!
(conversation off stage)
Captain Iron Knee: All hands below deck! Batten down the hatches.
Zeus: Where did this hale storm come from?
Swashbuckler: Where is sailor?
Captain Iron Knee: The sails will be ruined.
Swashbuckler: No, I mean where is the sailor who I threw a dirty bucket of water on?
Onomatopoeia: Thwack, thawack, thwack
Sailor: Attack! Attack! Someone is attacking the ship! Man the nine-irons! Jib the sails, or whatever you do with sails.
Narrator 2: As you may have guessed, the sailor was blind with the bucket on his head. The dark, combined with the sound of huge hale hitting his bucket head, disconcerted him to the point that he began running around raising sail and preparing for battle.
Narrator 1: Sailor unknowingly saved the entire ship!
Swashbuckler: You raised the sails yourself?
Sailor: I am a sailor.
Zeus: You had the foresight and extreme intelligence to place a bucket on your head?
Captain Iron Knee: You are the hero of the whole ship! What a brilliant idea! How did you ever think of it?!
Zeus: Yeah how did you come up with that?
Sailor: Well you didn’t let me finish before.
Zeus: Well, then who did it.
Sailor: The Swashbuckler did.
Captain Iron Knee: What?
Zeus: Well then I guess we can congratulate both of them.
Captain Iron Knee: Yeah.
Narrator 1/Narrator 2: And, that’s exactly what happened.
“How do you tell someone that they shouldn’t bring a lot of toys to school… but, nicely?”
On the way home from daycare my daughter asked me this question, and by the way she told me the story, I could tell that she was really asking, “Did I do this right?”
I had to laugh at my crafty daughter. She was working at justifying something that she did that probably made a peer feel badly. She may have well asked, “Why didn’t he take my criticism better?” In fact, as we began to talk about it, Scarlet even suggested a very soothing tone, and modeled for me the way a kid might tell another kid that they shouldn’t do something, and it be respectable. She sounded like an adult explaining something painful to a child.
My initial reaction was, “No”.
“Daddy, how do I tell someone that he is doing something wrong?”
“No. You don’t.” I didn’t realize that she already had. When this concept dawned my cognition, I began to walk Scarlet back. She had explained that a friend who she sat next to on the bus had opened his backpack to show Scarlet all of the toys that he was bringing to school. It seems like this is when my daughter tried as much as she could to classily tell him that he was ridiculous for doing exactly what she would have done if her mommy and daddy let her.
As Scarlet provided more and more details, I could tell that she was actually envious of her friend. The word “fair” surfaces every five sentences, these days. This was definitely one of those times. I explained to Scarlet that it wasn’t her place to tell her friends what to do, how to do it, or not to do certain things. “If someone breaks the rules, you can remind him or her of the rules, and you can let an adult know. But, if someone does something that bothers you, it is your job to deal with it. Let’s say someone says something mean to you. You should tell the person that those words hurt your feelings, and you didn’t appreciate it…”
Scarlet is an only child. She has a bit of a bossy streak in her. When I told her to tell someone something, she was all about that! We discussed how to do this classily. Then she prompted, “And, you tell the teacher!”
I told her that classy kids don’t bother the teacher with every little thing that bothers them. “If someone hurts your feelings, you address this. Perhaps the person apologizes and you remain playing partners and friends. It is possible, though, that the person does not behave politely. And then you just stay away from that individual. You only go talk to the teacher if someone is breaking the rules.”
This bit of news–Rules News–was eye-widening. Someone has experienced this before! Scarlet gave me all kinds of examples of this happening at school. I explained that the rules are set up to help students be safe and not hurt others. Scarlet mentioned punishments for kids who break the rules. I didn’t want her to focus on that. “What happens to students who break the rules is up to the teacher to decide. That is none of your business. And, don’t tell on someone, so that he or she gets into trouble. Your job in communicating rule-breaking is to help your friends and yourself be as safe as possible. Don’t worry about punishments.”
“When grownups break rules, they go to prison,” Scarlet offered.
“Sometimes they do. There are a few different kinds of punishments for adults who break the law. Rules for adults are called laws,” I explained.
“What are grownup rules?”
When I began thinking about what laws my 7-year old would understand, my mind went to the classroom. I told her that just like kids, adults shouldn’t take other people’s things. I explained that if someone took daddy’s truck, we would have a difficult time getting around. Now, if someone asked to borrow it, that would be different. Then I would know where it is, or at least who had it. I told her that taking someone else’s things without asking is called stealing. Before letting Scarlet go to school and accuse anyone and everyone of this crime, I explained that sometimes a neighbor will borrow something, like a pencil or crayon without asking. If they need one, and you aren’t using yours, someone could choose to use yours for a minute. This is not “stealing”. As long as it does not hurt anything, that is permissible, and you should classily allow friends to use your things. If they didn’t return it, or if he/she broke it and didn’t replace it, there would be a problem. That is not nice. “Then I tell the person, ‘You did something not nice’,” Scarlet practiced.
I smiled. “Do you have to tell the teacher about that?” I inquired.
“You don’t have to, but you can,” Scarlet regurgitated.
I also told Scarlet that another law for adults to live by is not hurting others, physically. “When adults have disagreements, they use words to sort things out,” I told her. “They do not attack someone with their hands or feet and hurt the person’s body.” I wasn’t sure Scarlet knew the word “physical”, yet. I’m not sure that this idea was communicated clearly enough, but the seed was planted. Those two laws seemed like good ones to begin with. We didn’t need to get into driving, taxes, or copyright infringement just yet.
