Kindergarten teachers must be some of the most optimistic people on earth. We spend our days teaching children how to be good humans. We model this behavior all day long, smiling, sharing our snacks, and standing straight in line. We use our words instead of pushing when we are angry. We share our feelings when we are sad. We look at the bright side of everything, and we hand out hugs like balloon animals at a clown show.
And then, at the end of the day, we lock the door on a classroom filled with motivational quotes and pictures of smiling children and their happy friends, get behind the wheel, and get cut off in traffic by a grown man shaking his fist at us because he doesn’t want to wait behind us in line at the light. Which is turning red.
I have to admit that sometimes the smile slips a little. When you watch the sixth graders gallop their way down the stairs in one large, roiling mass (especially at lunch bell when the cafeteria is serving pizza), you tend to wonder if teaching kids to line up is really worth it.
When you watch grown up people treat each other poorly in business because they are looking out for their own interests only, you start thinking about the hours you spend modeling kindness and honesty in your classroom.
When you see a government touting policies of keeping out entire groups of people they consider undesirable, you consider how you have staked a career on helping children develop empathy.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not giving up. And I don’t know any other teacher of young children who plans on giving up just because kids grow up and are sometimes pretty horrible to one another. One of the reasons I love my job like I do is because sometimes children are really wonderful to one another. And sometimes they grow up and come to see me, and tell me I made a difference.
And I know, too, that we are all human beings who make mistakes. Just today I went into the internet café, in a bit of a rush, and asked the young man in charge if I could print something. When he sent me to one of the computers hooked up to the printer, I sat down and printed my document. I picked it up to the printer and told him, “My document is almost unreadable.”
The young man replied “Yes, they haven’t replaced the toner yet.”
And I almost forgot that my life’s work includes sending children to speak to the principal when they try to throttle other children. So I do understand the frustration and how it leads to less than stellar moments in people’s lives.
And I also know that I have the benefit of spending each day re-learning my kindergarten lessons, because I am teaching them every day with groups of children who REALLY NEED THE PRACTICE. But I wish more people would think about their time in kindergarten and recall those important lessons such as:
- You don’t always have to be first in line. We are all going to the same place, and sometimes it’s ok if someone else gets there about four seconds before you do.
- Your partner’s opinion matters. Even on the smallest detail of your shared job. Sometimes it’s better to have pink wheels on your cardboard fire truck than a sad work mate.
- If you want to give someone a hug, that’s great! Just make sure they want a hug too. And then try not to hug them with all the strength in your entire body.
- If you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all. Your opinion on your table mate’s hairy arms should never be spoken out loud.
- Sit with the lonely kid. Befriend the one who never talks. Invite the kid with glasses to play in your soccer game.
And if you can’t remember any of those, remember this one: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It’s a rule, it’s golden, and it works. Even when the light is turning yellow.
Oh, and if you can, find your kindergarten teacher and say thank you for teaching you all of these things. Tell her that she made a difference. Tell her to keep going, because it’s always worth it, every day.