Monday, 15 June 2009

Praise in public, Reprimand in Private

When I was younger my mother would force me to sit with her while she ate her dinner. She worked late so my tea was eaten hours earlier. Nevertheless, each evening she would drag me downstairs to talk about our day as she ate. She worked (and still works) as a secretary so her stories were filled with office politics and managers pulling rank on the admin staff. Regardless of what had happened that day she would, however, maintain a simple principle: "Praise in public, reprimand in private."

As a teacher these words echo in my ear each day. In 3 years of teaching I have only raised my voice or told a child off in front of others a handful of times. I always make the effort to take the child aside and speak to them privately. Even when I've had children screaming, swearing and throwing things I try to remain calm and only speak to them about their behaviour once in private.

On Thursday last week I forget my rule and sniped, uneccesarily, at a student. She was asking for help on a subject I had explained, in some detail, two days earlier but she had lost the notes. Tired and exasperated I sniped at her. She actually took it well and sat down again, cheeks enflamed but still calm. I felt dreadful. Keeping 'face' is so important to students and what had I taught this young person? That questions may lead to embarrassment? Although I did not agree with her irresponsibility with the notes, being mean was not going to lead to a change in her behaviour. More likely she was going to decide that I was unreasonable and give up on her work.

At the end of the lesson I held her back and apologised for my behaviour. Calmer now I could explain why I became exasperated and gave her some strategies for getting answers to questions which didn't involve haranguing me yet again. We both left happy.

Today's tip? "Praise in public, reprimand in private". If you can. Trust me, sometimes it's hard.