Maybe we’ve got it bassackward.

Jan 11, 2021 | 5 comments

Sydney with Second Grade Student, Southgate School,1962

This morning I heard a reporter on NPR say (as she was introducing the next guest):  “…but what should teachers be saying to children?”  She was talking about the events of last Wednesday at the capitol — about blame and accountability and forgiveness and, mostly, about what comes next.  I may not have her question quite right.  The moment I heard her words, my hackles went up and interfered with my hearing.

Which teachers?  Which children?  I hope not the youngest of our learners — not the five-to eight-year-olds.  I do believe that they are the most reasonable people on the planet.  I believe that we should turn that reporter’s question around and ask, “What do our youngest learners have to tell us concerning next steps?”

Of all the people I’ve dealt with over the years, it has invariably been the little children who are the best problem solvers.  They know about rules and about people in charge and about feeling inadequate.  They know about bullies and liars and cheaters.  And they know about consequences.  Given time to get the facts and understand a playground problem, and given encouragement to find a solution, kids are amazing.

On almost every one of the 7,000 (plus or minus) days I spent teaching “little kids,” we had a class meeting.  It was a time that we shared neat stuff, gave our news-of-the-day, asked for help with a “situation” and, sometimes, ratted out someone who we just couldn’t find a way to deal with on our own.  Class meetings were a safe space and it was where the playing field was equal.  It was where we built trust and tried hard to make plans for a better recess next time, a better day tomorrow.

So, Ms. Reporter, let’s not worry about what to “tell” the kids.  Maybe a better plan would be to listen to their take on things.  Or maybe we should stop all the pontificating and finger-pointing and second-guessing.  Maybe we should  just have a class meeting among ourselves.



  1. mary garvey

    good idea to ask kids. i was on some sort of research project in seattle schools and we asked seventh graders what they did not like about their schools. They did not say it was too hard,or kids bullied them or teacher did not like t hem. They said, again and again, they did not like the ketchup in the cafeteria. And there was a school that had kindergarten and then fourth and fifth graders. They said in an assembly to tell people of any problems in their school. Do you know what they said..the doors were too heavy to push open. And then I was a school counselor in Maine in some idiotically designed open concept school…junior high students were in the very middle. They could not stand the lack of windows.

  2. mary garvey

    i should say it was the kindergarten students who could not push open the doors.

    • sydney

      During the many years I taught, I lived through numerous school remodels. Teachers were never consulted until the plaster was drying and kids… never ever. It was not surprising when the Ocean Park School was completed a few years back that the drinking fountains for the little kids were at adult (or middle-grader) height and the little ones needed assistance to get a drink of water. How typical…

  3. Diane Buttrell

    You make me think I want to be a teacher again.

    • sydney

      Oh, Diane! I don’t think you ever stopped! There are certainly aspects that I’d love to get back to, but NOT with the bureaucracy of today. It was bad enough by the time I retired in 2001. I’ve always been an advocate of listen politely, close the classroom door, and proceed to teach the way you know it should be done — but I don’t think that’s possible any more. (Though I do Hope I’m wrong!)


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