Try a Little Kindness

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The other night at a family party, I fell into a conversation about education. Not surprising given the fact that Hubby and I were both teachers, and members of his extended family are or were elementary teachers, college instructors, and even one former school board trustee. Anyway, one of his family asked me to describe my favourite teachers when I was a student. She said she thought her “best teachers” were the ones who were hard on her. As a teacher myself, you’d probably expect me to agree that respect and a little fear are valuable tools in the classroom. But you know, I’ve always thought that a little kindness worked much better than fear. That was true for me as a child, and as a student, and it was true for me as a teacher.

I agree about the respect. I think that it’s important for students to respect teachers. But fear was never a tool that I wielded in the classroom. That’s because I tried very hard to model my teacher-self on the teachers I’d loved. And the teachers whom I loved as a child were inordinately kind.

I was an anxious child. I suffered from “school phobia” for a time. For one nightmarish semester in grade three, I was a mess every morning before school. I’d cry and cry, and sometimes even throw up, and Mum would have to physically put me on the school bus. Our family doctor had told her that if she didn’t make me go to school, I’d never go. When I was grown and studying to be a teacher myself (I know… go figure) I learned that school phobia can be caused by separation anxiety, and is sometimes a reciprocal thing, triggered by the fears of both child and parent.

Anyway, once the bus had pulled away from our driveway, I’d be fine. I actually loved school. And I especially loved my grade three teacher Miss Barrett who was always kind and calm and smiling.

Apparently Fred Rogers’ mother knit all his sweaters. source

My conversation at that family party reminded me of an article by Mary Pflum Peterson which my sister shared the other day on Facebook. A couple of years ago, Ms. Peterson produced a news segment about Fred Rogers, host of the famous children’s television show Mr. Rogers’ Neighbourhood, to coincide with the release of the documentary Won’t You Be My Neighbour? The recent release of the movie about Mr. Rogers, starring Tom Hanks, made Peterson think about that television segment she produced, and the old episodes of the show she’d binge-watched as research. And how, to her great surprise, her kids, who had no idea who Mr. Rogers was, began watching with her. And loved what they saw.

She says her kids liked Mr. Rogers because he was kind and calm, and they were absolutely certain that he liked them back. Turns out, Peterson says, that “in a world of so much chaos and noise, kids like calm sincerity.” You can read her article for yourself here.

I didn’t grow up watching Mr. Rogers Neighbourhood. But I faithfully watched a Canadian children’s show called The Friendly Giant. And so did most of the people I know. How we loved Friendly! Like Mr. Rogers he was kind and calm and easy. In each episode, we visited him in his castle, where he played the recorder and interacted with a puppet giraffe named Jerome, and a rooster named Rusty who lived in a cloth bag that hung on the castle wall.

At the beginning of each show, Friendly would narrate the goings on in the village below the castle. In winter we might see the snow plow head down a miniature road past toy farms. Or in summer we’d see cows in the fields. Then he’d chat with Jerome and Rusty, and they’d play music. I always loved when Rusty would disappear down into his little bag and pull up all manner of musical instruments. How did he do that, I’d wonder? Funny that I never wondered at a rooster living in a cloth bag.

All day today while I’ve been writing, I’ve been watching old clips of The Friendly Giant. Except for a spell this afternoon when I went to get my hair cut. And even then Carmen and I laughed and reminisced about our favourite parts of the show that we’d both watched as kids. I remembered how I would not let my Mum turn off the television at the end, even once the credits had started. That’s because at the end of the credits, after the drawbridge on Friendly’s castle had been pulled up, the sky would darken, and the moon would come up behind the castle. And just at the last second before the camera switched away, a cardboard cow would jump over the moon. No matter what, I could NOT miss that cow.

Have a look at the segment below. Jerome’s dancing is priceless. He was a bit of a drama queen, I think. And when he calls Rusty “clever feathers,” well, I laughed out loud at that. The segment includes the show’s ending, the familiar theme song, the tiny chairs pulled up to the fireplace in the castle, supposedly for us, the visitors. And the cow. The cow jumps over the moon at the very, very end, although it’s hard to see. Sigh. That made me smile.

As a child I loved The Friendly Giant because it was calm and quiet. Friendly and Jerome were always kind to each other, and to Rusty. They might gently tease, but it was not mean-spirited teasing. It was teasing that said “I know you,” and I feel comfortable enough with you to be able to pull your leg just a little. I remember another favourite teacher, Mr. Piers, teasing me in grade school. His teasing never hurt my feelings. Quite the contrary. It made me smile. That’s because it was kindly meant. And was based on his understanding of who I was as a person. Like Mary Pflum Peterson’s kids said about Mr. Rogers, I knew that my teacher was kind, and that he liked me as much as I liked him.

