Please. Thank you. Such simple words.
Words that, as a toddler, I learned were required in any request.
Some of my eighth grade students either haven’t learned this or have forgotten it.
Our school shares a building with another school (“The Academy”), but there is some crossover between the two. Academy kids play on our sports teams and participate in our clubs. Some Academy kids take our high school classes, and some of our high school students take Academy classes.
Eighth graders are working on their schedules for next year (and, indeed, their four-year plans.) Spanish is the only foreign language our school offers, but the Academy offers French and Japanese. Perhaps German as well. Our students have to request permission to take an Academy class. In order to take a foreign language at the Academy, a student must have two of his or her teachers complete a recommendation form. One of those teachers must be an English teacher, and as I am the only eighth grade English teacher, I get numerous requests to complete these recommendations, on which I rank from 1 (lowest) to 5 (highest) the student’s work ethic, maturity level, potential to succeed, etc.
And usually, I’m happy to do it.
But I like to be asked nicely.
“Hey, you need to fill this out for me,” was the first request I got. I told her to try again. I reminded her about that lovely word, please.
“I need you to fill this out,” a boy said to me today — without his name or the class he was requesting even completed on the form — “and if you would mark all 5’s that would be great.”
“Um, let’s back up and start over,” I said.
“See,” said his friend, who also had a form for me to complete, “I told you to let me do the talking.” And yet this friend did not actually speak up and do the talking he said he knew he should do.
When I tell people I teach middle school English, they picture reading homework and grammar lessons and vocabulary lists and writing assignments. They picture the English part. But really I teach middle schoolers, and there is more to it than the subject matter.
It’s manners, too. It’s please and thank you and would you be willing. It’s responsibility and kindness and respect and compassion, some of which is incredibly hard to teach if they don’t have a basis for it already.
Teaching is about so much more than assigning homework and grading papers. It’s about helping young people become good people.
Please and thank you are just the beginning.