I’ve learned a lot about children over the past few decades, but one thing has always baffled me. Why do some children have a personal sense of “right vs. wrong” and others just don’t get it, or worse, don’t seem to care?
I commented to my colleague yesterday that I have at least eight children I think I could leave in the room, alone or in groups, for at least fifteen minutes without any fear for their behavior or safety. When I returned they would either still be doing what I had given them to do, or would have naturally moved on to working in their journals or reading a book. If they were confused about their next action they would simply sit and talk. If I was gone for too long at least two of them have enough initiative to go next door or to the office and ask about my return.
I have another group of children I wouldn’t trust alone for two minutes. In fact, three of them only behave if I am in the room looking directly at them. Yesterday, I walked from my lesson board to my desk to take off my sweater and one of them poked a girl in the back before I returned. That’s what prompted today’s post. (Not that I haven’t had this discussion a dozen times with a variety of colleagues.)
There were three other incidents yesterday that I can use as examples. 1. One of my girls asked if she could get more gravy for breakfast. I told her, “Not until you eat your biscuit.” She waited until I was at the other end of the table with another student and went to the kitchen to get more gravy. This is at least the third time she has left the table without permission. 2. One of our problem areas at school is the bathroom. The minute some students are in there they start throwing water, banging doors, or climbing on the counters- because there isn’t a teacher present! I usually respond because my room is directly across the hall. 3. Yesterday a colleague watched my room while I went to the bathroom. (In reality I NEVER leave my class alone!) While I was gone, three students misbehaved and did something I had earlier told them not to do.
I have this discussion with my students every year, and at about the same time. I give them the first nine weeks to learn the rules and procedures and then I raise my expectations of them. We talk about personal responsibility and about making good choices. I want them to follow the rules because they know them, not because I’m watching. I took yesterday’s incident as a teachable moment. We stopped our lesson about the “an word family” and talked about doing the right thing “even when no one is watching”. That seems to be an impossible task for some of my students.
My colleagues and I have pondered this over and over. Some of it is indeed the old “nature vs. nurture” quandary. But each year I have at least one student who falls into the “devious” category who seems to come from a very normal family with caring parents who try to control him. And yes, I’m sorry, but it’s almost always a boy. Although this year I do have one girl in the “can’t be trusted” category.
I know from personal experience and from observing so many children, that my most responsible children are usually “oldest” or “only” children. However, some of my worst can be “only” children if they have been spoiled. I’ve also had mischievous children who have very authoritative parents and those who have parents who do almost nothing to discipline their offspring. That leads me to believe that one of the key elements has to be the child’s personality.
The thing that bothers me about all of this is that I’ve found that for the most part these children don’t improve with age. I know some kids mature and develop with time and experience, but others just form lasting habits and patterns that get worse.
We’ve all done things we knew we shouldn’t.
Making bad choices is all a part of growing up.
But what makes a child consciously, deliberately decide to do something they know is wrong?
I don’t know the answer. I can only hope that what I’m doing in the classroom will influence one or two of them to do better.