You know, I had no idea where this post was going when I started writing. Just that I wanted to say something about the value of a little kindness. I know that there have been times in my life when I was not kind. When I valued the smart, funny remark over someone else’s feelings. And I don’t claim to have been a perfect teacher, always kind, calm, and unruffled. Ha. I wish.

But I do know that I always hoped that kids wanted to be in my class, that they felt safe coming to my class. I remember teachers I knew as a student who I feared so much that I always, always messed up around them. Panic never engendered achievement, at least for me. I remember that sinking feeling as a kid, of fear and dread when I entered some classrooms. And I remember the opposite. The feeling of being welcomed, of entering a safe space where we could relax and smile and just learn.

I think that Mary Pflum Peterson learned a lesson that we all need to learn. She learned that her “twenty-first century kids,” as she put it, still need the calm guidance of kind adults. That these lessons we thought had fallen out of style are still important. And I think that we all need a little kindness.

In fact, given all the crazy, chaotic, angry posturing we keep hearing these days, wouldn’t it be cool to send some people back in time for a kindness refresher course? I’m thinking of hours and hours of binge-watching Mr. Rogers’ Neighbourhood or The Friendly Giant… or both. Followed by some time on the naughty step if they haven’t yet learned how to be kind, how to share, how to speak with a civil tongue, and how not to tell fibs. Ha.

What do you think?

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50 thoughts on “Try a Little Kindness”

  1. I thought your Friendly Giant was charming & I would have been a big fan of Jerome . We always remember the kind teachers . I remember the kind teachers from over sixty years ago at my first school . One of them is alive & well in my hometown & my sister sees her shopping at the local outdoor market . It must be lovely to bump into old pupils & have them so pleased to see you . And I agree , the world definitely needs more kindness .

  2. I am SO with you on this topic ! I went to a very strict all-girls school in England. It was such a shock after my small friendly village school. I was a good scholar until I left there, but I’m sure I never realised my potential at High school because I was in a state of absolute terror for at least the first two years. All the teachers were female, and I’m sad to say most of them used humiliation as a teaching tool. I still remember fondly one or two teachers who actually talked to me as if I was a human being. There couldn’t have been much of an issue with discipline with girls ( in the 50’s ) so why they they used this sadistic approach I really don’t know ! It took me quite a few years to get some confidence after I left. The only positive thing to come out of it is what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger ! I wish we’d we’d had teachers like you !

    1. Sometimes a school develops a particular culture, as yours must have done. New young teachers are encouraged to toe the “party line” and the culture is perpetuated. Good that at least some of the teachers were more human with you.

  3. Thank you Sue, for this trip down memory lane! I grew up watching The Friendly Giant too and hadn’t thought about it in decades until reading your post. We moved to the States in ’83 and my children grew up watching Mr. Rogers. Kindness has never killed anyone, as far as I know and in this chaotic world, in these chaotic times, there’s not enough of it.

    1. There is definitely a shortage of kindness. I read an article recently which quoted from a study showing that kids thought their parents valued academic achievement over the development of character traits like kindness and empathy.

  4. Oh, the memories have come flooding back…although they are in black and white (!!). I loved the Friendly Giant and the cow’s somewhat jerky jump over the moon. From time to time two little cats (hand puppets?) guest-starred…they were musicians and I think one of them was named Fiddle.

    I liked the kindly teachers too. My Grade 2 teacher was ‘mean’. I got back at her by vomiting on the classroom floor when she wouldn’t let me jump the washroom line at recess. 🙂

    1. That jump was always a little jerky, wasn’t it? Ha. Hubby says that he “got back” at a teacher who wouldn’t let him go to the waskroom in grade one by peeing his pants.

  5. I couldn’t see the cow either. But my daughter grew up with Mr. Rogers. I always liked his show and he did seem just so kind and nice – things that are sorely missing today unfortunately.

  6. Hi Sue,
    My younger brothers watched the Friendly Giant. I do remember the theme song which I loved. It bought tears when I listened…it must be the season…I get like this at Xmas.

    I sitting here trying to think of a teacher who was kind or even took an interest in me. Perhaps my history teacher in high school. School was difficult for me and I could not finish soon enough. Sad eh!

  7. My favorite teacher was my third grade teacher, Mrs. Atherton. As in all of your examples, she was kind and calm and made her classroom a comforting place. However, here is a way that your friend was right. She challenged me, you could say she was hard on me. I wrote a report. She gave it back to me and told me she knew I could write a much better one. Because she was so kind, I heard it as a complement as was able to rewrite that report and make it better. She taught me to not settle.

