Driving home today I passed by one of my kindergarten students as she was walking down the street with her mother who was pushing her younger brother in a stroller. She was about ten steps behind her mother and she was obviously getting a lecture for something she had done wrong. What made this readily apparent was the fact that she had her head down, staring at the sidewalk, as she was sullenly following her mother.
This event resonated with me because the last time I had seen this 5-year-old she was bragging to me about what a great day she was having. While I have no idea what had transpired right before I drove by, the stark contrast from my earlier encounter with the young girl made my Friday drive home a little less joyous.
I work in a school in which approximately 90% of the students receive free and reduced meals. Many of my students have never had anyone in their family attend college. The majority of my students are being raised by single moms who are simply doing the best they can. And worst of all, a growing number of my students have parents who are currently incarcerated.
I worry that many of my students are so unaccustomed to seeing friends and family members in positions of authority that they do not even see it as a possibility. Many have little, to no freedom at all when they are at home. Then they come to school and we tell them where to sit, when to talk and what to read and write. Not that we shouldn’t structure our students’ days. It’s just that we are working with a generation of children who have no idea that they have the potential to one day be the decision-makers.
Why would they think that they will ever have any authority or say in anything? That is until they have kids of their own. Because this is the first time that they have ever had any authority over anything. And so they hold this authority close to their chest and wield it over their kids as it was wielded over them. Not allowing them to see the front of the line. Forcing them to always walk behind, forever stuck in their parent’s shadow. Unable to see the future and what it could promise.
Depending on our school, this may be the case for some, or many of the students that we work with. It is therefore our responsibility to try to break this vicious cycle. I think we start by changing our children’s mindsets. We must teach them that it is okay to be the smartest and the kindest person in the room.
And we must remind them that their lifescripts are not yet written. And that once they begin writing them they are allowed to use an eraser. Furthermore, they must know that what they are working on now is just a rough draft that will only improve with each revision.
We must teach them that they can be great even though they may not be right now.
We must teach them that life can great even though it may not be right now.
Finally, we must teach them that while they might not currently like where they are positioned, they will not always have to walk behind.