I can still remember the first time I was utterly shamed and humiliated at school.
It was the Spring of my Grade 1 year and I was 7 years old. My class was on a trip to a hospital in a nearby town and we had travelled there by school bus. I had sat near the front of the bus with my friend and we had talked together during the 20 minute bus ride. I was very used to riding the school bus–it picked me up at the end of our 500m-long lane every morning and dropped me off every afternoon. Before and after school the bus picked up children from Kindergarten to Grade 8, so this was likely the first time that I had been on the bus with only my class and with my friend who rode a different bus route to school each day.
When we got off the bus we all gathered around my teacher and waited for instructions to proceed. I remember being excited as I had never been to this hospital before because my family always used the medical services in a different nearby town. My teacher pointed to where the name of the hospital was spelled out in big upper case letters on the front of the building.
“Patti Tinholt!”, Mrs. Jackson said loudly. I snapped to attention. “Since you talked the entire way here maybe you could talk some more and read these words for us.”
I was stunned. Shamed and humiliated. First of all, I was generally a good little girl who followed the rules and rarely stepped out of line. I had no idea that my very strict teacher considered the school bus to be like her classroom and we were not supposed to talk on the ride to the hospital. I had always talked to my friends on the bus and no one had ever told me that there would be circumstances when talking on the bus was not allowed. Second, I was a pretty smart little 7-year-old. I knew I was in the accelerated reading group and that I was probably the best reader in my class. But there was NO WAY I could decipher in that moment that the big letters on that building said Palmerston and District Hospital.
My throat burned and I blinked back hot tears. I said nothing.
The teacher taunted me. “NOW you have nothing to say? Did you use up all your talking on the bus?”
I stared back in silence wishing I would disappear. Someone else raised a hand and read the name of the hospital. The rest of the trip was a total blur to me. (Except I do remember that we visited a Physiotherapy Room where there was a big tub of melted wax that was used to treat who-knows-what and little Angie Mitchell stuck her entire hand in it and the teacher saw her and Angie didn’t get in trouble and I wondered what would have happened if I had stuck my hand in the wax but I didn’t because I was generally a good little girl who always followed the rules.)
If someone could explain to me the point of that interaction with the teacher, I’d love to hear it. No, I’m not still smarting from the experience, but I do remember it, and I’m glad I do.
I’m glad that this event has not slipped my memory because it reminds to be conscious of the way that I talk to my children and other children as well.
It is very easy as an adult to slip into the ‘I know better’ mode of relating to children. It is easy to ignore that their life experience has been different from ours and they see the world through their own unique lens. It is easy to want to be right at the expense of a person who has no ability to see our thoughts nor to understand what makes her wrong. It is easy to be louder, stronger and more knowledgeable.
But you know what isn’t easy? To observe someone else’s way of being and not feel judgemental. To keep our own integrity when someone else’s behaviour goes against our preferred way. To show unconditional love to a person who is doing his or her very best at any given moment.
REACTION is easy. REFLECTION requires diligence, patience and self-awareness. I’m pretty sure I wasn’t taught anything about that when I went to Teacher’s College. And I definitely did a lot of reacting in my own days as a teacher. I am grateful now for the opportunity to be away from the classroom and to practice reflectionwith my own children.