I read somewhere once that a classroom teacher makes more decisions daily than an air traffic controller does. (Funny–I was just looking back through old blog entries, and I started another post with the same factoid!) While the decisions in a classroom won’t necessarily cause or prevent an immediate, fatal catastrophe, they do have an impact on human lives. Every decision a teacher makes–from assignments to discipline to simple words–has a consequence, so it’s important to be deliberate in those choices. I’ve found two that exact the most influence in my classroom: choose your battles and choose kindness.
The almighty restroom pass. To a teacher, it represents avoidance and mayhem. To a student, escape and peace. Once the power of the pass is removed, however, its appeal is quickly diminished. In the time before BYOT (bring your own technology), using cell phones in class was strongly discouraged, and students would use the restroom pass as a way to circumvent the rule so they could catch up on missed messages in the privacy of the restroom, out of the way of penalty. Teachers got wise to this trick and began limiting the number of passes that a student could use each semester, adding yet another tedious task to their already tipping pile. Since BYOT has become something of the norm, most students can check Twitter from the comfort of their desks. (I am aware that many teachers still prohibit students from using their technology during lecture, but I’m also a realist who knows that kids ARE on their phones when we think they aren’t. I digress, of course.) For me, this one minor allowance ended one of the most common classroom conflicts. Now students are free to take the pass to use the restroom almost anytime during my class (if I’m covering something important or it’s the first or last 15 minutes of class, I’ll usually ask the kid to wait). I think it’s actually cut down on the amount of time students spend outside of my room, and it’s one less battle to fight. That’s a choice I don’t regret!
Attitude choice also makes a big difference. Ever realize how much energy it takes to be angry about something? When I get mad, I clam up at first, but eventually I’ll go off to whomever will listen about whatever it is that ticked me off. Before I know it, my blood pressure is rising, I really don’t feel any better about the situation, and I’ve infected someone else with my negativity. On the other hand, being kind takes a lot less effort. As a matter of fact, we should be kinder than necessary, according to J.M. Barrie.
Be kinder than necessary because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.
I try to remind myself of this quote when I encounter difficult people. I know I have bad days sometimes, so why isn’t it okay for others to? And it could be that my one gesture of kindness–however small it may be–is the thing that a person needed to help make it through the day, so why not smile at that kid in the hallway? I can’t know everything that others are facing, so I try to give them a break. A little kindness and compassion can go a long way.
The next time a student asks to use the restroom, consider handing them a pass with a smile.