  8. Kindness was hugely important to me when I was teaching…every student was greeted warmly and making each one feel safe and secure within the walls of our classroom was high priority. How can effective learning take place when you are afraid of a teacher and what might happen during a class? Friendly Giant was a favourite television program…I especially loved his descriptions of the chairs that would be waiting for us the next day as it seemed so welcoming. Lots of great memories tied to that show! Cheers, Alayne

  9. After 70 years, I can still visualize my first and second grade teachers. Kindness was their MO. If I smelled White Shoulders now, I’d probably burst into tears because of Natalie Rodgers Green, my second grade teacher.

    1. Thanks a lovely story, Cheryl. I still think of Miss Barrett when I smell fried rice. Not because that was her perfume. Ha. But because we studied China in geography and she brought in an electric frying pan and made fried rice for the class. Not sure how authentic it was, but it was exciting to be eating in class. Something that was definitely NOT allowed.

  10. I went to seven elementary schools (no kindergarten), two junior highs and one high school across several countries. School was always a bit of a trauma because when I would leave one school and enter another–often at mid-year–there were always lessons that were missed. The old school hadn’t started a subject and the new one had already finished it (e.g. fractions–missed entirely–which forever made ongoing maths learning absolute hell). I was frequently confused and lost in school and covered it with self-mocking humour and sarcasm as I got older. Looking back I can only remember one kind teacher. Mr Bruneau, my chemistry teacher, who once spent one entire class period with me demonstrating the use of a slide rule and whose gentle guidance throughout that year was the only reason I finished with an A. This grade was a lovely rebuke of a very unkind school counselor who wasn’t going to let me take his class because she told me I wasn’t smart enough. Kindness can never be over-rated.

  11. I had several kind and some not so kind teachers and agree the kind impacted me more. I remember teachers hitting students and it was terrifying. I watched Captain Kangaroo and it was just fun and reassuring. Thank you for this post.

  12. I teach singing. The best teachers I ever had were ones that nurtured and encouraged me, the ones who would say, “Okay, I really liked the way you did this, but could we make THIS match up to it?” That’s how I teach. I’m very honest – but I always make sure that I emphasize what they did well. Sometimes it has to be, “I can tell you really like this song. Let’s see if we can get that out to everyone else.”

    The worst teacher I ever had was very well respected as a vocal pedagogue, but I never heard a good thing from her. I still remember her shaking her head so hard while I was singing that her long dangling earrings were smacking her in the face, and I had NO idea what I was doing wrong. I just wanted to stop and yell, “WHAT? What is it that is disturbing you so much?” At the end of my lesson, the woman at whose house she was teaching (the teacher came up from Chicago to Milwaukee) saw me to the door and said, “You’re such a great singer! I love your voice,” and I said, kinda shell-shocked, “Thanks. I was really doubting myself because Barbara didn’t say one good thing about my singing at all…” and she said, “Oh, Barbara doesn’t do praise.”

    Yeah, that doesn’t work for me. As a teacher or as a student.

  13. Today has been very tricky but watching that was balm. Simplicity is no bad thing. I especially enjoyed the little fireplace and chairs. Thanks for that. Kind.

  14. This post was so timely for me. Our granddaughter has just been diagnosed with school phobia. She is suffering horribly and has not been to school since September. My heart is breaking for her. She is seeing specialists to help her. It seems like its going to be a long road for her. It helped me to hear you overcame your phobia and even became a teacher.
    Thanks for such an honest post.

  15. Wonderful post! We didn’t have a TV until I was 13, but I loved watching The Friendly Giant at my grandparents’ house whenever I had the chance. I loved his gentle, kind demeanour. You know what surprised me today though? I always thought of the Giant as old; you know, like a grandparent, and now I realize that I’m probably older than he was!

    I’m also a retired school teacher who believed in kindness and respect. I especially remember one little girl from a motherless home who used to come to me once in awhile and tell me that she needed a hug. Of course, she always got one. She’s now a young mother to two little girls of her own. I hadn’t seen her in years, but ran into her at a funeral recently and the first thing she did was give me a big hug! Most children aren’t as obvious in stating their need for compassion and kindness, but they’re always better teaching tools than fear!

  16. I had forgotten all about The Friendly Giant! LOL Wow…so very long ago.

    I was more of a Mr. DressUp fan myself. I’d grab my TV tray filled with paper, crayons, glue and an egg carton so I’d be ready to craft along with Mr. DressUp. Times were simpler then.

    I was lucky to have some great teachers growing up.

    Kindness is lacking in our society. No one seems to know what it is to be polite. Filters don’t exist.

