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?
I’ve been teaching for 9 years. This is a second career for me. To pay for college (graduated in ‘96) I painted the outside of homes. This turned into a lucrative business, and I liked working for myself. Eventually, I wanted to do something more with my life. Because I enjoyed connecting with people and communicating ideas, and because I thought investing in youth to affect the future was a noble and intelligent goal, I decided to enter the elementary education field. Boy, am I glad I did! Naturally, this story is much longer, but I wanted to just provided the basics, here.
The past 9 years have provided plenty of professional development opportunities, but I had yet to attend many conferences. This past weekend I visited #Rewire19 and was energized and inspired by a long list of incredible presenters.
In addition to learning, I felt like I made meaningful friendships with these mentors. Something that plagued me, though, was the idea of how much teaching many people had under their belt. There were numbers like “Teaching 20+ Years” thrown all over the place. Is it necessary to teach a long time before you share pedagogical practices with peers?
This question made me feel like a latecomer to a party. Wait, what’s that expression?
I do sport a pretty mean #Bowtie.
Beyond #Fashion, I feel like I do have something to offer to this party; a type of experience that didn’t come from teaching many decades in the classroom. And, I am not just talking about having run a successful entrepreneurial painting company, either. I am a “Late Bloomer”.
As I read the text, many things happened simultaneously. One, I felt my insecurity of seeming-career-procrastination melt away as I realized that I had gained many useful life lessons that were presently helping me be a good teacher, today. If I had gone right into teaching, straight out of college… first of all, that couldn’t have happened because I didn’t even study pedagogy! …But, if my younger-self had entered the education career field, I would have certainly burned out and failed. It is only through allowing myself to bloom later in life, that I am experiencing this wonderful world of teaching. While I may not be able to place a “20+ years” near my name when it comes to teaching, I have been preparing for this position all my life!
Secondly, the book “Late Bloomers” has caused me to view my students differently. Some students will be early bloomers. These kids are already shining in school. They are acing tests, excelling in reading and math capabilities. Everyone is excited for these students. But, what about the “Late Bloomers” who will need several decades to finally open up and realize their potential?
I think every educator would do well to read this book. When we differentiate our instruction, we work hard to enrich students who need to be challenged right now, but what about the students who will eventually grow into shining stars?
There are plants that take several years before blooming. If a gardener focused only on the early bloomers and allowed weeds to overtake the Stargazers (my favorite flower), he would miss out on quite a show, not to mention the marvelous fragrance. The gardner must make sure these July blooms are planted properly, watered and cared for appropriately, and protected from voracious sun-hogs.
Whether you are a “Late-Blooming” teacher like me or a quick start out of the gate, make sure you are conscientious to the idea that within your walls are flowers that will take quite a while to bloom… And, that’s okay. In a world “Obsessed with Early Achievement”, and boy is it ever! …It’s our job, as educators, to power or fuel the patience everyone (parents, administrators, employers, etc.) will need to practice in order to see these blooms to their marvelous opening.
What are you doing to empower potential “Late Bloomers” in your classroom?
The following blog was written for a Parent EDU project that Nicole Biscotti (@BiscottiNicole) & Melissa Sidebotham (@MelSideB) are putting together.
Good educators understand the need to personalize lessons, assignments, and assessments to meet the needs of a diverse population in their classrooms. The educational term for this is differentiation. How many times do educators treat every home as though it were the same as all of the rest? How is it that we see every student as a unique individual, but try to pigeon-hole the homelives into an assumed formula?
Several years ago I began using more technology in the classroom. My district was employing an online teaching component that included lessons and quizzes. With limited classroom time on shaky tech tools, I thought I’d assign some work to be done at home. The day after the very first assignment, I received an email from a single mom who traveled very far for work. My initial thought was defensive. Luckily, although new to teaching, I knew enough not to type what I was feeling. The practice of assigning online HW discontinued, and all was well.
Last year, I tried sending “Reading Logs” home. I had done this in the past with moderate success. Some parents told me that they liked having their children write a sentence or two about what they had read each day! Of course there was never 100% participation, and as you can imagine, the quality varied greatly. I was floored, however, when I witnessed the vast gap in equity last year. There were some students whose writing was the best I had ever seen. Third graders were composing beautifully written paragraphs every night, after reading impressive texts. Others, however, weren’t even touching a text or scratching out one line on the log. What was I to do?
Right around this time I was becoming more active on Twitter. Luckily for everyone, I came across many tweets suggesting negative effects of these kinds of blanket assignments. As I reflected on what I was seeing return to school, I realized that these reading logs were really assessing students’ home life more than their ability to read and write. Also, within only a few short weeks, I could see that this continued practice would simply widen the gap between the homes that provided a lot of support and environments that didn’t. What to do? Should I punish the “No-Log-Students”? Instead, I ditched the reading log. I am thankful to my Personal Learning Network (PLN) from Twitter for helping process all of these ideas.
One thought has continued to burn on my brain, though: How different all of these homes are. During parent-teacher conference season I have some parents who visit my room as couples, arriving early, entering with notes, prepared questions, and goal-setting agendas. There are also parents who never sign up or contact me. We might speak on the phone, but I’m not surprised to learn that there are homes that feel like learning should be done strictly at school.