Going back to the backpack full of toys that Scarlet’s neighbor on the bus had shown her, I wanted to communicate to my daughter that sometimes we need to simply deal with our own feelings. “Just because you think that boy shouldn’t bring all of those toys to school, doesn’t mean that you should tell him. You’re not his mommy. You’re not his teacher.”
When I asked her how she would feel if someone told her what to do, Scarlet said, “You’re not the boss of me.” I laughed.
I have known that this would be my fiftieth blog entry for a few weeks. I wanted it to be special, so I have taken some time to read, think, and prepare what I hope to be an epic entry. I thought it apropos to finally try to explain the philosophy of classiness I propose to captain. In preparation for this writing I revisited a chapter of a book that I read long ago.
I was raised by a mother who instilled in me the need to be nice to others, regardless of relation, race, creed, or gender. Unlike myself, she kept it simple: Be nice to everyone, period. “Turn the other cheek” was both preached and practiced in my home. My parents rarely argued, and if ever there was a disagreement, it was short-lived and ended in comfortable compromise. I witnessed the success of this, first-hand.
When I came across the chapter (12) “Nice Guys Finish First” in Richard Dawkins’s seminole work, “The Selfish Gene” (2006), I felt like all of my upbringing and my desire to mold classy citizens out of my students came into sharp focus. I had already invented “The Polite Pirates” and begun teaching classy behavior to second graders. As I read Dawkins’s explanation of Axelrod’s famous experiments using variations of The Prisoner’s Dilemma, I felt like everything I stood for was being justified… scientifically!
Revisiting this text several years later has been a rewarding experience. More than what it means to be classy, I am excited to share why one would benefit from taking up this mantle.
Beginning at the End: Vampires
I want to start by mentioning the very last concept that Dawkins uses to end his “Nice Guys Finish First” chapter (2006), because it pertains to piracy, part of my classroom theme. Probably as famous as pirates to young minds, but much more menacing, is the idea of vampires. Dracula, the most famous, albeit fictional, vampire flies around as a bat, transforms into a human, and uses his sharp fangs to drink people’s blood. This idea originates from real-live nonfiction vampire bats that really do suck the blood out of “hosts” during the darkness of night. Who would imagine that this kind of animal would practice polite behavior?
Well, they do… at least among friends. G.S. Wilkinson published a paper in the prestigious periodical, Nature, entitled “Reciprocal food sharing in the vampire bat” in 1984. His paper discusses the way vampire bats will share food with each other. The food in this case happens to be blood, but nonetheless, they demonstrate kindness by helping neighbors who were less fortunate during the evening hunt. If a bat returned to a community roost in the morning hungry because he did not find a host to draw blood, a friend actually regurgitated part of his supper so that his buddy would have some food to feast on. Why would the bat who had found a host and had his fill of blood be willing to help another? The study examined the relationship and actions between bats and found that the helpful bat was fed when it experienced a fruitless evening hunt. Basically, even vampires look out for one another.
This story of blood-sucking vampire bats ironically helping one another made me think of the contradictory term I have invented for the theme in my classroom: “Polite Pirates.” We plunder bad behavior and pillage rudeness. We do this politely, and we model classy conduct. One might not think of pirates as voicing “Please” and “Thank You”, but mine do more than that: They communicate class through helping others feel nice.
Making other people feel good is classy. If you are wondering if an activity is classy, ask yourself this question: “Would this behavior cause the people around me and/or the people who might be affected by it to feel nice?” If the answer is “No”, then it is not classy conduct.
On the way from the playground to the classroom students often tell me stories about things that happened during recess. Not too long ago one of my Polite Pirates told me about a peer who had done something awkward during recess. The story wasn’t bad, and this student wasn’t telling on her classmate. She was looking for some advice. I decided to make this the topic for my classy sit-down talk with the crew right before math, a practice we have been enjoying since the turn of the year.
“Rule number one, when it comes to being classy, is Making other people feel nice is the most important thing. Classy people help others feel good about themselves. If a person does something weird near you at recess, and it isn’t breaking the rules or hurting anything, do you think that it would be classy to tell them to ‘Stop it’? How about, ‘Go away’?” Gasps from my listeners told me the collective disapproval of such options.
“What about ‘Leave me alone.’ Could that be considered classy? What if the person is being really annoying?” I could see the students considering the classiness of this potential possibility. Before they solidified their attitudes, I headed them off. “Even if you add a polite ‘Please’ to this statement, being told to ‘Go away’ is nothing more than rejection, and there is nothing nice about that.”
I collected some ideas that students could say or do if someone was bothering them. My Polite Pirates love hypotheticals, and we enjoyed brainstorming some ideas.
“What if you invited the person to join you in a game? You could mention a simple compliment to give this person some attention. That is probably what he or she was after in the first place. Make sure that your compliment is genuine; be sure that you mean what you say, and that it is truthful. You could adjust the game a little to accommodate the newcomer.” Clearly, this was not the favorite option.
“How can you say ‘No’ without the person feeling rejection?” This got the cognitive cogs turning.
“Maybe next time,” was okay, but still rejection.
I suggested helping the person not be awkward: A simple “Hi there! What’s up?” could break the ice. Let the person talk to you for a time. Then resume whatever you were doing. That seemed okay to everyone, and we were able to begin math.
Number One Conundrums
The next day delivered new stories: What if making one person feel good makes another feel badly? Then what? Your playing with your friends, and a classmate shows interest in joining your group. In order to make the person feel nice, you invite him to join you. But, this upsets the rest of your friends. They were looking forward to playing with you, exclusively. What do you do?
