Pejoratives and Growing Up
Today I was a second grade (gifted) teacher at Stratton Elementary. I had been in this class before, but it had been a long enough time that I didn’t remember all of the students’ names. I did remember, however, that this was a great class, and memory served me well.
We spent the morning discussing the difference between minimums and maximums and then writing letters to other students through the Stratton Post Office. The afternoon was spent watching an animated movie adaptation of E.B. White’s “Trumpet of the Swan”, which proved to be quite popular with the students. They had just finished reading the book yesterday, so they were excited to see a retelling of the story.
While I had a great day, there were two incidents that serve as bookmarks for today’s adventures. The first happened in the morning as a girl was sorting out her classmates’ homework. One boy had not turned in his work and, in an effort to be helpful, she went to his bookbag and got it out. He got really upset when he noticed and starting yelling at her. At one point he uttered a pejorative that I find quite upsetting. He called her “Little Girl” in the nastiest voice possible for an 8-year-old. I hate it when anyone uses someone’s gender as an attack. (I consider it a completely different matter when it is used as a term of endearment–such as when my brother Adam calls me “Boy” or when my friend Noah lovingly calls his wife “Woman”.)
I immediately intervened and asked this particular boy how he would feel if we all went around calling him “Little Boy” for the rest of the day. He said he wouldn’t like it at all. I then asked him why he thought it was okay to call his classmate a nasty name like “Little Girl” then. He started to say something about her and what she had done and I cut him off. I explained that I didn’t want him to tell me what she had done, I wanted him to tell me why he thought it was okay to call people names. It took him a couple of tries before he finally gave up and issued a half-hearted apology. I have no idea if it will stick or not, but I have made a personal commitment to never pass up the opportunity to teach students, no matter how old or how young, the importance of respectful disagreement.
On the other end of my day, I had a couple of fourth grade girls ask me what my name was. I told them (“Mr. Valencic”) and they asked if they could just call me “Mr. V” which I said was quite all right. Most students and teachers call me that, anyway. It is just too hard for them to figure out how to say my last name, I guess. One of them then asked, “Mr. V, what do you want to be when you grow up?” I chuckled and said, “Well, I don’t think I want to grow up. Right now I am a teacher, and I expect to do that for a long time, but as far as growing up is concerned, I think it is a bit over-rated.”
As an educator, I believe that one of the great keys to teaching is to never take myself too seriously. I try to laugh, give high fives, fist bumps, and have fun whenever possible. Even when students are jerks to each other, I find that not taking myself too seriously helps diffuse a situation much faster than shooting a hostage. I know it doesn’t work for everyone, but it seems to work for me.