Beyond Old Windows: A Teacher's Thoughts Between Centuries

Phi Kappa Phi Forum Columns

Questions Worth Asking

Posted on March 6, 2010 at 8:28 PM

In the dim morning light of late winter, the sun barely over the horizon, the day begins with a line of cars competing with the foot traffic and buses in the middle school parking lot. Inside the cafeteria window, the principal sits at a table watching the arrivals, his pen lightly tapping a notepad, his brow furrowed. As he watches, some parents share quick hugs with their children; others seem to be giving words of advice or reminders of after-school plans.

The teacher watches from the same window as the edge of last night's storm slips eastward, and faint rays of light begin to crown the tree branches on the hill. She walks toward the table and glances at the principal's notes.

"What are you writing?" she asks, sliding into the opposite bench.

He turns back from the window. "An article for the parent newsletter," he answers, moving the notepad toward her. "I had a thought in mind when I began, but I'm not sure it's coming across. Take alook."

She begins to read:

A middle student leads a very complex life, for early adolescence marks the beginning of a child's quest for independence and all that this implies. Not only is this the age of the onset of puberty but also a time of new social and intellectual demands. Every decision, every reaction is colored by a need to show at least a modicum of self-- reliance, which, in turn, often creates an unwelcome feeling of vulnerability. The events of this crucially formative phase can shape an individual's life course.

It is one of the most fascinating and complex transitions in our life span: a time of accelerated growth and change, second only to the first year of life; a time of expanding horizons, self-discovery, and emerging independence; a time of transformation from childhood to adulthood. Its beginning is associated with biological, physical, behavioral, and social transformations.

"They really are very important years, pivotal in so many ways - and what we do, and what the parents do, are critical parts of the experience. Is that what you're going for here?" she asks.

"Yes, but more than that - read on."

Barely out of childhood, young people ages ten to fourteen attempt to experience more freedom, autonomy, and choice than ever, but it is also a time in their lives when they still need special nurturing, protection, and guidance. Without the sustained involvement of parents and other caring adults in safeguarding their welfare, young adolescents are at risk, at the very least, of not achieving to their full potential.

"You're reminding parents here that the job is far from finished --that these are not the years that allow parents to step back and admire the job?" She looks back at the parking lot, watching the attentive parents and their children.

"No - I don't think they would step back," he says thoughtfully."The parents remain invested in their children's education. The community does as well. They pay a great deal of attention to academic achievement, to musical accomplishment, to athletic skills, to community spirit. I'm sure that many of those parents outside are asking their children whether they have the materials for the day, whether they are ready for a quiz, whether they are going to score points on the basketball court. I don't doubt their interest in motivating the children to do their best in those areas.

"The point I want to make is that the affective development of the students is just as important and is due as much recognition and support as the other areas of growth." He turns back to the window.

She slides the notes back across the table toward him. "You're right.Our world is witnessing enormous growth in the number of students who go on to higher education, and those students often go to college with multiple pages of extracurricular skills and talents developed over years of scheduled, structured, and supported activities. However, those impressive resumes don't often list the qualities of kindness, of generosity, of friendship, of the sharing with and caring for others that we see in our students. These are also skills and values waiting to be cultivated, developed, and recognized in our communities. Social creatures that they are, adolescents are well-tuned to each other's emotions and needs, and often display great care. They are approaching the ability to experience and act on true empathy, and this is something to be celebrated, here at school and out in the community."

They both watch as another stream of children exits a bus and hurries along the slushy path, laughing, sliding, juggling backpacks and music-instrument cases and poster boards in mittened hands, holding the door for each other. As they watch, the sunlight reaches beyond the trees and brightens the colorful caps and smiling faces of their students.

"You might add a section that speaks to the type of morning conversations parents have out here with their children," she says, nodding toward the scene that they are sharing. "You could suggest that if parents included questions in their repertoire that highlight these affective qualities, the children themselves would recognize that the development of kindness, of generosity, of goodness, of friendliness and helpfulness, is as valuable as the development of other skills and talents."

"I was just thinking of those questions," he answers. "If the children were asked by their parents each evening, `Did you help anyone today? Was someone kind to you today? Did you befriend anyone today? Was there anything that you did or could have done to make this a great day for someone else?' I think these are questions worth asking."

The sun reaches the long cafeteria windows just as the last wave of students floods into the school. The principal gathers his notepad and pen, and the teacher collects her jacket and bag, and they turn to walk toward the corridor door.

"Did you tell me that you are writing one more column for your journal?" he asks her as they cross the cafeteria.

"Yes - the last one. Do you have any ideas you'd like to share?"

They continue to talk as they walk. A student holding the door for them seems to be listening in. The bell rings.


by Terry Palardy with Floyd. Copyright National Forum: Phi Kappa Phi Journal Winter 2003

 

 


Categories: parents, students

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