Saturday, September 27, 2014

An important lesson from a little boy

This past Friday, the Kindergarten students took their NWEA tests on the computer. This test largely feels like a waste of time for 5 year olds who can hardly control their mouse, much less manipulate the pictures on the screen to answer questions about reading. Oh My! A little stressful to say the least. By the end of this hour and a half of testing, I wanted to go home already.

But it was early in the day, and the end was far from sight. After our test, we walked the students, single file, over to the gymnasium. To get to the gym, we have to walk through a busy parking lot, cross a street, and walk along a sidewalk that has a steep embankment next to it. By the time we arrived at gym, I was even more ready for a break.

To get to the gym, however, students have to walk down a long, orange hallway that has several large canvas paintings hanging on the wall right at the student's level. Of course, the students can't help but touch the paintings even though they know they are not supposed to. I yelled out a warning to students, "If you touch the painting, you will have a time-out." Much to my chagrin, 3 more students touched the painting immediately after my warning.

As we entered the gym, I started calling out names for students who needed to sit in a time-out. "Ashley, Maryam, Ridwan, Michael! Come over and have a time-out on the bleachers."
They each walked over and sat down on the bleachers. One boy, Michael, moved over to the further bleacher. I set my timer for 3 minutes. One minute later, I looked over at Michael to see that he had a marker in his hand and was writing on the bleacher. Wait. What?  Writing on the bleachers?  I went over to investigate further. Sure enough, he had found a marker laying on the bleachers and had begun to scribble on them. I picked up the marker to read the words "Permanent marker." Oh great--what are the chances that someone would leave a permanent marker just sitting on the bleachers?

My initial response was one of guilt, that I had done something wrong. Surely, I should have been monitoring him more closely. Maybe I shouldn't have made those students have time-out in the first place. Is it really that serious that they touched the painting on the wall? Maybe I should have had them take their time-out in another place, free from distractions? Maybe I could just get some wet wipes and clean off the permanent marker doodles the student had made on the bleachers. But wait-- why did I feel guilty? I did not write on the bleachers; I did not touch the canvas painting outside to result in a time-out.  All the other students were able to sit in time-out without finding ways to vandalize the gym. And so in my heart, I knew that I had to let this student suffer the consequences of his choices. I told the gym teacher what he had done. I helped the teacher fill out a behavior correction form, and we called the EBD support over to the gym.

As I was thinking about this incident, I got a taste of what parents must experience. I am sure that often times when their child messes up, they want to take the fall for them. "It was my fault I didn't teach him about vandalizing," or "It was my mistake for not talking with her about bullying," or on and on the excuses could go. In fact, parents can't possibly teach their children all the information they need to know before they enter pre-school or kindergarten. It's okay to let a child experience the result of a bad choice. We can't prepare them for every situation. We can't protect them from messing up. But we can show them that decisions, even if based on a harmless impulse, have consequences.

For Michael, his consequence was meeting with the EBD support staff to clean off all the bleachers. He also had to miss the reward recess we have every Friday afternoon. Finally, Michael wrote me an apology note, and his parents were called. I also learned an invaluable lesson from this incident: it is okay to let kids get in trouble and face the natural consequences of their actions.  If I simply sweep up their mistake, they don't learn for the next time.

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