“Careful the things you say…”

Careful the things you say,
Children will listen.
Careful the things you do,
Children will see.
And learn.

Children may not obey,
Buit children will listen.
Children will look to you
For which way to turn,
To learn what to be.

Careful before you say,
“Listen to me.”
Children will listen.

(Stephen Sondheim, from Into the Woods)

“We need a new game plan,” I told him. I love this child. I get so frustrated with this child. I feel manipulated by this child. At the 11th hour, he is staying after school to finish work, finally, asking for help, finally. Its too late, I think. He is downcast, anxious. I can only imagine what his parents have threatened if he gets bad grades. Not to be all “judgy” or anything, but they need a new game plan too. It is clear to me that keeping this precocious and highly energetic child inside – “grounding” – is not producing the desired results.

“I had a group of girls in my 6th grade class one year,” a colleague tells me, “and my primary goal for them was that they would make it to high school without becoming mothers.”

I am relieved and terrified when I realize that I too have such low and heart-rending goals for my students. I just want you to make it, I think. And I tell some of them, “This is a game, like football, like soccer. It doesn’t come easy for you, but I know you’re good at playing other games. Learn this one. Play by the rules, win, graduate, then do whatever you want.”

This is why some of the academic goal-setting and evaluating seems so empty to me. I don’t actually care how many of my 6th graders get into college. There are a few that I would actively discourage from pursuing college if they were at that point with this set of skills and gifts. Amidst the endless meetings to plan, reflect, evaluate, comply, no one is able to give me a template or plan or common core standard for helping these children flower into honest, hardworking, kind, confident people.

Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics shatter my anger and tear at my heart. Every day, every day, I say what feels like a thousand times, “Listen to me!” I whisper it, shout it, laugh it, speak it, sing it, glare it. I assume that half the time, they don’t. But what if I’m wrong?

I don’t expect to teach forever. But there are a lot of children in my life, regardless.

I just can’t get this out of my head, this refrain that keeps circling back around.

Careful the things you say
Children will listen…


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