I began a short-term teaching assignment this week in five public school classes. I put the chairs in a circle and didn’t make seating charts so I could watch the students come in, choose their spots, make their alliances, and figure out the lay of the land in their own ways.
“Sit anywhere,” I said at the door on the first day.
The students tentatively chose their seats, arranged their belongings into racks under their seats and talked quietly among themselves.
Day Two, still no seating chart. “Sit anywhere,” I said again, and watched as they all returned to their exact same seats. Everyone. All day. No exceptions.
On the third day, a transfer student arrived and sat in someone’s de facto seat. It threw everyone off until the newcomer graciously moved.
These aren’t little children, either. Some will go to high school next year. But in the first days of a new class, new teacher, and constellation of unknown expectations, they found one thing they could control.
The need for routine and predictability doesn’t age out. Churchgoers know it just as well as these kids, don’t we? We like to know what to expect, what to do, where to sit.
It touches me deeply to see mindful adults prepare children for new situations thoughtfully and honestly, and walk together hand in hand. It hurts when we rush our young ones into unfamiliar, even fearful settings without preparation and, worse, alone. –To say “it won’t hurt” at the doctor’s office when it most certainly will, or “man up!” when what is needed is reassurance and time to get a feel for a new place, new person, new responsibility. No adult I know would like to be treated that way. Gentleness is such a gift.
I love the image of a four-year-old leading the way through an open door with the father close behind — the child setting the pace and beginning to experience independence, the parent an arm’s length away, actually holding the door open. We are at our best when we create opportunities for our children to learn, when we support and share in their discoveries, and make safe the path to independence one step at a time.