“Because this is all hypothetical, wink/wink, we can go back in time to change some of the parameters,” I suggested. “Prior to inviting the newcomer to join you, it is important that you pitch or sell the idea of inclusion to your friends. They may not agree with having the solicitor join in your game and need some persuading. This should not be done within earshot of the asker; What if your friends are not as classy as you?” Nods from understanding listeners tell me to go on. “If they are on your side, the invitation will go more smoothly. If you cannot get your friends to join you in your quest to make others feel nice, you are at a fork.” My students, well-versed in the concepts of chess know this to mean that you are at a lose/lose conundrum; Either upset the solicitor of your friends.
“You could explain to the inquiring classmate that you and your friends had already begun playing a game, would like to have the person join you in the future, but would like to finish up this round the way it is,” I present to the attentive Polite Pirates. “In this way you are not rejecting the person, so much as postponing acceptance.” I also explained the nuance of HOW to communicate this kind of concept. If you do it well, the solicitor can know that you really care about both him and your friends, but are trying to make everyone feelspecial through this decision, which is exactly what you ARE doing.
I thought of and included a few more details that my class hadn’t imagined. “Don’t be overly persuasive with your friends. Like, don’t push them to make a decision to include the classmate, when they really don’t want to. They could resent you, having bad feelings toward your action, take out these feelings on the game, the newcomer, or even you. Also, you wouldn’t want the solicitor to feel like you allowed him to play with you out of pity, or that you or your friends regret letting him play with you.” This got everyone thinking and sharing. Every student sitting on the carpet had an example of a similar situation.
“If you do manage to sell your friends on the idea of including one more player, and they have good attitudes, the solicitor can feel that much happier, having a group of new friends, rather than one patron saint.” I probably did not use that title. “On the contrary, how do you think the inquiring classmate would feel if you invited him to join, but was mistreated?” More example stories.
Remember Rule No. 1: Making others feel nice is classy.
Why is it a good idea to be nice to others? Wrong answer: Because adults tell me to.
It takes energy to be nice to others. It is work. It’s not easy, sometimes.
Nice, Nasty, Neutral
Let’s take a closer look at the playground paradigm. What would you have to gain from being nice to someone soliciting company? Others might see you as someone who they want to help or hang around with. They now view you as a nice person; someone trustworthy with emotions; a good decision-maker. The lonely student asking to join could repay you in the future with a token of appreciation, the way the vampire bats repay one another. What might you lose? What kind of negative outcomes could develop as a result of your choosing to be nice to the solicitor? Witnesses to the event, or people who hear about it later might think that you will “accept anyone”; You could be viewed as being too accommodating. If you never say “No”, people could view you as someone who can be taken advantage of; weak. Someone who is all-inclusive may seem un-evaluating, unanalytical, not one for critical thinking, unintelligent.
You could have avoided these negative losses by rejecting the soliciting student, but this nasty option has its own set of drawbacks. This might save you face with your close friends who wanted to play with you exclusively, but the action would communicate, even to them, that if they were not on the “in” with you, they too would receive the cold shoulder. This could very well make them feel insecure. It might foster an “Us versus Them” attitude of exclusivity. This would be harmful because other classmates would learn that you are not open to new friendships. You could lose out on high-quality relationships. Also, rather than reciprocate your generous acceptance, the student who gets rejected will not behave favorably to you, when you may need something. His hand won’t be raised when he hears, “Who has a pencil (nonclassy student’s name) can borrow?” even though his desk is full of sharpened no. 2s.
Maybe you think it is acceptable to “stay out of it” and maintain a neutral position. There are times when this may seem best. A positive outcome might be the avoidance of a messy situation, dodging difficult decision-making that will expend energy, or keep from controversy. It is possible, in the end, that others could value your discernable intellect; Your ability to thwart trouble. This is a gamble, though, because you won’t know until afterward how the situation will play out. The negative side of neutrality is to be viewed by others as weak, unable to make decisions.
As you can see from the table, being nice will not cost you anything with other nice people. You have everything to gain. If you hang around with negative people, being nice may cost you a little. When you behave nastily around classy people, you have a lot to lose. They will not want to be your friend. You won’t feel nice because you have caused someone else pain. Even if you think that you will gain something being nasty because your friends are nasty, the table shows that this can backfire. It fosters an atmosphere of un-trust and insecurity.
If this scenario were to play out in a neighborhood playground where you and your buddies were shooting hoops, it would be slightly different from the schoolyard in that these outcomes would be temporary. A complete stranger asks to join you and your friends. Perhaps this person is visiting his grandparents for the day. The only people witnessing your actions are your close friends. You could “get away with” being nasty. All of the same outcomes still apply. They are smaller scale, but some of your friends are bound to have some classy bones in them and will view a nasty action as unattractive. They may think twice the next time playing with you is an option. A nasty action is sure to make the solicitor feel horrible, and this can’t make you feel good inside. Even if you think your friends like it, the nasty action will have deep-seated divisive effects that are imperceptible at first glance.
Take this scenario to school, though, and you get a very different picture. The solicitor is sure to be someone that you know and see regularly. There are bound to be many spectators, or at least people to relay the scene to, later. But, most importantly, it is not likely that the event be a one-time occurence. What if the same solicitor asks to play with you every day? Now, it is much more complicated… Or, is it?
In order to explore the cost/benefit analysis of niceness easier, let’s open the story up to all sorts of solicitations: “Can I borrow a pencil? Would you be my partner? May I sit here? Do you want to read together? How would you like to come over to my house for a playdate? What are you having for lunch (Do you want to talk to me)? Can I help you?” When asked any of these and a plethora of other schoolhouse questions, you can behave nicely or nastily; Neutrality would just be ignoring the question, and that would be considered nasty. The person asking the question could respond nastily or nicely, as well. For instance, someone inquires whether you’d like to read with her. You tell the person that you had already promised your friend that you would read with her, but that you would be happy to read with her next time. “Whatever!” the inquirer throws over her shoulder as she marches off to ask someone else. This nasty response takes something away from you; good feelings. It makes you feel badly.
