The Greatest Shame

12.8.14 Guilt iStock_000005994502SmallWe got fighters.

One semester we had a group of dedicated fighters.  They (guys and girls!) got into a big fight at a local park with kids from another school.  We know this because it was in the early days of YouTube and the kids had video recorded the action, posted it and then bragged about it.  As soon as we adults saw the videos we made sure the police were notified and we had YouTube take down the videos.  The video pugilists were expelled from school.

Sadly, while investigating those public crimes, we discovered evidence of an even more heinous crime which had been perpetrated right under our noses at school!  What shamed me the most about it was the fact that, in my eyes, I/we had done everything right and yet I was still unable to protect one of my kids.

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Eye of Eagle – Foot in Mouth

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAI had earned a reputation as a hard guy.  I was told that there were times when I was used as a threat.  Other adults on campus would tell students, “You better behave or I’ll transfer you to Mr. D.‘s class!”

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m a teacher not an ogre.  Some kids who liked my style of teaching would actually ask to transfer into my classes.  I was only a threat to behavior problems because I seemed to have eyes in the back of my head; I was constantly on guard; I have a painfully loud, drill instructor’s voice; and I would regularly stalk about the room like Captain Bligh inspecting everything.

The reality is I’m just a good actor.  I’m a burnt marshmallow, dark and crusty on the outside but soft and sweet on the inside.  I just kept it hidden.  It was good for business.

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Embarrassing Questions

11.25.14 Question MarkChildren ask a lot of questions.  They’re supposed to.  It is a cornerstone of learning.  And I believe it is the duty of adults, parents, teachers, even the whole village, to answer those questions as honestly and unemotionally as we can.  But it’s not always easy.

Now, I’m not talking about the kinds of questions which are asked as distractions (those are a different problem).  I’m talking about the kinds of questions in which the child really does want an honest answer but where an honest answer can be embarrassing to the adult or a serious challenge to adult dignity.

If you have ever changed a diaper, cleaned up after a sick cat, or used a bedpan in a hospital ward you probably know that some situations require actions which are necessary but inherently undignified.  It is in those moments in which we learn that dignity is carried in the heart and not dictated by circumstance.

When children are young and the questions are things like: “Daddy, why do I get boogers in my nose?” or “Mommy, why do Daddy’s farts smell so bad?” the challenge to dignity isn’t all that great.  But as our children mature and the questions become more sexual in nature, far too many adults/teachers shy away in embarrassment from these assaults on adult dignity.  Among the many embarrassing questions I’ve been asked, the following three questions stand out for me.  They were serious questions asked in class.  Although they challenged my dignity, I felt they were worthy of serious, dignified, honest answers.

I was asked: “Mr. D., what’s a stiffy?”  “Mr. D., why do your nipples look like that?”  and finally, “Mr. D., have you ever kissed a man?”

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John Coltrane, “My Favorite Things” and the Hero of Second Grade

7.28.14 Sax iStock_000028194066_SmallJohn Coltrane

I was on a John Coltrane kick.  You know, that bebop jazz saxophonist who led his own band and worked as a side man with Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and others.  I played “Trane’s” greatest hits album for my Special Ed. class while we did art.  I especially liked his arrangement of My Favorite Things from the musical The Sound of Music.  So when I taught second grade, as part of my student teaching, I came up with a lesson using My Favorite Things and it turned out to be more fun than a trip to Disneyland.

This lesson had everything: art, cross cultural awareness, music, physical movement and self-esteem building. And it made one young boy a hero in the class.  Here’s what I did.

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