Earlier in my teaching career I idealized some home situations and thought that everyone should strive to be like them. Then my daughter Scarlet was born. Scarlet is entering second grade this year. With each new teacher there are new communication styles, formats, and platforms being used. There have been times when I wished my daughter’s teachers communicated the way I did on the same social media platforms that I used. As an educator, though, I know that they have a bunch of students’ families to communicate with, and they should use the vehicle that works best for them. How could a teacher differentiate communication to parents while using the same platform for all? Content; Quantity; and even Quality could be ways to meet parents’ needs.
Do you type up a newsletter for all families, and then wipe your hands of home communication responsibilities? What if the parents of a youth can’t read, can’t read English, or never receives the letter? Here’s an idea: Find out what families want to know. At the beginning of the year, learn what content would be helpful to each home. The newsletter could still be posted on your website, but you could tailor your communication with the homes of your students to meet the specific needs of each one. It could be a short note, a text, a quick email with a screenshot of scores, etc. You have data on your students. Collect some for your families.
How often do your families want to hear from you? Do you know? How much do they want to read? A parent told me last year that they liked bullet-point-emails. That opened my eyes. I knew my emails were too long. From then on, I had a list at the beginning of what was in each email.
Some parents like getting lots of detail, while others are more interested in simply knowing their kid is doing okay. Which style of parenting is better? Not only is there no good answer to that question, but it is a horrible question to begin with! They are simply different. One thing that has helped me communicate with parents in a tailored way is through providing specific feedback for each student’s writing in Google Classroom. The families that want to know a lot get a lot of text to read. The families that would rather a short blurb get just that.
Right now I am beginning a new school year. Last night was “Meet the Teacher Night.” Not every student’s parents visited my room, but of the ones that did, one thing that they all had in common was their uniqueness! Everyone was so different! Not just the way they looked; The attitudes shown in facial expressions, the ways they sat or stood to listen to me, their interest in speaking with me before and after my short presentation; These and many more characteristics spoke to me a very valuable lesson: Not only do I need to differentiate instruction in my classroom when teaching my class, but I should be differentiating communication with families.
Is it my job to get parents who are okay being completely hands-off to change and become more involved? No, but I’m not going to ignore any families, either. My aim is to work at respecting the expectations of homes. Differentiating Homes means the same thing as differentiating instruction: Meeting parents where they are philosophically, psychologically, and physically. If a family thinks education should be confined to school, then I better make it happen in school, while I have their kid! If parents wish weekly reports, I will make sure there is information available about weekly progress. If parents need to feel involved in their child’s education, I will provide opportunities for them to be plugged into classroom activities. If parents don’t have time to read lengthy reports and emails, I will make short videos that can be listened to. My goal for this year is to work at breaking old habits of one-size-fits-all approach to parent-teacher communication. How will you differentiate communication between school and home this year?
“Snow Plowing” is a term being used for parents who move every obstacle out of the way of their children. It isn’t too hard to imagine the real life consequences of this bad idea. Go ahead and put spotters on the ends of the barbell your child is bench pressing and see how strong he gets “lifting” less than he imagines. Perhaps your kid can say he benched 300 pounds, but put him in a situation where his strength is needed, and…
Page 40 of “The Gift of Failure: How the best parents learn to let go so their children can succeed” by Jessica Lahey shares
…But interesting research shows that smooth sailing isn’t where real, deep learning happens. Small failures when the stakes are relatively low and the potential for emotional and cognitive growth is high, are what psychologists Elizabeth and Robert Bjork call “desirable difficulties.” Learning that comes with challenge is stored more effectively and more durably in the brain than learning that comes easily.
I’ve never tried this, but I feel artsy, so here is an illustration. Don’t judge the art, only the concepts;)
Smooth waters will get the sailor nowhere fast… not even fast.
The wise parent/teacher provides opportunities for student/sailors to learn with appropriate tasks/difficulties.
Storms will arise. There will be concepts and tasks that can smash a cognitive ship to bits. When this happens, swim to safety, and go buy another ship. Or, even better, find yourself shipwrecked on an deserted island and learn to fend for yourself. Or, build a survival raft from the wreckage. Or… you see where this is headed.
Perhaps the student/sailor had enough practice and/or the concept/ship was built well enough to withstand the storm. Hurray, and good for you!
Hope you enjoyed the metaphor. What can you add to the thinking?
Three of Scarlet’s cousins came to visit this past weekend (July, 2019). We experienced all of the classic summer stuff: swimming in the pool, playgrounds, and s’mores. It was a blast; Especially the swimming.
Scarlet’s mommy insisted that Scarlet be lathered in a strong sunblock before getting into the pool. That is normal, and all of the kids had to forego the inevitable wait period of letting the lotion dry a little before getting into the pool; Collective “Ugh!”
Additionally, Scarlet needed to have her cochlear implant (CI) equipment changed to waterproof wires and coils. We recently received new pool appropriate boxes to put the CI processor inside to keep it safe from water damage. It takes a while to get all of this situated.
