Fridays have been finding me emotionally and physically worn to a frazzle, and these feelings are not a result of me teaching reading. Teaching is invigorating and nothing stimulates my mind, and my enthusiasm for life, better than leading a great vocabulary or language lesson. What wears me out is having to parent students whose own parents opted out of their parental responsibilities.
Frequently, when people learn that I am a teacher, they ask for advice, or share horror stories of modern children they have met or observed. Last week I was told, “You should have seen how those kids behaved — right in front of their own parents!” Behind my sympathetic smile I was thinking, “You should see how they behave at school — it is no better; in fact it is worse. In many cases it is much worse…except in my room.”
Most students rapidly learn that I do not tolerate any behaviors or attitudes that conflict with my teaching, or keep other students from learning. My rule is, “Don’t start anything that I will have to finish.” Those who foolishly "laugh in the face of the giant" learn that Lunch With Linda means that they will miss social time with friends, but gain time for solitary soul searching while under my supervision.
My room is generally a beehive during lunch, as students roam in and out, eating, playing games, visiting with friends. Several just like to be near me, even if I am too busy to chat. However, if they are required to show up, they find that facing consequences feels much different. No games; no computer; no pleasant conversation. It changes perspectives and behaviors rather quickly.
Recently three new students, ones not used to behaving and attending, were placed into two of my classes. I notice the appalled looks on the faces of the other children who quietly wait for instruction to continue as soon as I "help" the new students see exactly where my "line in the sand" is drawn. The veteran students are horrified that these new ones dare to speak to "the Mrs. Taylor." Some have forgotten that they, too, went through similar guidance until deciding to let others learn, even if they, themselves, choose to sit — silently — and do nothing.
This week I gained further insight into life in some homes as I asked a misbehaving boy, “What will your mother say when you are expelled for interrupting the learning of others?” With a great laugh he said, “She won’t say anything! She is just like me!” (Office referral time!) Soon the boy returned, led by the assistant principal, followed by a stern grandfather. The boy apologized and promised that upon his return he will manage himself with much more restraint and common sense. I thanked him — and reminded him that he will still owe me several Lunches with Linda. “Oh, yeah…”
The students appreciate my candor and my control, and know that they are physically, mentally and emotionally safe in my classroom. Most days I arrive to find a line of students forming at my door, waiting for me to unlock their haven of security. Some hate to use the tiny, crowded lockers, so they have permission to tuck their things in out-of-the-way spaces in my too-small room. Gym bags too large for lockers are stored in corners. Several students seek my attention as I remove coat and boots; get materials ready for the day. I keep a small tutoring table at a right angle to my desk, affording me a bit of "space" to call my own. Without that gentle barrier, I have found that many children are so needy that they edge ever closer — and I really am not prepared for middle schoolers to park on my lap for a comforting chat.
Far too many children are greatly in need of emotional support and fair, developmentally appropriate discipline. Parents are busy. Parents are uneducated. Parents are uninvolved. Parents are often too weak to discipline children, especially preteens and teenagers, with firmness, fairness and consistency. Parents must put the raising of their own children — to become polite, responsible, respectable, honorable adults — as a top priority in their lives. If families are unwilling to properly parent their children, hope of saving American values and freedom is lost.
Families, schools, churches, businesses — are suffering from the effects of undisciplined "big two-year-olds" being turned loose upon the culture. I once heard that to know what kind of teenager a child will be, observe the parent and child relationship when the child is two. It is painful to observe parents being controlled by small children, and alarming to watch parents being controlled by teenaged "toddlers." It is awful to hear a parent say, “Johnny! You stop kicking that dog right now! OK??” Why do parents give an order, then follow it by asking for the child’s permission? I always imagine that I hear the child thinking, “Heck, no!” as he continues to kick the dog.
Big two-year olds say “No!” back to authority figures — parents, teachers, bosses, police officers. Big two-year olds refuse to be fair, respectful, and responsible. Big two-year olds always want their own way. Big two-year olds call employers and say, “I won’t work on Saturday night, after all. I have a hot date!” leaving the boss short-handed on the busiest night of the week. Two-year olds follow bad role models without stopping to think. Small two-year olds stick beans up their noses. Big two-year olds have their noses and other parts of their bodies pierced and tattooed. Big two-year olds want the rewards of life — grades, scholarships, jobs — handed to them, as they were once handed cookies. Big two-year olds are not prepared for life, and many of them grab and take, then end up filling punk and adult prisons across America. If parents were parenting toddlers toward self-restraint, honesty and common sense, their children would grow up to be healthier, happier adults.
Webster’s New World Dictionary, Third College Edition, defines "discipline" as: training that develops self-control, character, or orderliness and efficiency; self-control, orderly conduct. Discipline need not be severe to be effective. Lunch With Linda causes no pain, and offers the child a peaceful half-hour for reflecting on better choices that might have made a difference. For some very strong-willed children (like my son) I keep my message “short and sweet,” as my Dad would say, “Respect or Restriction? You name it.” The decision is then the child’s to make with a clear understanding of the consequences — positive or negative — that will follow either choice.
It is time for Americans to take back America. First, however, Americans need to take back their children and manage their social and academic learning with love, nurturing, and an eye to the future for each child, as well as for America as a whole. Parents need to again place "milestones" in their child’s life — steps earned towards maturity and freedom, instead of turning children loose in this crazy, scary world, hoping that they will make good decisions.
Premarital sex and out-of-wedlock babies are not the result of mature, careful decision-making. The lifelong scars of piercings and tattoos are not the result of mature, careful decision-making. Today I overheard two teenage girls talking as they tried on clothing. One said, “For my birthday, my mother bought me a belly button ring!” I was aghast as I thought, “Oh no, now we have big two-year olds having babies and raising big two-year olds.”
Never, in a million years, could I imagine my mother allowing, let alone purchasing, an item that I would wear through a puncture in the skin of my belly button. Of course, never would I have been allowed any clothing that would display such "jewelry," even if I managed to sneak it past her. Yet in school hallways I see far worse than belly buttons. Flesh is made to purposely bulge out from under tight and skimpy clothing. I stifle ironic laughter as I am reminded of the year that my son found his belly button. He spent his days pulling up his shirt to show everyone his "belly-but." He was one year old at the time. His behavior was age-appropriate. The underwear and skin displays currently popular in the youth culture are several years past the days of age-appropriate skin displays to show off body parts.
Milestones, Guidelines, Boundaries, Expectations, Limits. Our youth are crying out for these structures from real parents; brave parents. Guidance, conversation, spiritual leadership, suppers as a family — at the table and away from the TV. Our youth are crying out for these emotional supports from real parents; involved parents. Real parents parent, even when that means foregoing the "toys" that the consumer-driven market browbeats us into coveting and purchasing, at great expense to our children. The cost of, and the paying for, such items robs us of time and energy for parenting the wonderful children that we have brought into this world.
It truly is OK to "Act Parental" and provide loving, appropriate discipline to the children you chose to have. Not only is it OK, it is your responsibility and your duty — to the children; to the society in which those children will interact; to the nation that those children will inherit. Real parents parent their own children, even when that job is tiring, stressful, or even downright unpleasant. Real parents do not push the responsibility onto anyone else.
Linda Schrock Taylor [send her mail] lives in Michigan. She is a free-lance writer and the owner of “The Learning Clinic,” where real reading, and real math, are taught effectively and efficiently.