At times have I seen the students lose focus, and start to whisper and look at each other, glance under the books into the desks. Instruction grinds down to a crawl. The teacher has to do something at these moments. “Now students,” I might say, “I know, it seems like you have time to play in class, but at 3:00 you will be leaving for the day. Time is passing faster than you know, we have to get through the curriculum of this year before June, and as Benjamin Franklin said, “Time which is lost is never found again.”
They look at me questioningly. Unbelieving. Time is infinite when you’re nine years old.
“Yes it’s true,” I tell them. “When you’re young, it seems like Saturday will never come, but it will. Even years go by. Where you are now, a child, I once was, and where I am today, a grandparent, you some day will be.”
They look pensive. They are considering whether this might be true. Turning into someone my age is not something they think is really possible. But it might be true. It clearly happened to me. They stop looking in the desks.
“Okay,” I say, because I’ve got them back. “Pick up those pencils, and write this down,” I put the instruction on the board, return to asking questions, moving on. In the afternoon, we will do independent work, stations, singing, dancing, etc., but the ability to listen attentively to instruction is to me a non-negotiable for a capable student.
What I have done I call admonition, direct instruction in personal character. It’s difficult to do. It has to be motivated by a sincere concern for student welfare. And you have to put yourself in there too, be honest about what you wish you had done, back when you were nine. It’s a way of remembering yourself. You were like them, years ago. Don’t you wish someone had explained some things back then? If so, tell the students today.