There is something more, here: The idea of remembering how others treat you. Do you know, or have you ever met someone, who is nasty all of the time? How easy is it to be nice to that person? Would you rather hang around with, that person or someone who is generally nice? You might get away with being nasty to a stranger at a neighborhood playground, one time. But, when you create a reputation for being nasty among people you see everyday, you will not attract classy comrades.
In addition to remembrance, forgiveness plays a key role in classily handling schoolhouse situations. While someone who behaves unclassily over and over may be a person to avoid, it is important to give people the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps the scissors solicitor was having a bad day when he gave you a nasty look after you told him you didn’t have any. Should you never talk to him again? That wouldn’t be nice either.
Polite Piracy is Classy
“The Polite Pirates” was the theme that I chose for my very first long term sub position 8 years ago. I liked it because of the alliteration, piracy is an attractive concept, and I wanted to not only foster good behavior in the classroom, but help my students be upstanding citizens of the world.
In preparation for my very first meeting with the students who I would be teaching from November through the rest of the year I came up with a story to teach the skill of summarizing. This story not only taught the skill, but also introduced the classroom theme. I used paper puppets of characters whom would help guide us through many lessons, both academic and also social, during that year.
The woman pirate has a funny characteristic. Her name is spelled “Mary,” but she insists on having it pronounced “Muh-ree.” Although this all started from my silly lesson about students producing summaries, the concept stuck. Students love it, reminding one another how to pronounce Mary’s name. This turned into a lesson on respect. Sure, Mary’s name is spelled in such a way that you wouldn’t typically pronounce it the way she insists. But, that is her request, and we are polite in honoring it. It wouldn’t be nice to pronounce it any other way.
A funny characteristic of the second character, Zeus, is that he is the cook, but he is forever seasick from the rocking of the ship. So, the Polite Pirates have a sick chef. It isn’t nice, however, to point out his discoloration, other than asking him if feels alright.
The final comrade of this trio is the captain of the Polite Pirates. This guy is quite hilarious. His large round cranium isn’t the only ridiculous thing that Captain Iron Knee lugs around. He literally has an iron knee. While of course this truly has to do with the contradiction of his being a pirate, while pushing politeness, I have yet to develop a good tale about how the captain acquired his iron knee. We are happy to witness his furtive irony displayed in many ways. He is both silly and wise; handsome and hideous; appreciative and dismissive; respectful and sometimes rude; while strong and swift, he is hindered by his heavy iron knee; and the list goes on, but ALWAYS and above all else, he is classy.
The piracy of this cast (and there are more) comes into realization when they steal nastiness from others. There is plenty out there, and so I am recruiting. In addition to the students in my room each year, I am interested in captaining a class of people from all walks of life, every gender, and all ages. I hope that you join me on the journey toward ever-increasing classiness. I do not profess to being the classiest. I have simply decided to make it “me mission” to champion classiness.
What do you think?
What would you characterize as the most important, number one rule for being classy? Do you agree or disagree with me; Why/How?
Dawkins, R. (2006). The Selfish Gene(30th Anniversary Edition). Oxford: Oxford University Press.
If a parent or person in authority has said, “No” to a request for something, to ask for it again is disrespectful. It communicates disbelief, disregard, and hubris; not very classy character traits.
I heard a report of Scarlet’s behavior when Mommy was visiting someone the other day that lead to a lesson on what it means to be classy. Scarlet approached one of my wife’s adult friends and asked if she could have something. Being an only child, Scarlet has no shortage of toys. We buy her what she wants, as well as purchase things she hasn’t even dreamed of wanting. So, for Scarlet to ask someone outside of the immediate family for something was unnecessary, awkward, and therefore inappropriate.
I like the idea of Scarlet feeling comfortable speaking with adults. And, I even like that she feels confident requesting things, but soliciting other people’s property is just wrong. “If Daddy were hungry,” I explained to her, “And he saw someone eating a sandwich, would it be okay to go up to the person and ask for it? Of course not!” That would be weird. Additionally, it puts the person being requisitioned in an awkward position. If she says “No” she won’t look very polite, and if she says “Yes”, but doesn’t want to give up the item, she could feel bitterness toward you.
One of Scarlet’s new sayings is, “That’s not fair.” Erika Watts, of Dorky Mom Doodles, shared a handful of New Year’s Resolutions, recently. One that cracked me up used a metaphor of Sauron’s all-seeing eye from “Lord of the Rings” to explain that she normally could not touch a candy bar without her kids knowing it. The Dorky Mom writes that this year she resolves to eat a candy bar by herself. Good luck, Erika! Is it fair that Mom should eat an entire candy bar without sharing? Guess what, honey. Asking mommy to share the candy bar isn’t fair to mommy.
This lesson was more than a one time, fifteen minute car ride discussion. One afternoon, Scarlet asked if it was classy to beg. This threw me for a loop. I hadn’t used the word “beg” when discussing with my daughter the inappropriateness of asking others for things. I remembered my own childhood, a million years ago, when we would say, “You beggin’!” to our friends when we didn’t want to share something that they were requesting.
I always try to answer my daughter’s questions as truthfully as possible. Also, I want to prepare her for life, by educating her on potential scenarios that the world might throw at her. If a kid told Scarlet that she was a “beggar”, what would she think that meant? What should she think of beggars? Is begging classy?