    Last week when I popped into the grocery store to quickly grab a couple of items for a cake I was baking I was reminded of this. An older man was very slowly pushing his cart along the aisles. With ease I quickly passed in front of him and his cart and the man spat out in disgust, loud enough for me and others around to hear, “Stupid woman!” I stopped dead in my tracks. Seriously? What was the point of that? Is this what we’ve become? I became so angry I thought my brain would explode.

    Suzanne
    http://www.suzannecarillo.com

  17. So true. Coincidently, I’ve been working on a blog posting about teachers too. Growing up and going to school in the 50s and early 60s we had a cross-section of all kinds. One math teacher I had in grade 12 had such a violent temper. Two weeks into the school year, she gave us a math test (I have math phobia). She then rearranged the seating so the kids with the lowest marks sat at the front, working their way back to the best students sitting in the back. I was front and centre for the rest of the school year, right in the line of fire when she threw things or slammed the yardstick on a desk. She once hit a student with the back of her hand and her ring cut his face, requiring stitches. I spent the entire year in extreme terror, fearing her tantrums. Teachers got away with those things back then and parents took the teacher’s side. Thank goodness things have changed. Our best teachers were the kind but firm ones.

    1. Wow. I can’t imagine having a teacher like that. I think that high school teachers were allowed more leeway back then. Too much, obviously. I had a high school math teacher who made fun of me because I spoke so softly she couldn’t hear my answers to her questions. I used to dread that class. Nothing against math which I loved. Or against Math teachers in general… some of whom are dear friends.

  18. I remember my sixth grade teacher, Ms. Jane Bell, so fondly. By far, it was my favorite year of school. She made school inviting, informative and fun. I imagine she is gone now. I wish I had an opportunity to thank her. I feel like you were that kind of teacher. I enjoy your posts so much.

  19. I absolutely loved “The Friendly Giant”! Thanks for the wonderful memories.
    My favourite teachers were kind, caring and created a safe environment……it just so happens that several of them were math teachers 🙂

  20. “Being hard” can be kind. It can mean the teacher who didn’t let you coast–because she/he cared about you. I was a straight-A student even without studying and a quiet goody-two-shoes. There was no reason to be hard on me. But my favorite teachers pushed me to do more. It was a way of saying, “I see you and I believe in your talent.” The contrary, not pushing like this, is a passive way of saying either “I don’t care” or “you’re not going anywhere, don’t think so highly of yourself.” For the students who have difficulties, it’s the same–if they worked hard, they need the praise for it and encouragement to continue, because even with hard work they might not get a great grade and could be discouraged. And if they don’t make an effort, they need to be called on it–it’s a way for a teacher to say, “I see you and I believe you do have talent.” My kid went an entire school year without a teacher learning my child’s name. I asked for a meeting about 2/3 of the way through the year to call him on it. When I arrived, he had to check a paper with names and photos to find my kid. He said he had too many students to learn all the names. My kid said the meeting changed nothing. An invisible student. Better to have a teacher who’s hard on you than one who doesn’t care.
    BTW, I also was a teacher–a Peace Corps volunteer. 70 kids per classroom. Names that I’d never heard of before and didn’t even know how to pronounce. Kids all in the same uniform, with the same close-cropped haircut on both boys and girls. Yet I knew every one of the 700+ kids by the end of the first year, even those I didn’t have in class. So I cut my kid’s teacher no slack.

    1. There’s no excuse for not “knowing” one’s students. When I had six classes, all with over thirty students and was bemoaning how I’d ever learn all those names, Hubby (who taught Phys ed) would always say, “Try learning them when everyone is running around a gym.”

  21. I completely agree with you about kindness and politeness,in education and other departments of life and culture.
    I loved school (mostly) and had some wonderful teachers,they were kind and polite,competent and efficient- all of them were respected and loved by whole class (mostly :-)),they’ve left their marks on my life,as well as you did on students in your classes,I’m sure
    I’m a friend with one of my teachers,as well as with one of my son’s teachers, now
    But,naturally,I’ve had some real psychopaths too,and some in between
    Love The Friendly Giant,can imagine how it was lovely and exciting to wait for the next episode
    Dottoressa

    1. I remember anticipating watching The Friendly Giant when I was little. I think we were lucky that the CBC wanted to produce quality children’s programs. Hope you are well, my friend, and not too, too busy preparing for the season. 🙂

  22. So true! “in a world of so much chaos and noise, kids like calm sincerity.” Kindness expressed by teachers can influence a student’s perspective and attitude towards life. In fact, the kindness my children received from their teachers has had a significant impact on their development. I sincerely appreciate every little kindness we received and try to give and show the kindness to the people around.

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