While everyone was patient enough, no one wants to wait even one extra second when a beautiful refreshing pool is calling your name on a hot summer day! They all waited for Scarlet to finish getting ready before diving in, though, which I thought was very classy.
It was also friendly and kind for Scarlet’s cousins to help her realize that one of her coils was not on her head, but dangling in the pool. This happened constantly throughout the day. Everyone was very patient, another classy trait.
At the end of the day, Scarlet’s mommy Sonia read “Scarlet’s Superpower” to the cousins. Afterward, we discussed the superpower of not being able to hear. Sonia relayed a cute and funny story to me.
This past week Scarlet had a dentist appointment. When the technician was preparing to clean Scarlet’s teeth, he apologized for the loud noise that the air pump was about to make. “A child recently tampered with it, and it broke,” he explained.
Without skipping a beat, Scarlet reached up to her head, and while removing her coils, exclaimed, “That’s alright, I have a Superpower.” I loved the story and was proud of my daughter for taking charge of the situation. Not only was she perfectly comfortable with the fact that she wears CI equipment in order to hear, but Scarlet was proud to display its functionality. How many kids -and adults- are embarrassed of equipment that helps them with a disability?
This is the message of “Scarlet’s Superpower”: Try to take negative situations and turn them into positive opportunities.
When the kids were waiting for their sunscreen to dry before getting into the pool, Sonia told everyone that Scarlet still has to “waterproof” her CI equipment. The horrible task of waiting turned into an opportunity to learn about water-damage and how to keep water out of things. It also masked the task of buying time. They would have had to stand around waiting, anyway!
The next time you are tempted to complain about something, see if there is anything positive that could be gleaned from the situation. We can all possess the superpower of seeing the positive. It takes practice, discipline, and sometimes creativity. Good luck!
It is natural for kids to be narcissistic, thinking mostly about themselves and their personal situations, until they are tweens (10-12). Scarlet, being only 7 at the time of this writing, doesn’t totally understand how different her hearing situation is from most other people.
One difference that Scarlet is well aware of is her hearing equipment. In her book we mention the great advantage to being able to NOT hear when it comes time to go to bed. This is true… not the monster creeping out of the closet, but everything else. When Scarlet wakes up in the morning, she can’t hear anything until she puts her coils onto her head. This means that Scarlet, a 7 year old, is wandering around the house, completely oblivious to any sounds happening around her.
[As I type this, at 5AM in May with the windows open, I hear birds singing and traffic zooming on a busy road near our house. Scarlet will never know the experience of waking up to birds chirping.]
Thankfully, it is not difficult to equip Scarlet with the tools for hearing. There are several companies that offer cochlear implant equipment. The one our family went with, Advanced Bionics, has a couple of different devices (at the time of this writing; technology is changing all of the time). One of them allows the processor to be clipped to her clothing. This one has a long cord that reaches from the processor to the coil that sticks to Scarlet’s head. A couple nice things about this equipment is that it is easy and fast to put on. It can clip to anything; Sometimes I clip it to Scarlet’s hair! Another great thing about this device is that it is waterproof. Some drawbacks to this one, though, are that its batteries are hard to get to and need to be changed often. Plus, the long cord gets caught on things and pops the coil off a lot.
The other device that Scarlet has for hearing attaches to the back of her ear with double-sided tape. An earlier version of “Scarlet’s Superpower” had the word tear in it on page 4, when it says, “I reach up and slowly, carefully remove one of my sound processors.” We removed this word because we didn’t want the book to be disturbing. That could diminish the message of the text. The truth of the matter is that every night we DO have
to rip the processors off of Scarlet’s ears. And, many times it really hurts her, pulling a hair that is stuck in there. Also, I fear for my daughter’s skin behind her ear. Some advantages of these devices are that they are smaller with shorter cords, lighter in weight, the batteries last longer, and they have the ability to attach an additional device that allows her teacher to use an FM speaker system to broadcast directly to her cochleas. (This last feature may be the subject of a future book; one about her bionic abilities.)
A serious drawback of this latter device is that it is NOT waterproof. This is where the subject of this blog comes into play. Scarlet has recently begun complaining a little about not being able to go outside for recess if it is drizzling or if rain seems imminent. Having her equipment break is too risky. One thing I didn’t mention about the equipment, and I won’t expand upon, is that it is a hassle and nuisance to have to get any of it replaced. Thank goodness we can and it is possible, but it is FAR from convenient.
Scarlet’s Superpower, albeit totally awesome, and it truly is, came from a desire to help Scarlet feel good about being different. “I might have to stay inside when it is wet out, but I don’t have to hear the fire alarm.” My aim is to empower Scarlet AND kids like her with this new, SUPER attitude or way of looking at their disabilities or special conditions, a positive outlook.
We are already seeing it play out when we hear from children telling us that they are okay with wearing glasses because they now view it as a superpower. Please, share more of these stories with us. And, share “Scarlet’s Superpower” with others, because this is one of those synergistic powers, in that, rather than being depleted, the more it is shared, the greater it becomes. That will be the topic for another blog.
“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.
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?
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.