Friday morning I take a walk. Visiting my sister in the town of my birth, I walk by the house I was raised in, the alley shortcut I took coming home from school on rainy afternoons and the pool I cooled off in, on warm summer days. I walk by my kindergarten classroom and see the same slide I played on 48 years ago. I think of Ms. Baker, my kindergarten teacher. I close my eyes and faintly smell her rosy perfume, hear her high-pitch voice reminding me to play nicely with Gener Carr and am reminded of her simple guidance to, “Be kind.”
On this playground, I learn character. At this school, I learn what it is like to be a bully and what it feels like to be bullied. Through the guidance of the teachers who spend more time with me than my parents, I am nurtured, supported and held accountable for my actions. Because of the faith and commitment the teachers at Summerville Elementary School have in me, I commit to being kind instead of demeaning, mean and a bully.
Being a bully is easy. Saying hurtful words, making jokes at other’s expense and threatening students while others are watching takes little effort. Standing up when someone is being put-down, harassed or made-fun-of takes courage. In my elementary school almost a half-century ago, I am taught this simple message; work hard, be kind.
Two years ago I gave a speech to the staff of the Coeur d’Alene School District remembering my elementary school experiences and today, I relive every word of that speech as I sit on the doorstep of my kindergarten classroom. This is that speech.
“Be kind, work hard. We can only eradicate bullying in our schools by building a culture of kindness — teachers being kind to kids, kids being kind to kids and kids being kind to teachers.
Student will remember — for the rest of their lives — the teachers who affect them, positively and negatively.
One unkind word, sideway glance or dismissive response to a child often creates a lifelong memory for that child of a teacher who is unkind.
But, students will also remember — for the rest of their lives — the teacher who offers a kind hug when the child feels the world is unkind. The student will remember — for the rest of his or her life — the teacher who celebrates that child’s success, motivates that child to learn, even when the child does not want to and the child will remember — for the rest of his or her life — the teacher who builds a culture of kindness in his or her classroom.
I don’t remember my fifth-grade teacher. I can’t recall his name, don’t remember what he looked like and can only recall little bits and pieces of my fifth grade year but, I do recall sitting in class for nine months feeling insignificant, unimportant and defeated. My fifth-grade classroom was not kind a place to learn.
But I also remember and loved my third-grade teacher Ms. Bretz. Ms. Bretz convinced me that I was a math genius; she taught me to eat — and love — my vegetables and made me feel that my voice was important. Ms. Bretz created a culture of kindness in her classroom.
Besides my fifth-grade teacher, I can tell you the name, describe the face and sometimes even name the type of perfume worn by every one of my teachers grade kindergarten through high school.
I remember these teachers because they made an impression, because they cared about me and because they were kind.
Seneca, the Roman philosopher, offers: “Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness.”
Amelia Earhart adds, “The greatest work that kindness does to others is that it makes them kind themselves.”
My challenge to you is to create 30, 60, 100 permanent positive memories this year and when you’re struggling, feeling grouchy, suffering the effects of a cold, tummy ache; when the sky is gray in late winter and your soul and body wishes to be curled up on the couch with a warm blanket and a great book, remember, your students probably wish the same thing. Kindness can’t take a vacation. Have a great year and be kind and work hard.”
I offer this speech not only for the teachers who read this column but for everyone who is in the position to affect another person. Living in a world of love, created and nurtured by people who love makes our world a better place to live. Spiteful, hurtful language, lies, deceit and bullying creates a world of hate. Every person has the power to change the world for the better, if even for only a few people, by choosing love over hate.
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Send comments or other suggestions to William Rutherford at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit pensiveparenting.com.