Over the course of any long career, it’s inevitable to observe changes. I started teaching in 1972. Suffice it to say, there are significant differences in technology, sports, resources, awareness of learning differences, and some pedagogy (though I maintain that good teaching always has been good teaching and is mostly dependent on the connections between teachers and children).
Perhaps what has changed the most, however, is the expectations of parents: expectations of themselves, expectations for their children, expectations of teachers, expectations of other children.
When I was a child, my mom and dad looked to other, more experienced, parents for direction. Wayne and I did the same. When we observed children behaving well consistently, we figured their parents probably had good lessons to share.
What hasn’t changed over time is the nature of children: They are distinctly individual little characters with personalities of their own. Like children since time began, they make good choices and, occasionally, poor ones. Sometimes, despite our very direct instructions and reminders, they act in ways that are, frankly, embarrassing. Quite likely, cave children did the same. What I believe, deeply, is that all children want to be liked and to do what is right.
As children, we were all subject to some teasing. My two brothers and I sometimes picked on each other then complained about each other. Mom and Dad knew us pretty well and were usually adept at discerning the truth. At school, there were those with whom my children played easily and some with whom relationships were more edgy.
As a teacher in the schools in which they were enrolled, I had the dual advantage of observing our girls in action. Sometimes they were, in fact, excluded from a game or spoken to rudely; sometimes they were the initiators, though memory of such frequently eluded them were they to voice a complaint later.
The teachers in our lives were involved and observant. Did they catch everything? Absolutely not. Did we, as parents, see or hear everything our girls did to each other? No. One of the key messages we received as children was that we should — and could — work through our own problems.
Adults were available to offer assistance when it was really needed, but usually their first response was to ask (1) what we might have done to contribute to the problem, and (2) what we should to try to solve it.
In no instances were the age-appropriate, often annoying, actions of my siblings or classmates considered “bullying.” Conflicts exist. Neither conflicts nor young children finding their way constitute bullying. Many children have strong personalities (much like their parents and something to celebrate); many of them — no, pretty much all of them — require consistent work in terms of social graces, treatment of each other, and respect for themselves and others.
There has never been a generation of children that didn’t require such work — yours and mine included.
Ruth Glass is headmaster at Lake Tahoe School. She can be reached for comment through her blog at www.laketahoeschool.org.