That comment will make more sense if you read the article below.
I love my child. He is the best thing in my life and I feel no shame in saying so. I want him to have a better life than me, I want him to have more opportunities, and I want him to be a better person. But regardless of how much I love my son, the rules aboard an airplane are the same for everyone: “Help yourself first before assisting others.” There is very good reason for this rule. Vulnerable people, including young children, need their dependents. Sure there’s probably someone who could take in your child should something happen to you, and there are government systems in place to hopefully ensure that your child receives the bare basics to survive until adulthood, but is that really a reassuring thought as you decide to forgo your own oxygen mask? Your child cannot save you. Only you can save your child. You have to save yourself first so that your child can be saved.
I sure hope so. Because I feel like this concept is very difficult for many people. No, I’m not a flight attendant who has to go up and down the aisles, sacrificing myself during an emergency to attend to all of the children whose parents are passed out beside them. I am a teacher. But take that same flight attendant scenario and put it into a classroom and that’s pretty much what my days look like lately.
Sure all of my students make it home alive at the end of the day, but our regularly scheduled flight is more often than not riddled with delays as I rush up and down the aisles trying to get students to put their seatbelts back on.
Me: “You were buckled up two seconds ago! What happened?!?!”
Student A: “I thought I didn’t have to anymore.”
Me: “Everyone needs to be buckled up so we can take off.”
Student A: “But I already did that.”
Me: “Yes, I know that you did, and I know that you can buckle yourself up all by yourself. But you have to stay buckled up until the plane is safely in the air.”
Student A: “When will that be?”
Me: “As soon as everyone is buckled up, showing that they are ready to go.”
Student A: “But I already did that.”
Me: “I understand.”
Student A: “It’s not my fault that others aren’t doing it.”
Me: “I understand, and I am not saying that you are being blamed for anything. I just need you to put your seatbelt back on so that we can go.”
Student A: “BUT THAT’S NOT FAIR!”
Me: “Everyone has to do it. I’m sorry that you have to do it over again, but the instructions I gave you, the instructions overhead, and the instructions in the little book in front of you, have all said that your seatbelt has to stay on until we can safely take it off.”
Student A: “Well the plane isn’t moving so I don’t have to do it yet!”
Me: “But the plane cannot move until you do this one little thing.”
Student A: “I’ll do it later.”
Meanwhile the 25 other student passengers have already unbuckled themselves and are running amuk, trying to see if the plane windows really are unbreakable, if the chicken really does look any better than the beef, and why Billy has 6 pretzels in his snack when Madison only has 4. I know this because while I’m talking to Student A, Madison has been pulling on my shirt, crying to the point of hyperventilation that she needs two more pretzels and how could I let this happen.
Of course, after we have finally taken off and safely landed again, I won’t hear about the triumph that we actually managed to get this plane off of the ground and back again. No, I will get an angry call about my incompetence in not ensuring that every child got the exact same number of pretzels in their snack bag. Doesn’t matter that they come prepackaged from the company that supplies them. No, it is my responsibility to make sure that I individually open and count each bag. There’s no point (and no opportunity) to mention that this child, too, did not have their seatbelt on after being given three separate instructions of how to do so and why it is important to do so.
You might think that I’m taking a creative license here, but honestly, if you just switch out the flight metaphor, I have had these exact exchanges almost every day. And I bet your kids spend far more time in my class than they do on airplanes…
In my experience, I will have 6-10 students buckle up at the first instruction, 2-5 more after the demonstration is given. There may be 5, or as few as 2 students whom I have to talk to one-on-one or they believe that the instructions apply to them. The problem is that these 2-5 students also believe that the instructions stop applying to them as soon as you break eye contact, even for a second. And as each second ticks by, the others get restless.
