It's hard, but our kids respond best to patient example

Beyond the textbook

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China Hill

It is not unusual to walk by a Chicago Public School in the Austin neighborhood and overhear second-graders using language found in some of today's popular R-rated films. Even scarier are the stories of public school teachers who've admitted to being cursed out by one of their students.

I've often wondered why kids, whose parents have preached to them the value of being respectful on Sunday, talk back to their teachers the following Monday. Are children not capable of consistently showing respect? Has this generation of youth simply lost their moral compass?

Whether they smack their lips at you because you tell them to finish their homework or a teacher has complained to you about their impertinent behavior at school, what our children lack is an inherent sense of respect for themselves and others.

So who do we blame? Hey, let's blame TV. That's easy. According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, our children watch at least 3-4 hours of television a day, and these shows contain at least 20 violent acts each hour as reported by researcher Dr. George Berbner at the University of Pennsylvania.

Oh, Oh, I know?"what about video games? Grand Theft Auto and Def Jam Fight for New York are just two of the many popular video games filled with profanity and brutality that youngsters often play despite their mature ratings. Really, who else is there to blame?

How about us?

Because there is a lack of "wholesome" role models that children may view in the media, we, as parents and educators, need to practice what we preach. For example, if we don't want our children to purposely offend others, let's not demoralize them by calling them names.

When we direct words such as "stupid" and "ugly" at our children, even in frustration, it not only undermines their confidence, it also teaches them that these words are OK to use toward others. When we listen to music riddled with profanity and sexual connotations, we tell our kids that we condone such material as long as it is for the purposes of entertainment. When we solve disputes with criticisms and loud voices, we show our kids that these are the appropriate measures to take when they have a problem.

Of course, we don't intentionally resort to the above situations. Our lack of a better word for "stupid" is something brought on due to the stress of our jobs, the stress of our relationships, the stress of our lives. It can be difficult to be a patient and exemplary role model when the pressures of society are placed upon us.

So, how do we find it in ourselves to overcome these stresses in order to continually model ideal behavior?

Although I am a fifth grade writing teacher, discipline is a covert part of my curriculum. From September to December, my spiel about respect was taught so many times that my students could write a two-page essay about it. However, their ability to use it in their lives was not always apparent. Frustrated by lack of respect for each other and their lack of respect for me at times (i.e. repeatedly talking when asked not to), I often blurted out the words, "Shut up." When all my patience was tested, "shut up" was the resort. By saying "shut up," they knew I was serious.

Heck, for some, "shut up" was the term they used to let you know that they were serious. "Shut up," I said when Kwame refused to stop talking through a lesson on plural nouns. "Shut up," I exclaimed when Erika and Denise mouthed off to each other while I was trying to teach them how to organize an expository paragraph. However, these words were not effective. It wasn't until a colleague brought this to my attention that I had to check myself.

How could I preach the value of respect when I was not being respectful toward them?

Now, when Kwame interrupts a lesson with his incessant talking, I say to him what I would've wanted said to me at that age: "You are not being respectful to me or your classmates who are trying to learn." Instead of spitting out those two words when Denise and Erika continue to chat, I now proclaim in my firmest teacher voice, "I am very hurt that you both decided to think only about yourselves by choosing to talk." And although it may take more syllables to convey and more patience to say it sincerely, the payoff is rewarding.

Now, do my students still talk during a lesson? Yes. Do I ever feel like saying "shut up" to one of my kids? To the point where the "?"ut up" has been dropped and turned into a calming "shshshshsh." However, my children are more courteous because I don't use it. And when they speak to their fellow classmates, it is with the same patience that I model, the same patience that I must force myself to convey, even in the most stressful situations.

Because I know it is hard work, I invite you all to help me lead our children not just by word, but also by example.

China Hill teaches writing to fifth-graders at KIPP Ascend Academy in Austin.

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