Tales from a teacher
This is a different post from those I would usually write. However, I thought that “tales from a teacher” may be interesting to write about from time to time. As teachers, there are sometimes events that stick in our minds, and this is one that has been stuck in my mind this week.
Following a conversation with my former co-worker last week, today I’d like to look at the importance and necessity of giving children the skills to speak up for themselves. It’s so important for us, as adults, to help children feel confident and comfortable expressing their opinion about what they like and what they don’t like.
So as not to make this post too long or too preachy, here is the gist of it: my co-worker was approached by a parent last week who was, in her words, visibly upset about something. The parent explained that their child didn’t want to go to summer camp anymore because they were constantly hearing a playful word: “silly”.
This word is used by children and teachers at the school and the connotations of it are nothing but playful and, in my opinion, much better than other words.
As we live and work in an international environment, it is common for us as teachers to have to explain some of the words that we use as they are very specific to where we come from.
For example, I say “oopsie daisy” when tripping, dropping something, or knocking into something. “Oopsie daisy” is what we said when I was a child, when I worked in England, and I’ve continued to use it throughout my time in Prague.
I cannot count how many parents have come to me and said, “my child keeps saying ‘oopsie daisy’, what does it mean?”.
Back to the story
The parent, after hearing my co-worker’s explanation as to why that word was used and what it means, was still quite upset. They reiterated that their child now did not want to be at summer camp because of the use of the word. This parent believed my co-worker should have seen this word upset the child and immediately stopped using it, while also telling other children not to use it as well.
It was, in the parent’s opinion, part of a teacher’s role to intervene in this – and indeed any – situation where a child may be upset, regardless of the reason. Due to the lack of intervention, this child was no longer going to attend summer camp at this school.
I do understand this parent’s point of view. I am sure that I wouldn’t be pleased if my child kept saying they didn’t want to go to school. The parent wanted, as I would have, an explanation.
My co-worker was extremely shocked by this conversation and explained the reason behind the use of the word. She also explained that the child had never seemed upset, often used the word herself, and had never expressed negative feelings towards it.
The child in question is very talkative and comfortable at school and my co-worker was surprised that she didn’t speak up about not liking something.
When we discussed this in more detail it led to a conversation about the importance of children speaking up. Not only this, but adults giving them the tools to do so.
Why is this important?
You may ask, why should a child speak up when their parents can do so for them? And this is a fair point. My answer to this would be that parents (or teachers) aren’t always going to be there to do it for them.
Let’s put it this way: if a child were behaving inappropriately in class, would you expect the teacher to wait till you, as a parent, arrived to speak to the child? (I hope your answer to this is no).
Don’t get me wrong, parents must be able to speak with their child’s teacher and this relationship is very important. Should it come to it, it may be good to also speak with the school’s management.
Parents and teachers can and should show children that their opinion is important and how to express it.
In teaching independence, independent thinking, creativity, and all the important social skills that children should learn at preschool, teaching them how to speak up is of equal importance.
This helps children feel confident enough to say “I don’t want to play mummies and daddies again” to their peers.
It helps them feel secure enough to play in the sand when they have forgotten to bring their wellies to school and they can’t play in puddles.
They can say “stop trying to scribble on my picture” when their friends are not playing nicely.
They are confident enough to go to the teacher if someone is physically hurting them or not using nice words.
Of course, it is the job of a teacher to pay attention and make sure that the children in their care are happy and safe! Of course! However, teachers are (though we don’t seem like it) only human! We can’t always do everything so we must teach children these skills.
So how do we teach said skills?
I believe that one of the best ways to teach something is to model it, to show the desired behaviour in a real setting. This works with how you’d like your child to speak with you – “Would you close the door for me please?” vs “shut the door!” – how you would like the children in the class to sit during circle time, and many other situations.
So how do we model this? Firstly, make sure that your behaviour is the same as what you’d like children to learn.
If I am sitting sprawled on the floor with my phone on my lap, children see this and they will copy me and, most probably, want to see my phone. If this is fine for you, then okay. However, in circle time, I sit with my legs crossed, my listening ears turned on, and my good-looking eyes looking at whoever is talking.
This is because I expect the same behaviour from the children in my class.
After the behaviour has been modelled, it is necessary to explain the reasons why we do these things.
In the past, I have had children in my classes who played poorly with their friends and this caused them to be alienated by their peers. Although a hard lesson, this was a perfect example for the children as they had an actual experience of how their behaviour affected others and how it, in turn, affected them.
Keep in mind, however, that if you would like for a child to behave in a certain way, you must do so yourself. The phrase “do as I say and not as I do” keeps popping into my mind while writing this.
The conversation with my co-worker ended with us agreeing that it was sad for a child to have left and for them and their parent to have felt unhappy as a result of this situation.
In a perfect world, we would have wanted the child to stay and for her to learn how to speak up and for her to do so. However, all we can do is endeavour to understand, adapt, and continue to teach these skills so that we help raise confident children.
What do you think?
Do you agree with our thoughts on this? Would you perhaps go about this another way? What are your thoughts on this topic in general?
Please do let me know if “tales from a teacher” is something you’d be interested in seeing more of.
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