583. A Little Hindsight

Almost immediately after I wrote “Grievances,” I got feedback from several parents and teachers on my e-mailing list. Some thought that Ellen, the teacher, had done the right thing – listened to children’s thoughts and feelings. Others thought that she should not have allowed that discussion to take place the way it did – that there was no way upset children could handle that kind of forum.
If I had been in Ellen’s place, I would have handled it pretty much as she did. My respect for the children and their feelings would have been my main motivator. Too often, children are told to stifle their feelings and get on with the work the teacher has planned. Like Ellen, I would also have felt ambivalent as the forum progressed, and I would have gone home that day wondering whether I had handled the whole thing in the best possible way.
But unlike Ellen, I am not employed as a teacher. I’m rarely in charge of a class now – maybe once in a while when a teacher needs to go out of the room for a few minutes. And when I am in charge, I don’t deal with major issues. I leave those issues for the teacher to deal with.
I get plenty of time to think, too – without the pressure a teacher has to feel from parents, colleagues, and administrators. So I’ve thought of what I’d do now if I were the teacher facing twenty children who were all angry about what another teacher had done. Here’s what I’d say to the class:
“I can see and hear that many of you are very angry. When you’re that angry, it can be hard to say exactly what you mean. And since you have angry friends right near you, and you care about them, it can be even harder to think clearly about your reasons for your own anger; you may get your own anger mixed up with your friends’ anger. This is a great time to write down what you’re feeling. I care about what you feel, and if you write it down, it will be easier for you and me to think clearly about it. I know you feel like talking about it, but
talking about it in a group now would not be a good idea. If you write things you don’t mean, you can cross out or erase. You can even crumple up the paper and start all over. And no one has to see your words until you’re sure you’ve written what you mean. If you say things, people hear you, whether you’re really ready or not. So please take out some paper and write down what you’re thinking and feeling.”
Some children probably would have trouble listening to such a speech. Some would feel like interrupting. People who have strong feelings tend to believe that they know exactly what to say. And yet most people I know have said things in the heat of the moment that they wish they could erase, cross out, delete, or crumple up. I have; that’s why I like writing so much. Writing makes me seem so much wiser than speaking does. I’d have the children write.

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