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Other People's Ill Mannered Kids -- Coping Without Getting Sued!
Something for the kiddies...
In the general scheme of things; I’m of the opinion we should all give back to society in any way we can – within reason. I’ve only recently added “within reason” to that statement due to a recent appearance as “Miss Sis.” Miss Sis is my alter ego when entertaining children’s groups. Dear hearts, if you’ve not experienced an occasion wherein it’s your sworn duty to entertain children – well, it’s a whole ‘nother world out there!
I recently accepted an invitation from a friend to join her in presenting a program about the Chisholm Trail which runs through our tiny county to grade school children. She was going to speak on the subject, invite the children’s questions, etc. and then she wanted me to entertain – probably 15/20 minutes with old trail songs, ie cowboy music, etc. I considered this a shoo-in as I’ve done it for umpteen years.
On the appointed day I gathered up my guitar, banjo, dressed in my Miss Sis regalia and sallied forth. Upon our arrival we discovered we would entertain two small classes (two separate shows) of “gifted” children – in this case meaning those kids brighter than the average bear. Each group’s teacher would be in attendance – which seemed right to me – and so the afternoon began.
And now kiddies...
There was a small room designated for our little gathering which consisted of a big, round table and eight chairs (grown-up size) – so obviously our two classes were going to be small in number. The first class tromped in, with teacher at exactly 2:00 o’clock. Their very entrance gave me cause for pause. One little boy immediately took a running jump onto the table, slid across it and stopped just short of landing in our speaker’s lap. Before we could “help” him down from the table another kid began literally standing on his head in one of the chairs. All the kids were involved in loud conversation among themselves.
While all this was going on a little girl proceeded to grab my banjo (which was leaning up against the wall and an expensive instrument) and ride it like a stick horse before I could dislodge it from her. Ahhhh…this was going to be an interesting afternoon – no doubt about it. The teacher was viewing all this with a jaundiced eye but said nary a word to calm these little bearers of excess energy. Our speaker rearranged all her notes which the “table slider” had scattered. I put my banjo behind my chair and the presentation began.
The speaker had spent a lot of time not only researching for the afternoon but making sure her presentation was geared to children of early grade school intellect. Gifted though these kids may be their intellect was definitely early grade school BUT did not, however, include any semblance of manners or discipline in any shape or form. They grabbed at the speaker’s notes, interrupted her repeatedly and visited among themselves.
The teacher made one statement and one statement only: “Now, children, you must sit quietly and listen carefully as Ms. Jean has some interesting things to tell you.” That was this teacher’s one and only input regarding the out-of-control situation. Ms. Jean finally resorted to answering the kids questions as they showed no interest at all in listening to her presentation. The kids had studied the Chisholm Trail the entire week before we showed up to entertain them so they were well armed with questions!
Time to hang up the guitar and banjo!
When it came my time to perform I engaged in a little pre-performance conversation with the kids and advised them I’d answer questions and take comments when I had finished my part of the program. It’s really hard to play an instrument, sing and answer questions at the same time. The kids nodded in agreement – which I didn’t, by that time, trust at all -- and began my first song accompanying myself on the guitar. They all watched and listened with great intent. My confidence as to kid crowd control grew exponentially at that point. By the time I put down the guitar and picked up the banjo the kids had sung along with me on a couple of old songs and I was convinced I had the deal in the bag.
When I picked up the banjo and began explaining a bit about the instrument is where I sensed things were going downhill from there. My audience was absolutely enthralled by the banjo itself, had a million questions right out front and slipped back into “out of control.” I finally got a tiny bit of quiet and began “She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain” – and they all joined in singing – ahhhh, back on track. Banjo music, by nature, is an “up” foot-stomping, hand clapping instrument and crowds of all ages usually respond to it somewhat like being on a “sugar high.” My little listeners were no exception. A couple of more songs and the hockey hit the fan.
