What determines our behavior? On some level of consciousness we ask ourselves questions to determine our behavioral response. What are the rules? What are the laws? What will the consequences be? What does everyone else seem to be doing? Is anybody watching? How much does it matter to me? How much does it matter to others?
For me, as a classroom teacher, it was always important to be very clear with my elementary aged students about my behavioral expectations for them. They looked to me for leadership. That was appropriate. It was my class, I was the adult, and their cooperation in behaving themselves and following procedures meant that we could both be purposeful in the teaching and learning that was supposed to take place in our classroom.
Through the years I taught I became convinced of four things. Consistency on my part did a lot to eliminate confusion and kept the focus on the benefits of cooperation. It was sooo much harder to tighten standards once expectations were loosened due to my willingness to look away and not stay firmly planted in what I knew would ultimately lead to the best for my students. What I said was never as important as what I did. I also came to strongly believe that it is no kindness to let a child continue to misbehave.
Although behavior in a classroom is a very simplified parallel to what happens with regard to behavior by adult citizens in our country I believe certain principles can be applied. Americans look to the Constitution, founding documents, and laws as guidance for expectations of commonly acceptable behavior from our citizens. It becomes confusing and divisive as exceptions are made. Procedures that must be followed for one group but are never expected, even out of what seems like kindness, for another group create distrust of leadership. What are really the rules? Do they mean it? What happens if I don't follow them? Does it matter? When will it matter?
In all the coverage of the recent focus on DACA I have not heard anyone ask if these adults who were brought to this country illegally — without a say in the matter and now making this country their home — why, as adults, have they not become citizens? They generally sound like responsible, hard working, tax-paying people whom I would welcome as fellow citizens and neighbors. If the cost of becoming a citizen is deterring them surely those to whom this is an important issue can find a way to provide low cost help so that these adult illegals can become citizens.
If fear of deportation is the issue, surely a grace period with a clear end date can be observed while they are undergoing the process of becoming a citizen.
More and more I see in society the result of lowered expectations and disregard for the laws in deciding acceptable behavior. It reminds me of the muddle I sometimes found myself in as a teacher with my class. Being lax creates stress and uncertainty, invites protest, and discredits laws and procedures.
Righting a course takes strength and unity of leadership. Can't we make a dream of citizenship come true for those who were brought here illegally as children and now know this as home?
Pam Schallock of Bakersfield is a longtime elementary teacher who is now enjoying the pursuit of many long neglected interests in her retirement.