These are tricky questions to answer. Begging has negative connotations, but is begging wrong or bad? In my class and this blog I use the word “classy” because it is funny, cheesy, and denotes having manners. I do not use it to promote classism. It seems to me that a poor artist can be much classier than a wealthy person who treated others badly to attain riches. Additionally, homeless people and panhandlers do not all come from the same stock. Some people, John Bird among them, dismiss beggars as drug addicts, people with drinking problems, or mental health sufferers (Branigan, 2002). Bird was homeless for a time, and began the magazine “Big Issue” to help homeless people, but his life is only one annotation on the issue. His callous dismissal of these people isn’t helpful.
A book that provided a paradigm shift for me is “Far From the Tree” by Andrew Solomon (2013). This book presents several types of people that society marginalizes and controversies surrounding their situations. Deaf, dwarf, prodigy, parents of criminals, and children of rape victims are just a few of the categories that Solomon writes about. And, each one was explored and explained far beyond my prior knowledge. The one that was the most foreign to me, and therefore presented the most new information, was the chapter on schizophrenia. Movies make light of multiple personalities, but Solomon made it real. His book contains thorough stories and lengthy interviews with people who live with the condition. Solomon’s mission is to help regular people feel and understand what it would be like to live life through the lense of someone who has to deal with these maladies on a daily basis. It is easy to dismiss homelessness as a byproduct of mental health deficiency, but “Far From the Tree” (Solomon, 2013) spells out the difficulties in helping people with schizophrenia. Neither medicine nor counseling help people who hear voices in their head, completely. There aren’t enough funds for these people to be housed by expert facilities. It was through reading this text that my view of homeless people completely changed. I no longer saw their situation as a choice. In some cases, begging or asking for help IS the classiest thing for a person to do. Alternatives include self-medicating, wasting away, and completely losing one’s mind. Just writing this makes me want to give to panhandlers.
Before getting carried away, Ole Moen makes a compelling point in “Don’t Give Money to Beggars” (2012), published in Practical Ethics by The University of Oxford. After dispelling the typical cases for giving money to panhandlers, Moen presents the argument that when someone gives money to a panhandler, they are taking money from someone who may need it more. He argues that panhandlers in America are not as bad off as those in other countries and parts of the world. Moen calculated the typical charity shown to the typical beggar on the corner of a busy intersection as about $50-$70 an hour. Not begrudging these people, but suggesting that this money might be better spent furthering a reputable helper of homeless people in the worst part of the world, Moen suggests people donate to charities that do more good than the tiny feeling of giving a guy a buck. He is not calassed. Moen is calculated. This counter-intuitive idea would be tough to sell to my seven-year-old, but it is one that I can mull over. If Scarlet and I consciously gave some of our funds to a few organizations that help people in need, and if we also checked on these groups to see what our money was doing, I can picture her understanding why we don’t give to beggars on the street. It isn’t that we don’t want to help them. We do.
Kate R. wrote an article for Grand Rapids Kids, “How to Talk to Your Kids About Panhandling and Helping to Those in Need” (2014), after her 7 year old daughter witnessed a man with a “Hungry” cardboard sign on the side of the road. The daughter asked her mommy, “Why doesn’t that man have any food?” Kate R. used what she calls the “Santa Approach” in dealing with this and many other tough questions. She told her daughter, “I don’t know, sweetie. Why do you think the man doesn’t have any food?” This launched a discussion where the mom could correct some misconceptions and educate the daughter on some of the hardships adults face.
Kid Power: Take Charge of Your Safety ran a piece called “Handling Panhandling So Panhandlers Won’t Handle You” by Irene van der Zande (2013). She begins with a story about being 14 in Mexico and having many panhandling children swarm her after giving one of them a dollar. This can be a scary feeling. I remember a time I visited Jamaica. I was walking through an outdoor market. Right after I bought a necklace from a vendor, I noticed I was being followed. It was a lesson on the title “Mark”. I had been marked as someone with money, who was okay with parting with it. I was a target. I love the bit of advice that Van der Zande (2013) begins with: Rather than handing out money or help thoughtlessly, think clearly about your decision and make it a conscious action. When you unthinkingly give time, money, or other resources, you are in danger of being tricked. Also, the author points out that this is simply not safe. The next few bits of advice run along the same line; it is good to have a plan, maintain a safe distance from panhandlers, and don’t get surprised. Be smart. This is a beneficial, short read; I highly recommend it.
It’s interesting writing about begging from both perspectives: How to handle people who are asking you for money and how to get your kid to stop pestering you for stuff. The safety tips from Van der Zande (2013) seem like they could apply to parents protecting themselves from their own panhandling progeny. I can picture Dorky Mom Doodles author, Erika Watts (2019) maintaining a safe distance from her children by locking herself in the bathroom with her candybar;) Probably, we should teach kids that although adults may ask strangers for money, and there are complicated reasons for this, you, learning youth, who have everything that you need, should not practice this.
Amy Morin’s article “7 Ways Parents Can Put an End to a Child’s Pestering” (2012) actually does read like a pamphlet for dealing with panhandlers. As I read about “Never Give In”, the 1st way for ending childhood begging, I remember my experience in Jamaica. If I hadn’t purchased the necklace, I could have feigned poverty, “I have no money.” As far as the vendors would be concerned, I was a poor youth and not worth attention. Once I did show that I had money, however, Morin suggests to “Stay Calm” (no. 2) and “Ignore Ongoing Protests” (no. 3). As I evaluate these tips, I am thinking that a parent could instruct a child (age-permitting) on not begging by teaching how to deal with panhandlers. Morin goes on to suggest to parents that they set firm “If/Then” stipulations that have clear consequences. She ends with the advice of helping kids learn how to deal with disappointment. If parents give in to the begging, we could be training kids to do more of the same.
