How many times have you heard a colleague say — or said yourself — “That’s just kids?” I’ve probably used some version of that statement a few thousand times in my career as an educator.
It’s a pretty innocuous statement, in fact, it often is a kind statement used to diffuse tension or to ensure that an adult in a school doesn’t overreach to a student’s behavior.
But I worry that it’s subtly not as helpful as we think it is.
I think it may be more powerful to think about student and teacher – kid and adult behavior – on a continuum of human behavior. So much of what we see from students is, as David Perkins might call it, the junior varsity version of adult behaviors. And when we create the space for us to see our students’ behavior as more similar to our own behaviors than we’d like to admit, we can come to a place where we think about the consequences for actions in a far more humanistic way than if we think that “kid behavior” is instead something that we can make kids grow up and out of.
Am I suggesting that there’s no difference between the maturity and actions of a 15-year-old or a eight year old and a forty-year old? No… of course not, but our motivations, our responses to situations, our frequent foibles are often along a continuum where, if we look hard, we can see the adult in the child and vice versa. And that should help us forgive more quickly, seek to punish less frequently, and be willing to understand more deeply.
It’s when that teacher with the Draconian late work policy realizes that the school secretary has to chase him down for his attendance every day.
Or when that teacher who gets so frustrated by the student who always has to be the first one with a comment in a class discussion realizes that she does the same in a faculty meeting.
Or the principal who gets so annoyed with kids being loud at lunch with their friends stops to take a minute and hear the volume of their own laughter at a faculty luncheon.
That’s when we can see behavior is not simply “kid behavior” or “adult behavior,” but rather it is simply human behavior – as awesome and flawed and frustrating as we all can be. And when we see ourselves in our students, when we do not use language — even when it is meant to be kind and understanding — to other our students, we create the conditions by which we can better understand, know and serve the students we teach.