Author & Teacher

Right from Wrong

I seem to have been given the wrong impression.  For some reason, I thought this parenting thing was supposed to get easier once the kids were out of diapers and could get their own snacks.

Two things happened this week that made me realize just how difficult it is to teach (scary thought, coming from a so-called professional teacher).  No situation is ever just black or white.
The first happened when my son came home from school feeling a little down.  It seems some of the students were given “challenge words” in spelling.  My son was a little depressed that he had not been chosen (and sadly enough, had no idea what the criteria was for being allowed to do the challenge words).  He wanted to know what to do.  That was a pretty easy one to handle, though he decided that talking to the teacher about it was too scary.
Then he mentioned that one of the four girls cheats on her tests, thus meeting whatever teh criteria is for being allowed challenge words (I know this all seems minor-stick with me).  He wanted to know if he should tell the teacher that this girl was writing the words in her desk before every test.
Of course, I kind of blew it off, told him to worry about himself, that he knows that he is doing the right thing.  He agreed, but said, “It’s just not right, Mom.”  That is when I realized that the advice I gave him on the subject would shape the way he will deal with these types of things in the future.  And that is when my job as a mother, a guide, really, seemed pretty important.  We talked about a few options – telling the teacher, talking to the girl, getting some other kids to tell…I felt kind of overwhelmed by the seriousness he showed in something that to me was, at first, a no brainer.
The other issue of the week was my daughter.  For some reason, she felt it was necessary to touch her toe just over the line to see what would happen when she said the EFF word at school.  We had just been talking about this because my son had, just the night before, used the term “buggered up” to describe a mistake he made on his homework.  Guess his sister thought she would find out what happened if she swore at school. (I believe the phrase she spoke was “I’m freezing, f*ck”.  Haha Right?)
When I arrived to pick her up, her little “friend” came flying out the door to tell me about my daughter’s “Bad word”.  She had also apparently told the teacher and one of the little boys.
I gave my daughter hell – I mean heck – for swearing, but the teachable moment came when she said that her little friend did the wrong thing by tattling on her.  That real friends are not supposed to do that.
Because on one hand I kind of agreed with her.  And I know all about tattling is to get someone into trouble, and telling is done to get someone out.  I am a teacher, I must say those words twenty times a week.
But this was another lesson.  To condone the tattling is not a lesson I want to teach my kids.   But thinking about it on a larger scale, a societal scale, kind of changes things.
With my son, I thought he had two choices – to tell or not.  But yet, when it came to my daughter’s situation, I kind of was annoyed with the little tattle-tale.  But if it comes down to seeing someone do something worse that swear or cheat, does that make it okay to tell?  If you see your friend shoplift, or someone get robbed or raped, do you just say “Well, I know I am doing the right thing, so I will just stay out of it?”
I don’t agree with that either.  If we are going to teach a child how do choose between right and wrong, shouldn’t we teach them how to deal with the situation when someone breaks the code? How do you find the balance between upstanding citizen and annoying complainer?
So all of a sudden, two very minor incidents, take on huge implications.  I guess in a way it is kind of a loss of innocence.  Especially when you find out your mom hasn’t got all the answers.
Discussing the issue with my son was eye-opening.  He said to me, “Well, people who cheat eventually get caught right? They learn their lesson.” It was hard to break it to him that some people cheat for a very long time, and get much more than challenge words before they are ever caught.  And some are never caught.
He was pretty confused, too, about why someone would want to cheat to get it all correct.  “Don’t we learn from our mistakes?  If she cheats she is not learning anything.”
Both kids have given me a lot to think about.  And it’s kind of made me re-think what happens in my own classroom.  Tattle-talers run rampant in grade 4.  Unless it is life or death, I cull a lot of the crap with a “Thank you for telling me.”  Some kids are undoubtedly trying to get ahead on the trouble others get into, but maybe some truly believe that something needs to be set right.
Guess I need to stop phoning it in, at home and at school, and start giving answers that just might teach these kids how to navigate the roads ahead of them.
Book of the Week – The Road – Cormac McCarthy (You must read!)
Song of the Week – Kicking Stones – Johnny Reid

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