I don’t know about you, but in our house, we are often lamenting our disappointing electronics and their burning desire to ruin our lives by malfunctioning or performing poorly. You can expect to hear, “Have you tried the reset button?” on a daily basis from at least one of us. It is frustrating and disappointing when this equipment you’ve invested so much energy toward decides to fail us – somehow it feels personal, however ridiculous that seems. While we hope for a miracle each time we hit the reset button on the modem, occasionally said miracle comes to fruition, magically fixing the problem, thus erasing the irrational personal feelings of frustration and disappointment we experienced just minutes before. So, what if kids had a reset button? Wait… they do!
When I began teaching in another district seven years ago, I had been a stay-at-home mom for nine years with my son. I soon realized there is a stark contrast between molding, shaping, and directing a child from birth and being a teacher who meets her students 11 years into their lives. This was a tough adjustment for me my first year. I had the expectation of kids doing what I asked, what was right, following the rules, and generally not being disappointing to me, however misguided that may seem. I soon learned that it had nothing to do with me; it had to do with my ability to be sincerely useful as I assisted them on their paths. Most of the time kids are quite adaptable and will yield to a teacher’s expectations and rules. On occasion they do not. What should we do when they make those poor choices? Is there a reset button that comes with, or after, the consequence for our students? With our own children, we allow a certain amount of grace and forgiveness when they make poor choices because we love them unconditionally. After all, staying mad and disappointed at them forever would be an awful existence for everyone. So, as parents, we discuss the poor choices, we discuss alternatives to the poor choices, we generally employ some level of consequences, and then we do something critically important – we hit the reset button… and mean it.
As adults, we are faced with many decisions that could ultimately change the course of our lives forever – good or bad. Adults lead a sort-of “Hunger Games” existence, either make good choices, or eventually you’re out of the game. Children are not adults, and sometimes we are all guilty of forgetting that, especially when they look like adults and, at times, even act like adults. Adults don’t generally get multiple chances (reset buttons) and they certainly aren’t guaranteed… but should they be guaranteed for children whose brains are still developing, or should we just count them out of the game, too? I believe that we have an obligation to allow kids something that we, as adults, aren’t always afforded – someone who is willing to hit the reset button for them, and truly mean it.
As teachers, we are temporary co-pilots of our students’ paths, both academically and personally. We have a tremendous ability to impact which choices they make, how they handle the struggles of their youth, and what ultimately results from their choices. Prepare to gasp as I propose that beyond whether they truly grasp the importance of the proper use of gerunds, the lifelong skill of being able to multiply exponents, and the doubtless significance of the Boston Tea Party, lies what may trump all of these – our adult reactions to their inexperienced choices, good and bad. This is where the significance of the “reset button” cannot be underestimated. The reset button is invaluable for those kids who seem the most broken or lost. I’ve also found it may take multiple resets to effect true change. I don’t know about you, but I’ve tried a handful of reset button strategies on my devices and electronics, e.g., the 15 second button hold, the quick push, unplugging and resetting, the unreasonable 90 second hold down, and just simply turning it off for a while. Clearly we are willing to try multiple resets on our equipment, but how about for our kids? After all, he or she is probably broken or lost and in need of resetting, or he or she wouldn’t be sending up flares with repeated poor choices. While it can be extremely difficult in certain scenarios, I believe that as adults it’s our job to see this flare for what it is, and to react appropriately.
I try to focus on this analogy when I think about students and flares. Let’s say a sailboat has been missing at sea for weeks, and one day a rescue vessel sees a flare in the distance – clearly the lost sailboat, long since given up on. What course of action follows the flare? Does the rescue boat crew say, “Hey, there’s a flare, they need help. Let’s leave them there because they should’ve known better than to sail into rough waters, which is how they got in this situation in the first place.” No, the rescue crew sees the flare, attends to the sailboat in need, and aides the recovery of the boat and its crew. Lectures about sailing safety and whatnot are certainly not the immediate response. But what if it were? Would people value a flare as a signal for help? Or would they see it as a signal for punishment? It’s something to consider.
Now imagine the teacher is the rescue vessel, and the child is the lost sailboat. This mindset helps me adjust my thinking about a child who has acted out in some way and my initial reaction was to get frustrated, stay disappointed, or to just give up on him or her. Instead, I choose to assume the miracle of the reset button will work. Just the same as with my electronics, I assume a miracle is possible. After all, it can’t hurt, and who knows, maybe a miracle will occur within that child because you gave him or her a chance to reset, and truly meant it.
Middle school students are a weird bunch; I will never claim otherwise. That said, I have tremendous respect for the individuality and resilience that evolves in most students over their three years of middle school. It’s like a science experiment, watching them grow and change, while still learning what choices to make, how to shuffle through a myriad of seemingly difficult scenarios, and ultimately making those “good choices.” Their experiences are not trivial, even though we adults too often do trivialize the process, especially in retrospect. I bet each one of us can recall a middle school choice or experience that we look back on with a squint of despair, shame, or embarrassment. As adults, we have something that children have yet to experience – experience. My dad always says something that I used to find redundant in my youth, that is, until I became a teacher: “Nothing succeeds like success.” If we give up on kids when they make mistakes, and punish them indefinitely without guidance and support, then how can we expect them to gain experience and eventually succeed? Granted, in education, success is generally measured with grades; however, I have no doubt most educators, counselors, and principals would tell you that we witness successes every single day that have nothing to do with grades and everything to do with the growth, mentoring, maturity, and slow successes of a child. Furthermore, I feel confident in saying that most children who have struggled with discipline issues, only to eventually overcome them, would be able to point back to at least one educator who was willing to push the reset button for them along the way… and actually mean it.
Every child deserves a safe harbor in the adult pool, who smiles when everyone else frowns or seems mad at him or her, who loves him or her without judgment, and who sees his or her best qualities, discarding the worst. Most of all, I believe that each child deserves at least one adult who is willing to hit the reset button for him or her when everyone else seems to have given up…and truly mean it. Every single person who works at a school will eventually be presented with that opportunity at some point, whether it is an aide, a teacher, a custodian, a principal, a cafeteria worker, a counselor, or a bus driver. My hope is that we can all be willing to have the same optimism for a child’s reset button as we do for our electronics. After all, just as with equipment, the reset button may not always work. But then again, a miracle might happen, so you might as well give it a shot.
by Lindsey Henry (see more about Lindsey by reading her bio here)