Monday, October 22, 2012

Is It Something I Said?: What We Say...What They Hear!

I received an email from a parent the other day. It wasn't a hostile email. It was written in a polite tone. It was just a parent trying to find out what was going on in my classroom regarding his daughter. If this happened with my kids, I probably would have written an email like it as well. I also really appreciated the fact that this parent sent the email to me, instead of going straight to my principal.

The email went something like this: "K" was very upset last night. She told her mother that you said to her "I don't know how you passed fourth grade. Can you tell me why you would say this?"

 Well,when I read this email, my jaw dropped, and I immediately responded to the Dad.(I know you're supposed to wait, but I wasn't angry) I told him I would love to have a face to face conference because this was the second time his daughter told them something that was not true. But more than that, I wanted these parents, who are wonderful, supportive, parents, to be able to look me in the face, as I told them that those words never, ever, came out of my mouth.

 Later in the day, I pulled the child aside and asked her about it. She said, "Remember when you were helping me? You said, "I don't know how you ever passed fourth grade!" Now, I know there are teachers who say this, and worse, to their students. And, I don't want you to believe that  I am some kind of teacher saint. But, I would never, ever, say that to a child. Ever. That kind of teacher, I am not.

 But, she believed I said it. She is new, so at the time I was helping her, maybe I asked if they taught that concept in the 4th grade, or something to that effect, really bothered me.

 Later in the week, I took another a student aside and had the "You need to get organized" talk with him. I explained to him that he is going to middle school and he needs to be organized because he will switch classes in middle school. I helped him set up his materials and was satisfied with what we had accomplished in getting him together.

 As we left for the day, something made me think of the student I mentioned in the beginning of this post and  I took the "disorganized" student aside. I said, "Do you understand what I was saying to you earlier?" He replied, "Yes." I said, "What did I say?" He replied, "If I don't get organized, I am never going to get anywhere."

 Wow! Needless to say, I had to have a quick talk to get rid of that misconception! What I said, and what he heard were two different things. I was talking about middle school, and he took it as a life lesson, and a negative one at that.

 I realize I have to be very careful with the words I choose with my students. And more than that, I need to make sure that we are on the same page. I will make sure that my students understand the true meaning of what I am saying to them, and don't take my words the wrong way. It's like that game of telephone where the message gets misconstrued along the way. I don't want that in my classroom, I want a clear and open line, where they hear what I say, and understand what I mean.


  1. Wow! I bet at that grade level this is even more so true, because they're just starting to be more aware of themselves and more self conscious. They can probably hear any neutral comment and take it as something negative! It must be hard to try and watch what you say at all times, to make sure you say specifically what you mean without giving the student a way to misinterpret it!

    1. Yes Angel that's what I think. They tend to attach negativity to the simplest thing. It happened again today!:)

  2. Yesterday, the same thing happened to me! We (our third and fourth graders) began switching for handwriting and science among three classrooms. When the TWENTY SEVENTH child wandered into my classroom, I said aloud, "Oh no! Not you too! Where am I going to put you!" thinking that I could not stuff yet ANOTHER child into my classroom designed for 22 kids! A few minutes later, I clarified with both the student AND the class when I noted that we would know what it is like to be a sardine in a can because there are SO many of us. I spoke to the student in question privately as well to let him know it wasn't HIM I was dreading...but the classroom stuffage. He laughed and said he wondered the same thing when he walked in!

    1. Oh yeah, they would definitely take that personally! LOL

  3. In my 40-year teaching career you can bet that this has happened to me many multiple times. How often did I leave my office feeling pretty darned good about myself and my accomplishments for the day, only to get home and having to deal with a 'shocking' message and a very concerned parent!

    still have a 9-year-old step-daughter going through school. Her mom (my wife) is a career counselor and has EXCEPTIONAL communication skills. One of the things my wife uses constantly when talking to our child, "Now repeat back to me what I just told you." More often than not there needs to be further clarification.

    I totally understand that in a classroom situation, there's absolutely no way to do this with every student every single time. However, I think it's a GREAT thing to do at least once a day in a group setting in a way that EVERYONE can benefit.

    My wife and I are so pleased that our daughter feels confident and secure enough to openly talk about anything in any way; yes, sometimes she can express her anger and frustration, too and we try to guide her towards appropriate ways to handle herself in all types of situations.

    As you so correctly point out in this article, hearing and listening can be two different things completely. I'd opt for spending more time on these types of "survival tools" and "life skills" over fill-in-the-dot tests ANY DAY!

    All the best from Toronto,

    1. Good idea about using the repeating tactic. I might not do it every day, but when I felt it was needed.

  4. It's so easy to be misunderstood.