It starts when someone needs to pee. That student gets up. The others notice. They get up. No, they don’t have to pee, they just saw another kid walk around so clearly that’s the thing to do right now. If it takes a minute, or worse, two minutes, all control is lost. Only one little girl, though occasionally it’s a little boy, sits with her head down, buckled up, looking like she wants to cry because she’s frustrated as hell that we can’t just get on with things.
That’s my breaking point. That’s when I question the work I’m doing, not because I believe myself to be an ineffective teacher, but because this same little girl, or little boy, has had to sit and wait probably every year since kindergarten, and will be forced to sit and wait until she finally gets the freedom of streamed classes in high school.
I question my profession when landing is the only goal at the end of the day. And maybe I’m misremembering something from my childhood, but not one of my elementary school teachers had to wrangle us kids every single day.
So, what’s happening? Clearly I’m missing something. So to the parents I go.
Me: “These are the behaviours that I’m noticing in class. Do you see any of this at home?”
Parents: “Oh yeah, all the time. That’s just how he is. I honestly don’t know what to do with him half the time.”
And I’m not talking about the kids who have honest uncontrollable behaviours. The ones who are dealing with a biological or chemical shift in how their brains connect responses. I’m talking about the kids to make very conscious decisions about how much they want to do anything.
And it comes from all directions. I’ve spoken with parents who make more money in a week than I will probably see in my lifetime. I’ve spoken with single moms working three jobs, crying their eyes out because they just don’t know how to squeeze in time to make sure that their child is doing their homework. I’ve spoken with single dads who are begging for strategies to deal with the emotional roller coaster at home.
You want strategies? Here we go!
Children need to see behaviours modeled, relationships, emotions, and in environments that go beyond the home.
So, STEP ONE: Save yourself! Check yourself
In an average week, how does your child see you interact with other adults, in the adult world when:
- You feel frustrated
- You feel upset
- You feel afraid
- You feel hurt
- You feel disrespected
- You disagree
- You lose
- You win
- You work as a team
- You challenge yourself
- You work through a problem
- You show appreciation to someone else
- You show generosity
- You show compassion
- You show selflessness
- You owe an apology
- You show forgiveness
- You compromise
- You set goals
- You take responsibility for the consequences of decisions you’ve made
Learning starts at home. Being mindful of your own behaviour is easiest thing to do - I'm not saying to change it, just acknowledge it first. Note how often your kids get to see it, and how often they are not around, or disengaged from your adult life. Do they see you and your friends interact? Do they see the people you look up to? Do they see the people who look up to you? And if you feel that some of these interactions are lacking, or perhaps not the model you want for your children, what can you do to work towards it? Don't be afraid to be vulnerable, to not be perfect, or to let your kids see that life isn't always cartoons and video games. Your child can't save you, but maybe an honest look at the people who love them can help bridge that empathy gap that is running wild in schools right now. And even if your child is headed in the right direction, exposure to proper friendships that are based in mutual respect can only help your child stand her ground if her peers have not been so fortunate.
I can’t teach reading, writing and arithmetic if my students don’t feel safe in their classroom, if my students feel afraid to get things wrong, or to even try. I can’t teach when I have a student who doesn’t know what it means to respect anyone, and I mean anyone, who steals the silliest little thing just because, who lies, who blames everything on everyone else, who destroys anything they get their hands on. I can’t teach when my students are crying because their “best friend” won’t stop calling them names at recess, but they can’t not be friends because being alone is worse.
No, I worded that all wrong. I can teach. Because I do. And at the end of the day it’s a miracle that that plane we’re on together hasn’t crashed and burned. But I can’t let it, can I? I will march up and down that aisle a thousand times to make sure that your little angle is buckled up for the ride. That the only thing to have crashed and burned at the end of the day is me.
And then try to remember that, at the end of the day, I have to find the energy to buckle up my little one, too. Because his little eyes are watching to see how Mommy handles her frustration, her hurt, her fear, her loss, and her get right back up on her feet to do all over again.
Is it selfish of me to ask you, parent to parent, what you’re doing to help my kid land safely at the end of the day?