It’s fun to be a spectator sometimes, especially after getting to know the kids so well. On Fridays, I get the opportunity to be a spectator when I supervise PE. The kids become so present, and they forget that their teacher is watching their every move. All the while, their little personalities come out in full force. It usually isn’t long before their competitive sides come out either. PE will to do that to even the most civilized of students, and out of the corner of my eye, I saw another one of my students push another.
Conflict erupted and I spoke with both of the students carefully.
“Now here’s the hard thing about this,” I confided in them. “I don’t actually know what happened. I only saw one push.”
“But she pushed me first!” one student said.
“I didn’t push you!” the other replied, escalating. “I just tagged you!”
“Alright, alright,” I said, “this seems to me like it’s a matter of perception.”
They both looked at me wide-eyed.
Right, I remembered, they’re kids. Whoops.
“Okay, so perception means how you see something. So, like, you and I might see something differently. Make sense?”
“But here’s the tricky part, when people perceive things differently — when they see things differently — those different things become true to each of us. So what’s true to me, might not be true to you, and what’s true to her, may not be true to you,” I continued, putting my hand on the first student’s shoulder.
“It sounds like you think she pushed you, and if that’s how you feel, that’s how you feel. Your feelings are very real and we get that. On the other hand,” I said turning toward the other student, “you think you tagged him, and that’s also a very real feeling.
“But this is so tricky because right now we have three truths: we have my truth because I only saw one piece, we have your truth because of what you saw, and we have her truth, too. What should we do?”
“I know!” the first student said. “We can ask the PE teacher.”
“Ah, great idea,” I replied, “but wouldn’t that just make it so that we have a fourth truth? A fourth way of seeing things? That sounds even more confusing to me!”
They agreed, and therein lied my entry point.
“I have an idea,” I said. “Why don’t we pretend we’re each other, and pretend like we believe each other’s truths. You try first. Pretend you are her. Pretend you really feel like she just meant to tag you and that now you’re looking at this other person who’s really mad. What would you say?”
“I would say that I didn’t meant to push you, and that I was just trying to tag you,” he replied.
“And what would you say if you were the other?” I said, turning to the other student.
“I would ask them to be more careful next time,” she added.
The tension in the conversation broke. It seemed by taking a moment to hear each other’s truths made sure they both felt heard and understood. Apologies were exchanged, and smiles crept across their faces as they ran back to their game.
At the end of the day, there really is no truth in a classroom. In fact, at the end of the day, there are as many truths as there are bodies, and as our students’ teachers, all we can hope to do is help students see, acknowledge, understand, and question the many truths that permeate our days.