A mouthy little boy sitting right next to me reached over with both hands and latched onto the neck of my banjo with a death grip, setting back and pulling it toward him. Again, the banjo is old, irreplaceable (actually quite valuable) and dear to my heart. I politely asked him to let go while looking at the teacher; hoping for assistance. None was forthcoming although she had a look of sheer panic on her face. I continued to talk to the child, explaining all the reasons why he couldn’t have the banjo – including the show must go on – and not once did he lessen his grip or even act like he’d heard what I was saying.
By now I was nearly in panic mode as one does not knock the hell out of children – which, in all truth, had been my first inclination. Giving up all hope of reasoning with the little devil or expecting teacher assistance; I leaned over and quite gently whispered in his ear “If you don’t turn lose my banjo I promise Miss Sis is going to break both your wrists!” Glory be – he turned loose and with both lips in pouting mode sat back in his chair. “You’re not very nice,” he announced in a somewhat overly loud voice. “Neither are you,” I replied “and you need to sit there and be quiet – you’re ruining the music for everyone else.”
He was a quick study as he immediately came back with “My mommy and daddy don’t talk to me like that!” I didn’t tell him I figured that was the case but immediately took it upon myself to advise him “That’s too bad – why don’t you tell them about you grabbing my banjo and tell them to call me about it if they want to,” and with that I launched into another song so we’d change direction.
I finished my little part of the afternoon, quickly got both the guitar and banjo in their cases to prevent further disruption and took a deep breath. The teacher thanked us and the next class arrived. By now I was very cautious about these “gifted” children. The next class was equally as rude and badly behaved but I didn’t have to protect my instruments from them. When the last show was done the teacher briefly explained to Ms. Jean and me what a teacher’s position now has to be as far as disciplining her students. It seems their hands are tied and nearly any discipline whatsoever, including verbal can be considered grounds for a lawsuit, dismissal or both. I’d never heard of such a thing and was appalled – but it sure explained a lot.
To add insult to injury the teacher advised us the local press was on its way to interview us and take pictures for the next edition of the paper and asked if we’d stay long enough to talk to them. We agreed but I had my conditions in mind before the reporter ever arrived. First of all, I would not agree to any pictures of me – Ms. Jean only and that was set in stone. Secondly, they could call me “Miss Sis” but if they put my real name or where I lived in their article I’d sue ‘em hands down. Any more calls requesting entertainment for children had just moved to the bottom of my "might do" list. We did our bit with the reporter, loaded up all our stuff and headed for the parking lot.
The first words out of Ms. Jean’s mouth (we’re close friends) was “I was so proud of you when you shut that kid down. I had no idea kids were that disruptive. Things are sure not like they were when I was in school!” I thanked her and kept walking. A few days later I was in the bank and my banker complimented me on my willingness to perform for the kids. His wife was one of the teachers and had told him about our afternoon. I’ve known this guy for a zillion years, consider him a friend, and shared my “untimely incident” about the little boy trying to take my banjo away from me.
He laughed like a loon and then in all seriousness said, “Sis, you can’t do things like that today. That kid’s parents could have sued you seven ways to Sunday!” I let that statement just hang there and as my business was concluded, left the bank. I thought about what he’d said while I drove home and came to one conclusion that made more sense to me than any other.
Miss Sis has had a long and successful run over the years and it may just be time to pack up the banjo and guitar and go to the house – or ride off into the sunset – or whatever will get me the hell out of Dodge (entertaining children) the fastest. This last appearance has left a bad taste in my mouth I can’t get over – not because of the kids but their parents.
Kids that experience no discipline at home by parents' choice -- or at school because it's not allowed -- and are not taught manners in either place -- aren’t candidates for a successful future. Being “gifted” but with no social skills whatsoever, can often result in a life of brilliant but lonely existence. These are the kids that are often bullied for being nerds or in the alternative pompous asses as they have no "acceptable/unacceptable" behavioral map to guide them.
There’s a simple way to prevent that from happening – it’s only one word with two letters, can make a huge difference in a child's entire life -- and should be included in every parent's vocabulary. The word should be imparted to their children on a regular basis – NO!
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