I grew up in Chicago... not a suburb, but right in the city. I was always surrounded by diversity, mass transit, and the urban lifestyle. I have certainly incorporated all those experiences into who I am, but I think what influenced me the most was the point in time when I was growing up in the city. There was a different focus, you could say, that affected values and how people interacted with each other. It was a time when children were taught to respect and honor adults. It didn't matter whether it was our parents, grandparents, our teacher, or a person in the grocery store. I think this part of our culture is, for the most part, losing ground.
I understand that children should be able to determine for themselves, who is worthy of honor and respect, but this does not give them license for disrespect. What I was taught has followed me into my adulthood and has been taught to my own children. I think it has enabled me to be sensitive and open to others, especially those who are older and more knowledgeable than myself. This is, in my opinion, a good life skill, worthy of passing along.
I remember what it’s like to be fresh out of college, ready to take on the world, thinking you know it all and no one could possibly know more. But, getting into the classroom for the first time can be daunting, despite the ego and energy. Humbling yourself to ask for advice and help from those who have been there and done that is important and valuable. I am a lifelong learner, from beginning to end. If somebody has something to teach me, I welcome it and make it part of my knowledge base. Something a seasoned educator is willing to share with me might save weeks or even months of time I would otherwise have wasted figuring it out for myself.
I spent time teaching in a large, metropolitan high school a few years ago, long enough to set up a dual credit Early Childhood program in coordination with my College. I was struck by the differences in what those young people felt were acceptable ways to treat each other and adults. These came in all varieties, ranging from disrespect to entitlement to lack of caring in general, about others or themselves. There were many times I had to take a deep breath and move on... and be thankful for the values taught to me by my family... and for being able to grow up when I did.
But, are we really happy with that? I’m not. These are the children who will be the adults in our society and members of the workforce. We are seeing these negative characteristics earlier and earlier… even in our preschools and early elementary grades. There is a disconnect somewhere in these children’s lives and often just having them spend the day in our classrooms where there are expectations and guidelines simply can’t counter what’s going on at home.
I think, as educators, we need to continue the push for greater family involvement in education. Families need to feel a connection with the teachers who care for their children, enabling strong collaborations between home and school.
What we do in the classroom matters, too. The first thing we need to remember is to respect children if we want them to respect us or anyone else, for that matter. They deserve to have a good listener when they have something to say, a patient caregiver when they are making mistakes along the way, consistent boundaries they can count on to make them feel safe and cared for, and a calm voice that talks with them at eye-level… honest, serious, and to be trusted. Children who have these things will feel good about themselves, learn to be independent and confident, and treat others well. What a great way to prepare a little child for a happy future!