I looked at him and wondered “Why isn’t he listening? He should be doing what I say.” I asked again.
Me: “Can you please sit down?”
Child: “No. I want go with my friend.”
I was 16 years old, still in high school, and working as an after school tutor. Although I wondered why a first grader would need homework, I was more consumed with why this child was not listening to an adult (albeit a 16 year-old adult).
Me: “You cannot go over there. You’re in this group and I need to you sit down.”
Child: (smiling) No.
Me: (head on table, eyes closed)
Why did I want to cry? Why am I so frustrated? Why isn’t this little terd listening to me? I had been asking him for two minutes straight. Furthermore, the rest of my group watched the verbal showdown.
The lead tutor looked over and read my emotions. She walked over and asked the child to sit down. The child did – immediately.
I threw up my hands in frustration, but I resisted the urge to walk out of the room. I composed myself and continued the lesson. Did I still want to cry? My mind was boggled as I replayed the episode and the child’s smile. To this day, I remember his smile.
He wasn’t smiling because he thought he was funny or comical in his defiance. He was smiling because he thought it was funny that I was trying to be firm, serious and give him a direction.
Moral of the Story: Teach like you’re Kleenex: soft, but firm.
When I was 16, I had a perspective about small children: they were kind, nice, and would listen to anything I would ask them. My perception came from my own childhood, but also from the popular belief that small children are innocent and naive.
Obviously, I wasn’t an educator or parent.
I went into tutoring with the perspective that, to be an effective teacher, I would need to be the children’s friend. If I was their friend, then children would follow my instructions.
Once again, I was 16, not an educator, not a parent.
After a couple of months, I was known as the fun teacher, which only meant that I could bring a smile to the children’s faces. Anytime I tried to be serious with the children or give them a direction, I either got a dumb-founded look or a wry smile.
Is Mr. Cardenas trying to tell us what to do? Haha, that’s funny. He’s pretending to be serious. He’s awesome!
Being a friend didn’t make me an effective teacher – at all. I needed to find a balance in my teaching and it started with my perspective. Teacher first, not friend. The change was difficult, because I valued the children’s relationships. Plus, I was still learning about who I was which, at the time, was a quiet, introverted high school student with a part-time job.
Lots of stuff going on.
I began a journey to discover a balance between being a soft, yet firm educator. During summer school of that same year, I assisted in a fourth grade classroom. I adopted a new persona: Samuel L. Jackson.
I made three children cry. Too far on the teacher tone teeter-tottor. Over many years, I went back and forth between soft and firm, lenient and strict, forgiving and steadfast. I found a good balance over the next 4-5 years and I could turn on a dime: fun-loving teacher to giving the straight “teacher look”. It was magical once I got the groove.
In 2009, when I became a preschool teacher, I didn’t have a fantasy, dreamlike perception about what a 3 and 4 year old child was like. And I didn’t go in the classroom trying to be their friend. I was going in as Kleenex. You know what I found? Balance is effective. They followed me as their teacher, yet smiled and had lots of fun.