Teachers Should Reveal More To Kids

I had drinks last night with a buddy of mine I’ve known since 9th grade. We knew each other nominally in high school but became closer in college when we played in a blues band together for a couple of years. He took a while to find his footing academically and professionally compared to me, having dropped out of college after his first year and spending his 20’s and early 30’s tending bar and traveling. He finally found an academic discipline he could sink his teeth into in his mid-30’s, finished his undergrad a couple of years ago, and now has one year left in a challenging masters’ program. I’m proud of the guy for not giving up on searching for something that matters to him.

Back in high school, though, he was probably the kind of kid I’d look at now with a mix of concern and judgment. He had long hair, periodically came to school high, his grades sucked and he seemed singularly deluded by seeing himself as a famous rock singer. His life trajectory projected to be downwardly windy.

But me being the guy obsessed with figuring out what boys need to end up on a good life path, I asked him: “What would you have wanted back then from adults, and would you even have listened?”

He said there was no way any adult could have reached him back then with any direct teaching of life or moral wisdom. Fair enough. But then he started talking immediately after about his memories of just hanging out with older men in the various blues and rock bands in which he played. Talking about farts and boobs, overhearing stuff about their day jobs as prosecuting attorneys or salesmen, and just quietly observing what it might take to be an adult.

So why aren’t educators trained or mentored to be like this more often, and just let kids hang out with them, asking questions about their lives outside the classroom? Once kids are school age, we’re spending more time with them than their parents. It seems like such a wasted opportunity for informal mentoring and indirect guidance toward mature adulthood.

But I suspect there’s fear there, that if we reveal our humanity that kids will attempt to take advantage. Really? All I’ve ever found is a deepening of respect and an increase in a student’s feelings of proper guilt when their behavior disappoints or upsets me.

I wonder what classroom management would look like if every Friday teachers took the last 15 minutes of the period to hold a Reddit-style “Ask Me Anything”. We could always refuse a question, of course, and I’d suggest completely ignoring questions that are inappropriate rather than flipping out or making a big show of censuring some kid.

All in all, I’ve found there’s something surprisingly magical about artfully letting kids in. I’d love to hear what others’ experiences with this have been, and whether I’m on to something or out of my freakin’ mind.

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