I have several techniques in my ‘Teacher’s Toolbox’ that I call my ‘Godfather Speeches’. They are quite effective in turning around unwanted or difficult behaviors in children. All children, yes, even normally well behaved ones, will test the boundaries of good conduct. They should! How else will they learn? And it’s our job, as adults, to steer them to the paths of effective good behavior. But what do you say to the bone-headed, hard guy/girl, wanna be who says, “I won’t!” or “I don’t want to!” or “I don’t have to!”? Time for a ‘Godfather Speech’.
[Background note] As a teacher at an alternative school, I did have an option (dare I call it an ace up my sleeve or a threat?) that regular teachers or parents don’t have. Many of our students had to get reports from their teachers to present at court. If you don’t have that resource as an incentive for your child, you will have to adjust the technique to whatever incentive does work for your child.
The first step is to set your tone. After some child’s act of willful defiance, I’d pause to get their attention. Then I’d use a quiet voice like Don Corleone used with Virgil Sollozzo – a tone ‘more in sorrow than in anger’ and I’d gently say, “I hear you loud and clear. I hear you saying you don’t need me. I hear you saying you’ll never need a favor from me. I hear you saying you’ll never need me to sign a progress report for a judge, or a parole officer or a parent.”
The shocked student might respond, “Oh, you gonna lie on me?”
I’d reply, “First, let’s get our prepositions correct. I think the phrase you mean is ‘lie about’ you. And no, I would never lie about you or any student. I’ll always tell the truth. But we all have truths about us that make us look good and which we are happy to share, and we all have some truths about us that are embarrassing that we’d rather not share.
“B.B. King sang, ‘Father time is catching up with me. Gone is my youth. I look in the mirror every day and Lord it tells me the truth! That’s why I’m singin’ the Blues.’ Like Mr. King, I have a mirror that I look in every day – I want to make sure my zipper is closed and I haven’t spilled ranchero sauce on my shirt. And as I gaze at my reflection I see two different men. One day, I’ll look in the mirror and I’ll see a handsome, virile, silver fox. Another day, I’ll look in the mirror and I’ll see a fat, bald, old man! It’s the same mirror. Both reflections are true. But guess which truth I want the world to see?
“So you’ve got to ask yourself, do you really want to tell me you’ll never need my help? When the time comes, and it always does, which truth about you do you want me to write, the truth that makes you look good or the truth in which you don’t look so good? Because, I can do either and still give an honest accounting.”
Usually those pithy interrogatives are enough to establish a cease fire and a friendly, working peace; but some kids don’t believe fat meat’s greasy and they insist I tell the honest, ugly truth! So, I do!