“With friends like that you don’t need any enemies.”, “Turn off the idiot box!”, “If you keep doing what you’re doing, you’ll keep getting what you’re getting.” She’s been gone five years, and my mother’s words still play in my head on a daily basis. Young minds are tape recorders. After 12 years spent with 8th graders, I believe teaching carries a similar responsibility to parenting. I want to make a better effort to ensure what my students are recording from me is, if not always positive, at least constructive.
Growing up, my brain recorded many things my parents and teachers said. Luckily, most of them were good: “Melissa doesn’t have a mean bone in her body”, said Mrs. Shiroishi, my 7th grade block teacher. Somewhere along the way, I did get mean. I started focusing more on the few negative behaviors of students rather than the many positives. I’ve attempted to record “Perfect is the enemy of good” in students’ minds, and I need to take my own advice. In a classroom of 30, if 26 are “with” me, why do I focus on “fixing” those other four? It’s a form of perfectionism.
My personal tapes weren’t always positive. “You’re so dumb your head hurts” was a favorite of my mom’s. Fortunately, I prefer to remember more often the funny, helpful words I taped. I know some of my students will have “Let me know how that works out for you in high school” taped. “I hope you get a boss who invites you to come to work every day” was repeated many times in the hallway over the years trying to get students to go to class. My analogies about balancing individual rights and responsibilities of the adult world may have come off at best sarcastic, at worst, just plain mean. “Learn this now or you’ll end up in jail or fired from a job” is probably on a few students’ tapes. “Who is the most important person in the room right now?” was said to try to get students thinking outside themselves—to see their actions affected others. I know a few students will think of me saying “Oh, officer, I didn’t realize the speed limit sign was meant for me, too” when they get that first speeding ticket. Maybe they’ll smile; maybe not. While the message may have been a good one (rules/laws apply to everyone and there are consequences for breaking them), the biting sarcasm probably lessened their impact.
Aside from my nieces and nephews, my only “taped” legacy will be my students. No familial ties to soften the sharp edges of hurtful words exist in the classroom. The quote “No matter how difficult the past, you can always begin again today” has hung in my classroom for years. I believe I’ll use my sharp wit and tongue to say new lines for my students to record. “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” is on my tape too.