239. Passing Notes

“Roger, would you care to share that with the rest of the class?” Roger has finally gotten up the nerve to tell Lois how he feels. Not by speaking to her (that would take even more nerve), but by passing her a note in class. But the teacher, ever vigilant, sees him passing the note, and Roger is mortified. He would rather have the earth swallow him than share it with the rest of the class.
Nowadays, I pass notes all the time. By e-mail. A bunch of us do. A lot of important things get said in these notes, some of which are private. It doesn’t replace conversation, or the kind of mail we get in our mailboxes, but it’s nice to be able to have an occasional chat with my friend who has moved to Kenya, or my friend (whom I’ve never met in person) who lives in Italy. It makes the world a little smaller.
We’re adults, though. We can do what we want. Most teachers frown on the passing of notes in class. Children are supposed to be paying attention to what the teacher is saying. I usually discouraged children from passing notes. Notes often contain words that could hurt other children; children can be cruel. And besides, they are supposed to be paying attention; I tried to allow some time for them to chat, but I think my planned lessons were usually worthwhile enough to deserve their attention.
Once, I did intercept a note from Roger to Lois. I put it in my shirt pocket and didn’t read it until the kids were out at recess. I read it, and realized that I had invaded Roger’s privacy. Roger hadn’t written an insult. It was a tender, sweet love note. I remember puppy love. I later handed the note back to Roger, apologized for invading his privacy, assured him that I would not tell anyone what I’d read, and advised him not to pass notes in class – to find another time and place.
Children should be allowed to have their private thoughts. I passed notes with them every day in their journals, and some of those conversations touched on subjects that were not meant for everyone to hear. I enjoyed communicating with children in journals, and most of them enjoyed it, too. Sometimes children wrote stories they didn’t want the rest of the class to hear, and sometimes, I allowed that. Because of the way I taught writing, I didn’t allow it very often; they were supposed to give each other feedback on each other’s writing.
But children do have to learn about privacy. They need to learn about boundaries – when, where, and to whom certain things should be said or written. Roger may have worked hard to get the courage to tell Lois how he felt, but he needs to work even harder, and figure out the right time and place to tell her. Probably not during a math lesson.

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