I think kids get a bad rap and they get it quite a bit. Ever hear people at your school site complaining about kids? Maybe the comment is that kids are disrespectful or spoiled or acting like they think they are entitled. Maybe you have teachers who talk each year about how the kids are just getting worse. These kinds of conversations can be a runaway train. I have written in the past about the teen culture and understand the concerns but blaming the kids is not constructive and we need to move away from it. I used to listen to these conversations and even join in but after a while I began to think differently. I developed a motto for myself at my previous school and that was “These are our kids; this is their culture; we can do better!”
Let me go back in time, because I didn’t always feel this way. I remember when I was a new counselor listening to kids tell me that the teacher had to earn their respect and that they wouldn’t respect any person who didn’t respect them first. Wait a minute, that wasn’t the way I was brought up and I felt that the kids were coming into the classroom with the wrong attitude. I learned to respect everyone and that is how I operate. I wanted to inspire kids to that kind of behavior, but I eventually abandoned that idea and now think it works best when the adults model respect. And we have some terrific teachers who are doing this. One of our best examples is our Criminal Justice teacher. He has a mix of students including some of our toughest students and he seems to only engender love and respect from the kids. They are learning from him both curriculum and life lessons and he never has any discipline problems.
Respect delivered over time results in nurturing relationships with kids. This is not a quick process but when we interact with kids over time, we grow our relationships with them. I have a group that has been meeting on Mondays at lunch since last year. I have lunch for the the kids either pizza or Mexican food and we work on goal setting with academic, personal and social goals. At the beginning of the school year I noticed that they were eating quite a bit more than last year. I mentioned that to the group and they said that they are more comfortable this year with the group and that being in the group was a bit awkward at first. I realized listening to them talk that they have grown to trust me and trust the other kids in the group. Plus they feel like they are special.
If anyone wants to understand where kids are coming from and how they got there I would suggest two books. The first one is A Tribe Apart: A Journey into the Heart of American Adolescence by Patricia Hersch and Hurt: Inside the World of Today’s Teenagers by Chap Clark. Even though these books were written quite a while ago (1999 and 2001 respectively and Hurt is updated), they give great insight. I always say that there is a reason that kids do things. This stuff doesn’t happen in a vacuum.