Every now and then, we catch a glimpse of our children’s lives through reflection on our own experiences, past and present. Recently, I had one of those moments… when my thoughts on my children’s attitudes suddenly clicked into place in a new and unexpected way. It was an “ah-ha” moment, of sorts.
Over the weekend, I was introducing my sister to some people who grew up one town over from our own hometown. Since it was a small town in a rural area, growing up in the next town implies that we shared a fair degree of history. We knew some of the same people, competed as rival schools in sports, hung out at some of the same places, frequented the only local movie theater, and shopped in the same stores.
As we briefly discussed the fact that my sister graduated from a different high school, my mind wandered back into the past. My sister and I had different teachers. And just like any school, a handful of teachers were known to be “difficult,” more in their behavior and attitudes toward students than in their educational expectations.
For the most part, I had teachers who were memorable in positive ways: they wanted to teach, and they genuinely liked working with students. However, there were exceptions. There were teachers for whom unflattering nicknames had been passed from one class to the next for near generations. And it was one of these teachers with just such a nickname that I stumbled over while I was taking my ‘mind journey’ down memory lane over the weekend.
And after stumbling, I sat sprawled on memory’s path, realizing that we hadn’t been very nice back in high school. And then, I was pulled to the present, to the words I had recently said to my son when he called one of his (male) teachers a diva. “You shouldn’t be disrespectful to your teachers, C. They have a tough job teaching you guys all the things you don’t think you want to know.”
There I was, stuck straddling a line. As a teacher myself, I would normally advocate for the teacher in this instance. Getting up in front of a classroom full of apathetic, sometimes ungrateful (insert year here: sophomores, seniors, you name it) day after day is not an easy task. It can be brutal.
Then again, being a kid in a class with a teacher who has forgotten what it is like to be a teenager—a teacher who hasn’t updated his or her approach to teaching since the age of the dinosaurs, and chooses not to (ever) smile—is not easy, either.
Suddenly, I realized that what I perceived as “disrespect” was really something of a rite of passage. As we work to figure out our relationship with the world and how to deal with people we don’t necessarily want to get along with, but need to get along with, we seek to find a comfortable place to fit them into our experiences. We use nicknames to diminish these people so they are slightly less intimidating and they fit more neatly into our experience. For teens, this can be the way they survive the classes that otherwise threaten to bore them, annoy them, or terrify them.
And straddling this line between kid and teacher is the constant battle I face as a parent. This is the battle that determines if I am successful or not. I am constantly faced with the need to remember what it was like to be in my children’s shoes—whether they are teenagers or toddlers, while still teaching the skills necessary for them to function in a world which requires an ever changing mix of diplomacy, sensitivity, and candor.
For the most part, my children are respectful and polite when they walk out my door and into the world. Perhaps then, they really are learning what they need to know to make their way in the world. Perhaps a little name-calling, in the right context, can help to put relationships in perspective.