Almost every educator – myself included – has dealt with some kind of student behavior with a variation of the line, “Well, s/he is a kid.” It makes sense, but what is interesting is that most of — if not all of — student behavior is a version of the same behavior in adults. And when we recognize that kids really do the same kind of things we do, it forces us to examine our own behavior in a new context, and it should lead us to create more humane schools.
First, we have to own that our own behavior is still on that continuum. When I was in the classroom, it used to drive me crazy that a few of my colleagues had absolutely Draconian lateness policies for kids but never handed their grades in on time. That made no sense to me. I was — and still am sometimes — terrible about deadlines. And I was not always as fast as I would have liked to be about handing back work. (Any former student of mine just choked reading that understatement.) So it seemed hypocritical that I’d be really strict about late work with kids, because I was so bad at it. Eventually, I hit upon a policy that made sense to me — if you handed in work before I handed back work, I couldn’t mark it late in good conscience, and if I really wanted to do something about students meeting deadlines, then I had to model it.
But the other thing that did for me — and what I try to remember every day — was that it forced me to accept my own humanity and therefore accept the humanity of my students as well. I tell SLA kids who are struggling with the imperfect nature of their parents, their friends, their teachers or themselves about one of the reasons forgiveness is so important, simply, “I forgive other people their flaws in the vain hope that they will forgive me mine.” I try remind frustrated teachers of the same thing as well.
But it’s more than just looking for forgiveness. We have to understand that we are trying to help the kids grow into the best versions of themselves. They won’t be perfect. They shouldn’t even try to be. We aren’t. At best, we can hope that our students will be better, kinder, wiser adults than we are, but they’ll never be perfect. And we’ll only frustrate them and ourselves if that’s the standard we hold them to.
And I worry that saying, “Well, they are kids…” is a way to excuse their imperfection as just a function of their youth, not a function of their humanity. It serves to turn them into the other, rather than give us a moment to look at their behavior as part of the growth process we all are on. Kids miss deadlines because they are human. Kids skip class sometimes because they are human. It doesn’t excuse the behavior, nor does it mean that the behavior doesn’t have ramifications, but it allows us to see our students as closer to who we are. It reminds us that we should treat our students with kindness and care even when they make mistakes, because we hope that is what people will do when we make mistakes. And it makes it easier for students and teachers to see themselves as on the same journey of gaining wisdom.
Schools are filled with people, with all their flaws, all their beauty and all their imperfections. And more often than we usually admit, those flaws, that beauty and those imperfections are shared pretty closely between students and teachers.
That should be a good thing.
Schools are full of people. And we are so lucky they are.