Monday, March 23, 2015
The Power of Kindness. The Strength of Gentleness.
That glorious summer after first grade witnessed the heart-soothing balm of the summer sunshine and the comfort and calmness of home. But as June faded to July and July to August, there loomed an anxiety-evoking reality; the beginning of a new school year. Following a frightening first grade year with an incessantly yelling teacher, trepidation filled this young heart in anticipation of second grade. Fear, one method of classroom management and control, manifests in students through their downcast eyes, rounded shoulders, and obvious crushed confidence. First grade accomplished this for me. Just weeks from second grade, hopes were not too high for anything better. Upon arrival in the new classroom, we second grade students were greeted with a breath of lovely fresh air. In a word, kindness. This kindness was to escort our class throughout second grade, refilling our learning sails with a gentle breeze of optimism allowing and encouraging us to bravely and excitedly explore new oceans of learning. Kindness. A gentle voice. Happy eyes. Probably not attributes asked about on a teacher job application, but clearly attributes deeply affecting classroom morale and ultimately individual and collective classroom successes. Kindness pierced through the learned fear of the previous school year and nurtured a restored eye contact, strong shoulders and a sweet growing confidence among all of us blessed to be in this happy second grade classroom. I do not recall content taught nor content learned in second grade, albeit to recognize that we all advanced to the third grade. I do recall, however, with vivid and joyful recollection, the loving-kindness of a very gentle, very special, very encouraging teacher, whose tender ways brought smiles and motivated excellence. I have never forgotten to consider the tone used in delivering words to children. Kindness matters. Kindness builds up. Kindness outlasts content. Kindness is soothing, healing balm to the wounded spirit that has been staggering under the excruciating weight of another’s bitterness. Kindness lifts and restores. Kindness is free. Kindness is priceless.
Saturday, March 14, 2015
In The Classroom Of A Yeller
My previous blog article reflected on the gift of a gentle tone, a peaceful classroom, and the calmness, contentedness, and security students feel when wrapped in the comfort of this. I learned a different lesson early on in school. 1965-1966. First Grade. A big year for reading and learning, as they all should be. Unfortunately, my first grade teacher was a yeller and her perpetually frustration-laced, roarish voice filled our classroom with fear rather than sweet wonder and encouragement. Regardless of one’s tender years, one quickly learns the survival strategies of not making eye contact and not rocking the boat, so as to be able to inconspicuously fly under the classroom teacher’s radar and avoid being at the receiving end of her verbal attacks. It’s pretty tough to be “bad” in first grade as little ones long to love and please their teachers. Can’t imagine the exponential increase in volume and in anger had we been naughty. We were not naughty. We were, however, terrified, and when you are afraid, it is extremely difficult, perhaps even impossible, to learn. Fear has no place in a classroom, because it’s unfair and it’s paralyzing as it squeezes the life, the joy, and the hope out of a classroom leaving nothing but cold walls and clock hands that don’t move fast enough. I survived. I learned to read. At home where I was not afraid. At home where I was encouraged and smiled at. At home where no one yelled at me. I wonder how my first grade classmates did? I played school at home. My best friend and I took turns being the teacher. We were never like her. The lesson she taught, which has been indelibly etched into my heart, is how not to be. I am sorry for her because she missed the joy, the opportunity, the brilliance, the wonder, the miracles that are forever happening in a classroom of discovery and delight. I have been a teacher for thirty years, and now in pseudo-retirement, a substitute teacher. Each class, each day, each year is new and exciting and fresh and full of limitless possibility. A classroom full of children represents the hope for the future, and to have the privilege of serving in this way and tending to this great treasure is exhilarating. Teaching. It bears a weight of responsibility such as no other. Precious children, uniquely gifted, wired, inspired, filled with wonder and dreams and infinite potential to touch, change and serve this world as no one else can; these are the treasures entrusted to our care eight hours a day, five days a week, nine months a year, every year throughout their most formative years. With clay feet and great weakness, I stand before each class, each day in full knowledge of my inadequacy. What have I to give them but love, encouragement, and the best of what I have and am. I am honored and humbled and thankful to be a teacher.
Thursday, March 12, 2015
A Gentle Answer
“A gentle answer quiets anger, but a harsh one stirs it up,” Proverbs 15:1.
In grocery store aisles and school hallways, on sports field sidelines and in performance hall parking lots, we hear parents yell at their kids and then kids yell back at their parents, and back and forth and back and forth, escalating ever escalating as if volume alone seizes the final, most authoritative word. We shout to assert control yet this very shouting bespeaks the control we have already so very clearly lost. We shout because the loudest, most ferocious bark belongs to the alpha boss dog, right? Or does it really? I believe we shout because we have not effectively learned how to lead. One of the most amazing classroom volume control strategies I have ever witnessed in thirty years of teaching, was demonstrated by a young, shy, gentle, peaceful teacher who never raised her voice above a hushed tone with students in her classroom. Their first grade voices matched her quietness. No voice was ever raised, and it was a beautifully calm room, lovely for learning. They listened for her voice and in that stillness there was comfort and security. Conversely, several doors down the hallway was a screamer whose classroom was invariably on the brink of chaos. By afternoon each day in the loud room, the decibels had been ratcheted up to an ear drum piercing roar, with everyone fighting to be heard including the teacher. Exhaustion. Headaches. Frustration. Why do we shout? Do we lack the confidence necessary to be still, to be gentle, to be one who brings peace? In a world that regularly shouts its demands and demands its own way, a gentle soul who patiently listens and quietly responds is truly one of great strength and wisdom. Our children have tender hearts and ears and need the careful tending of one who teaches and leads with calmness and gentleness, both at school and at home. We all need this, no matter how thick and hard our protective walls have become over time. Deep down, we long for this. A gentle answer, a humble response, a quiet calming word breathes peace into our harried hearts. Try it. Be still. Turn the volume down. Respond with calmness, even if the impulse is to roar. Hold back that lion and watch the gentle response that returns to you.
Tuesday, March 3, 2015
Once Upon A Birthday
February birthdays in the Midwest will typically be wrapped in soft white mountains of snow, bone-chilling temperatures, and icicles, all necessitating multiple layers of flannel and wool stuffed under large, toasty, though quite unflattering stadium coats. This year was no different. It was birthday Saturday morning and already this teacher’s inbox was filled with lovely, warm words of blessing and friendship and kindness and love; words and happy wishes of deep and precious value, humbling, but making glad this teacher’s heart. A perfect start to a birthday. With coffee in hand, iced snowflakes painting the windows, and slippered feet propped comfortably upon a chair, the birthday teacher followed some early morning reading with a bit of fleece scarf tying. Knowing that a birthday morning meeting would bring this teacher to a downtown neighborhood where countless many would be acutely feeling the effects of the sub-zero temps, the thought of bringing a large pile of fleece scarves to a nearby bus stop seemed the right and perfect birthday gift to give. With more than two dozen scarves folded and stacked chin high, the birthday teacher entered the bus stop shelter and placed them on the bus waiting bench. A gentleman approached to wait for the bus and the teacher encouraged him to be warm and take a scarf. He didn’t speak, but as the teacher left for the downtown meeting, the gentleman wrapped a fleecy blue plaid scarf around his neck. The gift of giving is such a precious heart-filling gift. It indeed was a happy birthday.