Finally, Heather Steiger seems to be a no-nonsense mom who preaches against giving an inch in “5 Phrases That Will INSTANTLY Make Your Kids Stop Begging” (2016). These staccato sayings are sure to end all young person’s panhandling practices. The only thing is that they seem to lack nuance. It is like treating every request like an assault on your parenting. “This conversation is over!” may work at getting your kid to discontinue begging, but at what cost? Do you really want to communicate that “One more word out of you on this subject will reap serious consequences”? I don’t know about you, but I am not willing to close the communication door for any reason. I don’t want Scarlet to beg or pester me or anyone else, but it isn’t worth instituting the silent treatment. Steiger’s article begins with her witnessing a child giving a parent a hard time in a grocery store checkout. The mom caved and let the kid get a candy, with the concession that it be eaten after dinner. Steiger saw this as the kid running the relationship. It is tempting to view the checkout line mom’s actions as weak and potentially harmful, reinforcing the annoying activity. While Steiger might be able to get that kid to never beg again, with one of or a combination of her 5 phrases, do we really want our kids to be threatened with loss of love? Check out the article; It’s a very short read; and see if you agree or disagree with me. In my opinion, assuming rigid, black/white answers is rarely classy. It is far more classy to communicate why begging is not classy. Good luck!
I’d love to learn your thoughts on this matter. What do you think? Is begging just part of childhood? How should panhandling be explained to children?
I’m excited to share some of the classy mini lessons that I have been giving my daughter on the way to school. Sometimes the lessons are prompted by behaviors. This one was not. In fact it seemed like it was better received, because I was not telling Scarlet that she did anything wrong. I was simply stating a fact: Complaining is NOT classy. There was no need for getting defensive. We had a lovely conversation about it.
If you have an issue or complaint that’s fine as long as you also have a practical solution(s). It is crucial to be part of the solution instead of becoming or exasperating the problem.
An hour later, third graders began filing into my classroom. Some students didn’t like something that they read on the morning board. When I heard their groans, I got everyone’s attention. I told them about the lesson that I had just shared with Scarlet: It isn’t classy to complain. Rather than whining about having to take a quiz, you should communicate. Tell the teacher (me) that you understand that assessments are necessary, but you would rather experience dynamic lessons than complete a boring quiz. This will make the teacher (me) feel good about your appreciating his (my) hard work, and maybe he (I) will reconsider administering a quiz today. Whining just makes you sound lame.
When teaching Scarlet the lesson, I used her teacher, Mrs. Brans, and a writing lesson as a hypothetical situation. I told Scarlet that if Mrs. Brans had you writing all morning, and then announces after lunch that the class was going to do more writing, it would not be classy to complain, even if you are extremely unhappy about this prospect. It would behove you to communicate to Mrs. Brans that, although you really like writing, you practiced it all morning and are tired. Ask Mrs. Brans if there is any way you and the class could take a little break, before continuing with more writing.
I asked Scarlet if this sounded reasonable. Her face was bright all over. She seemed to get it. Complaining just adds to problems. Communication paves the way to problem-solving.
After lunch I was thrilled to have some of my students try this trick out on me. When I told them we were going to do centers, a girl raised her hand and began, “Mr. Weimann, we have done centers the past couple of days, and while we like them just fine, we are a little tired of them. Could we do something else instead?”
“No! Keep your comments to yourself and do what you’re told!” I like kidding with my students, and this was my way of saying, “Nice job remembering my little lesson from earlier.” I was really proud of her for doing exactly what I had taught. To reward this classy kid, I made a checklist on the board of things I wanted the students to complete in order of priority; No centers. This afforded me the opportunity to walk around and help students. Also, we began a new improved football pinata for our Reading Super Bowl celebration, next Friday. It was a fun-filled, project-finishing, complain-free afternoon… all because feelings were classilycommunicated.
How many teachers have great classroom management, but can’t manage their own offspring? My daughter Scarlet is great. She doesn’t need all that much managing, but there are times when you wouldn’t guess her father is the “Captain of Class”. She can hang with the best of manners-missing marauders. And, I’d be lying if I didn’t mistake her for a bratty buccaneer every now and again. Due to location, Scarlet will never join the ranks of the Polite Pirates in my classroom, but that doesn’t mean she can’t share their class.
At the turn of the year I saw many people posting #OneWord2019 on Twitter. They were inspiring and motivational. It was right around this time that I made a family decision: This was going to be “The Year of Class”! I was going to bring all of my lessons on how to behave classily home from school and share them with my daughter. #OneWord2019 “CLASS” seems pretty generic, coming from someone who already writes and teaches about classy behavior all of the time.
Then it dawned on me: Class is a thing, akin to perfection. I know that my daughter’s behavior will not be perfect; I don’t want it to be flawless. I’m okay with Scarlet making mistakes. What I want to teach her is how to make them classily.
There it is! That’s the word!
Classy is full of criteria: Does it meet certain standards? Is it good enough? Through my many musings on the subject of what it means to be classy over the years I’ve come across more than one paradox. For instance, a classy person is a “man of action”… But, someone who appears to “try to hard” does not look very classy. And, the less one works, but things are happening all around him, the classier. Which is it, hard work, little work, hidden work, delegated work…? Now that I am going to be teaching my daughter, I want to be sure. I will be her teacher through more than one grade.
More than the amount of work, what type of work, or whether you work at all, the most important thing is how you conduct your work. One student writes a two-page narrative, while another punches out a paragraph. The first always writes a lot. The kid didn’t use any new skills that had been recently taught. The second student struggles to string four words together, typically. Perhaps he usually complains of not having anything to say. But this time, his attention during your descriptive writing lesson is paying off. And, the pep talk about taking pride in your work has sunk in. You can’t believe your eyes. A paragraph has blossomed on a paper without one prompting. What is a better measure of success, growth or achievement? Rather than grading the work on whether the final product was classy or not, why not grade the process on how classily it was performed?
