511. Educational Correctness

When we learn how to be teachers, we learn many rules of thumb. Some of them contradict each other, and we have to decide which rules are appropriate for which situations.
Once, there was a third-grader who was out of control, yelling, taking people’s hats and throwing them outside, and driving children and adults a little crazy. He was someone who’d behaved that way a lot in first grade, a little less in second grade, and hardly ever in third grade. His regular teacher wasn’t there. And it was the middle of May – a time when some children tend to “lose it.” I knew the boy, and didn’t want him to undo the progress he’d made. I also knew the other people in the class, and knew the day – the first absolutely beautiful day of warm, dry weather – was going to be difficult anyway for people who had to stay inside.
So I decided to break a few rules of thumb. First of all, I sometimes give young children rides on my scooter. Not in school, but in other places. Usually, I do it because it’s fun, and maybe I want children to see disability in a different light. But mostly because it’s fun. I don’t do it in school because there are too many children, because third-graders (with whom I spend most of my time in school) are getting too big to sit on my lap, and because school just isn’t the right place for that kind of fun.
But someone had to do something. And it just didn’t seem as if the traditional approach – catching the boy and dragging him to some place where he’d be punished – was right. We didn’t know how much of his progress that would undo. He was REALLY out of control, and we knew that punishment, when it happened, affected his self-image in ways that made things worse. He didn’t quite know why he was doing what he was doing, and wouldn’t quite understand why he was being punished.
So I caught up with him and asked him whether he’d like a ride on my scooter. He remembered how much he’d enjoyed riding with me in first and second grade (at town fairs and school picnics), and he didn’t take long to think about it. As we were riding in the hall outside the classroom, I asked him to
practice times tables with me, which he did eagerly. He was good at that, and was glad to remember that there was something he was good at (self-control – something he WASN’T good at – seemed to be the main issue of the day). When we’d done that for a while, I told him I’d give him another ride an hour and a half later if he could make it through that amount of time without bothering anyone.
I’ll bet some of you are cringing. Inside, I was cringing a little as I spoke. What I was saying may not have been “educationally correct;” I was bribing a child, or possibly rewarding him for having trouble with self-control. I talked with him about what I was doing. I told him self-control is hard – even harder than times tables, for some people. I told him that he was getting too big for rides on the scooter, but that
I’d give him one more ride if he could manage to control himself that morning. And he did. So what do you think of all that?

Comments are closed.