They’ll Do What You Do, No Matter What You Say

“Do as I say, not as I do,” something I’m sure many of you have heard (or maybe even said!) at least once in your life.

As a teacher, I find this phrase maddening. Of course children aren’t going to do what you tell them to. They’re going to do what they see you doing- because that’s how freaking learning works. Modeling, people, is the easiest way to learn how to do something. And if you think any different, let me give you a quick analogy.

Say you need to find out how to get a broken light bulb out of a socket. You have two options: you can look up instructions and/or call Cletus the Electrician for advice and try it that way, or you can go straight to YouTube and see how it is done. If both sources are giving you the same information, fine,  that’s great. Either works.

But, if the instructions you’re reading(or hearing) give you a different way to do it than the video, which one are you more likely to rely on? Ding ding- you guessed it, the video! It’s way easier to see something done and copy it than it is to read or be told instructions and follow them. This is why it’s so important to model activities, worksheets, and even behavior in the classroom. Because that’s the easiest way to learn, and it’s something all children do. Children are modeling machines, copying all sorts of actions no matter the consequences and no matter how irrelevant the actions.

Today I saw a teacher at my elementary school come out of the bathroom stall, rinse her hands for maybe 5 seconds, and walk out. What? What is that? I know it’s not a huge deal but come on. We plaster infographics on how to wash your hands on nearly every surface in bathrooms for these kids. Sing happy birthday twice, count to twenty, make sure to use hot water and scrub under your fingernails. A student comes out of the bathroom at an elementary school and the first thing their teacher says is “did you wash your hands?” I’ve heard this teacher say that to her students- so why the hell didn’t she wash her hands?

I see things like this all the time, from little things like washing your hands (thank goodness her students didn’t witness her not even touch the soap dispenser) to a mom with cigarette in mouth and comical plume of smoke exiting her lips saying, “don’t you ever pick up cigarettes.” Well, lady, aren’t you just a pile of conflicting information?

In order to better the next generation, we need to show them how to be better. We need to be less angry, less afraid, and more engaged. And dammit we need to start washing our hands more.

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