Here is another paradox. I make a big deal about how my students sit in class and stand in line. Posture is important to me. “Put your shoulders back and raise your chins, because you are proud,” I tell them. Am I instructing them to be proud of themselves, or do they think that they are better than other classes? Am I teaching my students to raise their chins or look down their noses? The answer is don’t make it a competition. You don’t have to be better than other people to think highly of yourself. If others are better than you at things, should you think lowly of yourself? Stand classily, regardless of your “standing” in the world. You are you; be proud. Be proud of being right there and standing nicely, if need be.
My daughter was excited when I told her that this was going to be “The Year of Class”. I explained that I would be sharing a little of what this means each day. There have been days that Scarlet reminded me about my classy lessons. She has asked me specific questions like, “Is that classy?” These always spark fun conversations. She is taking her new task seriously…
It is apropos that I write this theme on a day when we celebrate a man who was more than a symbol of class; Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is an icon of moving mountains classily. His lifelong philosophy of nonviolent protest was grounded in self-pride and showed the hard work of refusing to work. There are many reasons to honor Dr. King. In my book, he was the KING OF CLASS.
Everyday, right after recess and just before math, I have been conducting a sit-down with my students. We have been discussing what it means to be classy. In the past, I just threw ideas at my pupils in off-handed remarks. This year I decided to take a more proactive, purposeful approach.
I found a book at The Learning Express store, called “Being Polite: A few manners every kid should know”. This presents plenty of generic behaviors that adults take for granted, but kids need to be told. For instance, when you go out to eat at a restaurant or over a friend’s house, place your napkin on your lap and keep your eating area neat throughout the meal. This seems arbitrary and obvious. It is neither. Unless a kid saw someone do it, he would never put his napkin on his lap. This isn’t even necessarily the best practice. Do you know what it does, however? This tiny, simple action sets a child apart from others, as a classy individual. Keeping the eating area neat keeps you from looking like an ogre, not classy. It is like combing your hair.
When sharing the ideas from this book, I don’t stay stapled to the book’s parameters. It doesn’t have everything that I want to cover, and I disagree or embellish a few manners. Often, I will share stories as examples. This prompts my students to connect with their own experiences. Additionally, we discuss hypothetical situations.
Now, I come to the controversial part. A big part of being classy is word choice. The more robust the vocabulary, the more classy the individual. A couple of days ago, the Polite Pirates (my students and I) were discussing some public eating mannerisms. We got into chewing with your mouth closed, not talking while there was food in your mouth, and don’t take too large of bites. After discussing these and other classy behaviors mentioned in the Polite book, I summed it all up with, “In general, don’t be disgusting. It isn’t classy.”
This opened a whole new genre of behaviors. “What about burping by accident? What do you do if that happens?”
“What if you really don’t like something?”
“Take tiny bites of foods that you are not sure of. Always try new things. You never know. It could end up being your favorite food!”
“Yes, but what if you take a bite, and there is a bone in it?”
“Okay, okay. Use your napkin to produce a magic trick of wiping your mouth, when really you are spitting the food into it. Get a new napkin.”
Then, back to burping: “Can you burp and not make noise?”
“Sure, that is natural. Don’t be disgusting.”
And then, I saw that this hurricane had turned into a category four and wasn’t about to make landfall: “What do you do when you fart out loud?”
As an aside; There is a fantastic book with a wonderful message called “Walter the Farting Dog” that is marketed to young kids. Most third graders are familiar with it, and this has paved the way for the word fart to be marginally acceptable in elementary talk. The idea and word are still rather taboo, though.
As an additional aside; I grew up similarly to many of my suburban students, in a household of proper talk that frowned on potty language. For example, there was NO acceptable word for feces. My mother pretended the bathroom was used for bathing, only; Everything else was unmentionable. Since my youth, I have been liberated of these vernacular shackles. But, I want to respect the attitudes and expectations of the households of the students that I teach.
Back to my tale; With the cat out of the bag and every eye and ear focused on the question and my reaction, I tried to remain as rigid as land being assaulted by hurricane winds. Perhaps addressing this issue head on will cause the storm to break. It did, but we lost some shutters and broke some windows in the process!
“Alright, alright; If you accidentally fart out loud…” pause, breath, “Well…” think… “Just don’t.” Their eyes weren’t having it. I decided to come out from behind the podium a little: I became humanly honest with my students (and now, you). “When I was in school–your age–I was deathly afraid of embarrassing myself by farting out loud, so I trained my body to fart without making a sound.” This is true. I almost CAN’T make a sound, even now.
Knowing that my students will have to work on this for a while, and having witnessed most of them make obscene natural noises when adjusting their seat on the carpet throughout the year, I knew that I wasn’t really helping their immediate dilemma by telling them to “Practice, and someday it will be fine.” Their dilated pupils told me that this advice was not completely acceptable. They needed real-life, everyday ideas for dealing with this demon of digestive noise.
“Okay.” Lets try again. “When you feel like you are about to fart…” I actually said these exact words. “Prepare to make an even louder noise than the sound that is about to come from your body. Accidentally (wink, wink) drop a book or knock over your chair. Perhaps you notice (more winking) that it is snowing outside.” The whole class began to crane to see the snow that was surely not falling from the cloudless sky. “See, what just happened? (rhetorical statement) You didn’t even hear me fart, did you?”
Gasps!! If looks could scream, the surrounding classrooms would have heard my students.
