My middle school starts every morning with a short, character-themed announcement generated by a company called Project Wisdom.
Sometimes the announcements encourage kids to show kindness to others or respect their elders. Other times, they encourage kids to think about the role that forgiveness or frustration are playing in their lives. All are designed to start conversations about what “being a kid of character” looks like in action.
Today’s message was about punctuality.
The gist was a simple one: Showing up on time is a simple way to respect the people who are counting on you or learning alongside you or trying to coach you or teach you.
But the message still has me thinking.
“How would you feel if you showed up to a department store and it didn’t open on time?” it read. “Or if the movie that you were trying to watch didn’t start on time? Or if your favorite television show didn’t start on time? You’d be frustrated, wouldn’t you — and those businesses would lose you as a customer.”
Can you see what’s sticking in my intellectual craw?
We DON’T go to department stores anymore. Instead, we shop online and have our packages delivered to our doorsteps. We DON’T wait for movies or television shows to start. Instead, we stay home and stream them or record them on our DVRs. We skip through commercials. We watch on multiple devices and from multiple places. We pause them when we want and restart them when we want.
We call the grocery store or the Target or the Walmart and have a friendly associate pick out our shopping list and bring it to our car in the parking lot. Honk for service, right? Heck — we don’t even wait in lines to see Santa or Mickey Mouse. We “fast-pass” our way to the front of them.
That HAS to be having an impact on kids growing up in today’s world, doesn’t it?
Isn’t it possible that their notions about the importance of being punctual are shaped by living life in a world where we can almost always get what we want whenever we want it?
I know that I see that kind of “on-demand” thinking in my students.
Here’s an example: Today, I was reading The Hunger Games aloud during our school’s enrichment period. I was at the most poignant part of the story — the moment when Rue is wounded and Katniss sings to her as she lay dying. I was crying while reading — It’s the Hufflepuff in me, y’all — and the students listening were hooked. You could hear the proverbial pin drop in my room.
Right at that moment, a boy from another class came into my room, walked up to sniffling, blubbering ol’ me and asked for a paper that he had missed because he was absent.
And he was confused when I fussed at him for interrupting. “I’m just trying to get my work,” he said. “Isn’t that what you want me to do?”
Spend some time in front of a middle school classroom and you will quickly discover that “on-demand” thinking happens a thousand times a day: Students will stand up in the middle of a lesson and hand you a paper that is four days late or ask to go and get a drink of water. Hands will raise right after you ask a pivotal question during a lesson. You’ll call on a student and get, “When is our field trip again?” or “Is Friday an early release day?”
I used to think that those kinds of moments were evidence of immaturity or selfishness. I do teach middle schoolers, after all. They still aren’t great at seeing beyond themselves.
But now I’m wondering if those moments are just a reflection of the world that we live in. Maybe today’s kids don’t see a need to wait — to get a drink, to get their question answered, to go to their lockers, to turn in papers — because in so many of the spaces where they spend their time, waiting just isn’t a thing.
(And more importantly, what do we do about it?!)
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