I am a mom of four boys.
And now I get it.
You see, in my previous life before husband and kids, I was a 7th and 8th grade language arts teacher in Colorado. I thought I was pretty good. Actually, I was pretty good–for a single woman with no children. Make that no boys. Because now that I have boys. . .I would be a damn good teacher. Boys. . .well, are often a different breed of learners.
My boys run the gamut of learning styles. There is Marc who hates the daily writing journal he does in class and the child I have to literally sit on to get him to do his homework. But just this evening, he is writing a family newsletter entitled, The Best House. It is about the daily happenings here (the irony is that when Marc is angry at me he shouts, “This is the WORSE HOUSE! I’M LEAVING THIS HOUSE!). There is Will and Luke who mostly do their homework without much haggling but who hate busy work. They just needed to discover the right novels to capture their imagination and to set them off like hound dogs on the scent of prey. There is Dylan who at three asks the most amazing questions and has a curiousity that is like a deep thirst. He talks and talks and talks–trying to find meaning in his ever expanding world.
If I had been a mother of boys before I became a teacher, here is what I would have done differently.
1. I would have been more flexible. I would let homework be a day (or two) late. I wouldn’t have had that YOU WILL LOSE 50% of your grade policy/attitude for late work. I would not have THREATENED. I would have been more concerned about them understanding the topic rather than meeting some arbitrary deadline.
2. I would peat, repeat and echo without getting frustrated about HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO SAY THIS? Actually, for some boys, more than once. More than twice. More than thrice. The fact of the matter is that some boys really don’t hear it the first or the second time.
3. I would have praised more, cajoled more, celebrated more. I would have seen incremental steps as actually being VERY IMPORTANT MILESTONES. I would have wiped away any tone of impatience or frustration or sarcasm.
4. I would have understood the students’ NEED TO MOVE and TALK during a 40 minute class period.
5. I would have given more FREE CHOICE rather than demanded that everyone do it the same way or read the same thing.
6. I would have started sentences with “Tell me about. . .” rather than, “LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT. . .”
7. I would have appealed to their sense of curiosity and their need to be challenged and inspired.
8. I would have listened to parents when they said, “There is too much homework” because I now know how much my boys need to run and move after a day of sitting and being quite. I know they need time to totally lose themselves in play. And, I also know that not much is really accomplished with homework.
9.I would have allowed more time to talk. . .and to problem solve. I would not have thought that a quiet room is one where real learning is taking place.
10. I would have read more books that might appeal to boy readers–and I would have read more books aloud rather than thinking that that was a crutch I was giving my students. I would know those authors and story lines that appeal to boys and would have been a better conduit between boys and books.
Not that these things aren’t good for girls. They are. But in our classrooms where a “zero-tolerance” policy, no-getting-out-of-your-seats-or-talking, do-it-this-way-or-else tone permeates, we especially stifle boys. Or, worse yet, we frustrate them to the point of “what’s the use.”
But mostly, in this post, I want to apologize to that eighth grade boy who one evening called my house to clarify a writing assignment. I told him what the assignment was, but I also added that little bit about “. . .if you would just listen better in class then you wouldn’t have to call the teacher at home.” Actually I wasn’t even that nice or gentle and I said that last part to him in class in front of his classmates.
Now, I would have seen the courage of that student to call and his earnestness to get that assignment right–even if it was due the next day and I had assigned it two weeks ago.
I now know that that boy could easily have been any of my four boys.