gratitude not attitude

“Tell her, daddy.  She knows it’s coming,” my oldest said.  Of course, it’s coming.  See, there is a bumper sticker quality to some of my parenting.  There are the standards.

“Choose very few battles, but never lose.”

“It costs you nothing to be kind.”

And this gem they were both waiting for.  My youngest looked up from her mild tantrum of entitlement and did both an eye roll and a nod of resignation all at once.  I couldn’t let them down.

“Less attitude.  More gratitude,” I said in a deep and overly sincere voice.  My attempt at mocking television dads was not lost on my girls.  We laughed and the point was made.  Bumper sticker parenting.  At times, it is an effective way to annoy your children, make a point, and avert full flare ups.  Mild diffusers.  I am also a bit of a bumper sticker teacher, as well.

“Only readers survive.”

“Be a student, not a distraction.”

“School skills are life skills.”

And, “Less attitude.  More gratitude.”  It’s a cross over remark.  It works at home and at school.  The overly whiney must listen not only to my gratitude mantra, but must also contend with my arsenal of U.N. statistics.   “800 million people on this earth do not have enough food to eat.  I’m sorry, I didn’t catch your complaint about homework.  Did you want to repeat it?”

I tend to lean on gratitude.  Part of it has to do with my age.  I mean, think about it.  A crabby middle-aged man surrounded by entitled twelve-year-olds?  I’m pretty sure Dante had a ring of hell that was similar in some of the earlier drafts.  They need gratitude and I need some sanity. But here’s the thing.  Gratitude, like manners and high end math, must be modeled.  And that can be a bit tricky.  Thanksgiving, though, does offer an opportunity that should not be squandered.

I usually do it on that last day before we break for the holiday.  It’s a day where the kids are pretty amped anyway.  Not a lot of useful instruction was every going to take place.  I could give a test.  Put something on the line for them and make them shut up.  But this is time much better spent.

In the spirit of the traditional Thanksgiving dinner table, I simply go around the room and give a reason why I am grateful for each kid.  And, I already know what you’re thinking.  We all have those kids.  But oddly enough, those kids are sometimes the easiest ones to come up with reasons for.  I walk over to Gerardo’s desk.  Right away there is laughter.  Gerardo included.

“Mr. Bowen, I know you are not grateful for me being in your class.  No teacher is grateful I’m in their room.”  Kids laugh some more.  I smile.

“I’m grateful for your strong, booming voice,” I say.  He eyeballs me like I’m crazy.

“But, you hate all the talking I do in your class.”

“True,” I agree.  “But, I think you have a great voice.  You would make an awesome announcer.  I can hear you announcing football games in the future.”  He is genuinely surprised.  “I’m glad you have such a great voice and I’m excited by what you might do with it one day.  Sometimes, it just doesn’t serve you well in class.  It’s the circumstances, not the talent.”

This “…just doesn’t serve you well in class…” line of defense is very effective.  Think about it.  Compliment a kid on his voice and he sees it as a talent and not so much as a way to annoy you.  He thinks twice before he does that deep loud whisper across your class.

Leslie was in complete shock when I told her that I was grateful for her ability to argue so effectively.  “But I argue with you all the time just to waste time!”

“I know.  And you are so good at it.  I can see you as an accomplished lawyer someday.  We’re doing argumentative essays when we get back from break.  You should pull an A on that one for sure.”  Leslie isn’t a loud mouth now.  Now? Now, she’s a potential lawyer with a skill.  Does she still argue with me to waste time?  Sure.  But not as much.  And the tone has changed.  It’s like we’re in on a good joke together.

And so it goes.  Around the room.  All day long.  About 160 kids or so.  Sure, it’s a pain.  But Dominique gives me a valuable reminder as my enthusiasm starts to wane near the end.

“But you give me all kinds of attitude about my interrupting!”

“Well, today I’m giving you some gratitude about it,” I say.  She smiles and points at me.

“Less attitude.  More gratitude.” She bumper-stickered me nicely.  And she’s right.  We all could give a little less attitude and maybe just a little more gratitude.



Our Kids: Building Relationships in the Classroom

For more inspiring classroom stories, please check out Mr. Bowen’s recent best seller, Our Kids: Building Relationships in the Classroom.

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