Thursday, April 7, 2011

No Labels

Lately I've been thinking about reputation--specifically what my reputation is among my people view me and what they think of me. And, as I thought of that, my reflections turned toward preschoolers and how they acquire reputations. Immediately "G" sprung to mind.

Several years ago I was teaching in a church and G's name would be whispered among the preschool teachers. "You are going to have G next year." "Watch out for G." "I'm exhausted. G was here today." When G was in my class, I did discover that sometimes he had challenging behavior (but what preschooler doesn't?). But we learned more about each other and usually his behavior could be handled and we would move on.

Once, in a classroom with another teacher, G was playing in the blocks center. He pulled cars from his pocket and began to play with them. Of course, the other kids wanted to use them, too. "Sure," G said and offered his cars to others. He even left the center to play elsewhere but the cars remained.

Since the emphasis for the day was working together, the teacher decided to send notes home to all the parents. On each note, she wrote, "___ was kind today and worked with his friends by ___." G's note included how he shared his cars. G's mother arrived last and saw the note with his name on it. With a heavy heart, she opened the note to read what had happened in class. Then, almost with tears in her eyes, she said, "You mean, he was good today?"

So often we peg kids with a specific reputation (deserved or not). As I thought back to my time with G, I realized that often he was "good." He did present challenges but he wasn't "bad" all the time. That's just all his mother heard...and all teachers would say among themselves.

I've decided not to listen to other teachers. Well, I'll take whatever they say into account so I can be ready for any new challenges. But I want to give each child I encounter an opportunity to build a solid relationship with me without any excess baggage. I want to give each child a clean slate, a new opportunity to create who he is in my classroom. After all, isn't that what I want when I meet someone new?

I tell other teachers that I practice the "Las Vegas" rule in my room. "Whatever happens there, stays there." If behavior is a constant issue, I'll meet with parents and talk about what to do. If I need some guidance, I'll ask a fellow teacher or other leader. But I don't want to spread a reputation (good or bad) about a kid. What happens in my classroom is between the child and me. And that's where it should stay.


  1. I LOVE the way you think Scott!
    Donna :) :)

  2. This is what every child deserves--the grace to make his own impression. Well said!

  3. Great post Scott! I love the way that teacher noticed the positives G brought to the classroom. It's so easy to focus on the negatives. In fact, I'm pretty sure kids just keep doing whatever gets them noticed -- positive or negative -- so I try to ignore the behavior that doesn't work and focus like a laser on what does. I've actually found myself WANTING to teach the kids with reputations because they are also often the ones the others can spark off.

  4. I agree, Tom. Kids keep doing what gets noticed.

    And those "difficult" ones are usually the ones I enjoy teaching the most.

  5. This is a fantastic post Scott. So many times I've come across this industry where people are just in it to get money or have an easy time. When a difficult child gets passed on to another class teachers just complain and judge before even spending that one on one time to get to know the child first. Going past and beyond the barriers and challenges is what a true educator is and most importantly never giving up. At the end of the day 'G' still got the attention he was yearning for but it was the right type of attention given to him that will help him grow and develop in a positive way. I only wish and hope that more educators out there thought like you because it would make such a big difference to the lives of so many children our there and would make a big difference in behavior management too. Great work and all the best!

  6. Awww...what a wonderful post :) I've had several children who have come with a long list of what is "wrong" and how they couldn't function in another classroom...those are the children I remember and miss the most. I realized pretty quickly that I may be the only teacher for a while that will give them a chance to experience being a valued member of the group rather than an outsider with significant behavior challenges.

  7. Better a tiger for a day than a sheep for a lifetime. Sometimes we want too many sheep and not enough tigers in our classes.

    I grew up in a large family with 2 very challenging sisters - who became lovely talented adults. They taught me that it's about understanding matters from their point of view. It also taught me that parents can try their hardest and sometimes child still needs more than they can give.

    It would be good if we could all be a little more tolerant and patient with and of each other.

  8. SO TRUE!!!!! Kids can behave differently with different people, in different situations and if those teachers had any emotional, negative feeling towards 'G', he would have felt that and fed off of it. Right on with your thought process and letting the parents hear the GOOD things children are doing and not just focusing on challenging behavior. I believe as teachers the parents need to know obviously the challenges, but let them hear/see the positive attitributes of their offspring!