I have tried to build something really important into my classes.
I didn’t use to because it use to be everything I could do just to get through a lesson. I didn’t have the time, or the emotional energy to focus on it.
With time though, as well as with a lot of advice from experienced teachers and a lot of practice, I got better.
And even though I have gotten better, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
It is still worth the effort.
I have tried to teach my students to be kind to each other.
It sounds high and lofty, but it really comes down to simple little things.
When my students line up and two students are fighting over who got there first, I ask them what they think they should do.
“Paper, scissors, stone,” they say because that is how I train my students to solve almost all of their conflicts on their own without me.
But I usually add the following:
“Just remember, the winner can choose to let the other person go first.”
And I put my hand over my chest, look them in the eyes and add, “...and when students do that, it makes me really proud. I love it when you think of each other, let each other go first, help each other. I love it when you are kind to each other.”
“OKaaayyyyyy, we know, Mr. Carlson,” they say, and I smile and say, “Good.”
And you might think they forget the moment immediately after you you finished talking—and usually they do—but if you do it enough—if you remind them enough—they don’t forget, and every once in a while, sometimes when you least expect it, a little kindness plays out in the classroom that melts your heart.
You might be working with a student on his reading or checking in on a girl with her vocabulary when you hear it across the room.
“It’s OK. You go first.”
“Let me help you.”
“You can have the blue colored pencil, I’ll use red first.”
And I stop what I’m doing, walk over—the whole class watching to see what is going on—and I get down at eye level and say…
“Good job, Sarah. That was awesome. Did you say thank you, Tommy? Yes? Good…
“Class, did you see that? Did you see what Sarah did? It was amazing. She and Tommy both wanted the blue colored pencil and Sarah told Tommy he could have it first. I love that.”
Then I go back to my seat, and for the next 10 minutes, all I hear across the room is…
“You can go first.”
“Let me help you.”
I smile, and if I’m being totally honest, I have to wipe a little salty tear from the corner of my eye before it falls and I embarrass myself.
And let me add the following...
You might be tempted to think I would only do this with my younger students, but I will have you know, though the specifics may be a little different, I am not above embarrassing myself with my older students.
In fact, sometimes, they are the ones who respond the most.