To bring them all back to me, I suggested that I had another, slightly less distracting idea. “Just blame your neighbor.” A girl sitting on the periphery of the group blurted out that this was exactly what her father had told her! Some students told stories of giving this one a try. Hurricane relief efforts began with discussing whether it would be classy to blame someone else. Students made connections to the kid who was wrongly blamed for things. Little did I know that this calming conversation was but a respite from the fartstorm that had devastated my mannerly sit-down.
“What about SILENT BUT DEADLY farts?”
And we were off… Was this a hurricane or tornado?
Me: “If you feel like one of those are coming on, you ask to be excused. Go to the bathroom. Leave it there. Probably, you want to walk around a little. Shake it out of your pants. YOU stay until IT is gone.”
Ss: “But, what if you have a few? Do you go to the bathroom, over and over?”
Me: “No, go to the nurse. There is something wrong.” I am hoping that there isn’t something wrong with this conversation, at this point. How can I bring them back from this smelly tsunami? “Try to remember what you ate. Don’t eat that again… Blame your neighbor… I don’t know! Don’t fart. Don’t…” Okay, breath. These are just kids. They have their whole farty life ahead of them.
“You know what?” Relax. “Farting is natural. It happens. The most harmful thing that you could do is get all stressed out about it. Although blaming your neighbor would not be classy, and everyone knows the person who smelt it dealt it… Laughing it off and moving on is definitely the healthiest reaction to this unfortunately inescapable bodily phenomenon. And, healthy is classy. Basically, even when something happens that does not seem classy… like farting… the way you handle yourself demonstrates your class.”
Okay. I think I have them grounded, now. In conclusion…
“But, if you can, I recommend training your body to fart in stealth mode: no sound or smell.”
I just had to put that out there;)
Now, after teaching a slightly abbreviated math lesson, and finishing up the otherwise uneventful day, I waited to read the emails from parents about my “Fart Talk.” Would it be a trickle or stream? None.
The next day, I asked the kids if they had told their parents about out politediscussion from the day before. All but a couple raised their hands. The girl who had mentioned her father’s advice paralleling my idea of blaming a neighbor said that her father retracted ever telling her that! We laughed.
This story is extra relevant to me because I have been reading a barrage of comments condoning and also condemning a controversial blog about profane language being used in a college setting. (Warning: This blog is literature meant for adults to read. It is well-written, albeit with some swear words illustrating its point. The comments are less guarded.) The message of the text is that the college students seem to feel more engaged, respected, and therefore comfortable with this potty-mouth professor. His story suggests that the students who attend his higher-education literature classes don’t feel talked down to. “This is a guy who is on my side; who gets me,” might be some student sentiments that foster a more comfortable communicative relationship between prof and pupil.
The blog was a fascinating read, and the comments have kept me coming back for more thought-provoking perspectives concerning what I might consider the most appropriate persona a professor ought to project. It made me appraise my own breach of polite protocol when I talked to my students about farting out loud.
That discussion made me feel a little uneasy for a few reasons. One was that the word fart may not be kosher vocabulary for some of my students’ families. Was I using language that would be frowned upon? Through my acceptance of this word, did I bring it into mainstream speak. Sidenote: I did tell the students at the outset that the classy term for this topic was “flatulence”… But, then I proceeded to use “fart” just like them. Secondly, through talking about farts in a casual way, was I aligning myself to closely with the minds and attitudes of my students? Will they view me as a silly person, not to be taken as seriously as before the Fart Talk? I am passionate about my politeness lessons, teaching students how to be classy citizens of the world. What if they begin thinking that this mannerly talk is a bunch of hot (smelly) air? And finally, how will parents perceive my polite parameter podium after finding out that their children’s teacher is talking about farts? Perhaps their opinion of me will diminish.
I honestly, don’t know, yet.
If you are a parent, and would like to weigh in on this, please leave a comment.
What DOES a classy person do when he or she farts out loud??????????? We want answers!
We kicked off our “Reading Super Bowl” the other day. The students were pumped to be competing against one another. The line to go to the busses at the end of the day was buzzing with how many footballs each was going to be bringing in the next day.
Today was only day two of our contest, and students came to school baring both footballs and questions. I find it helpful to sit everyone down on the carpet and go over some extra ground rules: 1. It is okay to bring footballs in a day or two late. You won’t lose your minutes if you forget, or mom/dad was too busy. 2. Only take as many footballs as you truly imagine completing that evening. (Kids will take five sheets of paper=30 footballs=600 minutes or ten hours; probably not realistic in one night;) 3. Even though you are not inside the school building at recess, you can’t bring a book outside to read. Run around; that is what recess is for. While I appreciate the enthusiasm, the lunch/recess aids have enough to do without initialing a million footballs…
While covering these and more rules and regulations, I began to back away from the parameters of the competition and focus my message on what the contest is actually meant to do: foster a love for reading and develop reading
habits. In the past the class was privy to the mantra “Everyone who reads wins”, but I hadn’t spelled out the underlying agenda of the “Reading Super Bowl”. This year I just flat out told students, “I would rather you only read 20 minutes a day, but wish that you had more time to read and love the time that you did spend reading, than bring four footballs (80 minutes of reading) in to class each day.”
I worded this concept a few different ways with multiple examples, and the students seemed to understand. After each student shared an exciting tale of how much he or she read the night before, I asked what was read and how much the student enjoyed it. It only took a few of these exchanges before students began discussing book series and future books that they wanted to read. Now we were getting somewhere! Rather than championing the paper footballs and minutes read, my students were looking forward to the actual reading.
In previous years, I have asked parents to send in pictures of their kids reading at home so I can include them in movies that summarize the whole competition. I might have parents contribute these earlier in the game, this year. In this way, we will focus on the plays rather than only the score.