Sunday Reflections: Sometimes There Is No ‘Why’
A few weeks ago, I was reminded of one of the first (and possibly most important) lessons I learned working in a school, that sometimes there is no ‘why.’ If you follow me on Twitter (@robinreads) this story might seem familiar to you.
During a sixth grade class circulation, I sat down at a table with the teacher and two students to read. It helps them to see adults reading. Looking over to the next table, I see a boy writing in a Wimpy Kid book. Now many of our students are obsessed with the Wimpy Kid books, and we could never have enough copies to meet the current interest, so they will often bring in their own copies. I discretely get his attention, then whisper, “Is that a library book, or one you brought from home?” The boy in question freezes like a deer in headlights and simply stares at me. I try again, “Is that a library book? Yes?” I say, nodding my head to indicate that he can answer me without speaking, if that helps. He nods yes very slightly. I ask, “Why are you writing in it?” Again, all I get is deer in the headlights. “Sorry, silly question,” I say, “don’t write in the library books, okay?” He nods vigorously and turns his pencil around and begins to erase. To me, the interaction is complete and I go back to my book. His teacher, however, seems poised to light into him, so I reassure her, “It’s okay, I should never have asked him why, that’s an eighth grade skill.”
I do believe that. For many boys, as well as some girls, knowing why they did something is a skill that comes around the middle of eighth grade. I’m not sure how much of it is dependent upon nature versus nurture, and I have certainly found exceptions to the rule. But overwhelmingly it seems that boys, before the age of 13, have a thought process that skips a step. Something occurs to them, so they do it. There is no intermediate step of considering whether it is a good idea or not – what the consequences of the action might be. And I’m certainly not advocating never discussing the ‘why’ behind actions or holding them accountable. In fact, I believe it’s very important to do this with all the students. I’m simply saying that, in the moment, it’s important to remember to meet the students where they are developmentally.
A little kindness in the face of ‘misbehavior’ with kids can go a long way towards achieving your goal. In this case it was to have the student internalize the idea that you don’t write in library books. If I had more contact with the student, I would want to help him generalize that concept to treating everything you borrow with care and returning it in good condition. But these are, mostly, learned behaviors that we really can’t expect to come programmed into the students. Meeting them where they are and helping them move forward with kindness, grace, and a sense of humor is the best way to serve them. I hope I remember that next time.
Filed under: Sunday Reflections
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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