I was speaking with a colleague the other day, simply processing and speaking about transitions and changes that we have experienced during our careers in education. I explained that one of the largest difficulties I had when transitioning from teaching high school to teaching early years was, wait for it, here it comes … hugs.
If you ever talked to anyone that knows me, they will clearly state that I am a not a person who is known for their hugs or cuddly personality. I was also told, probably as many other males teachers have been to be very careful of the contact that we initiate and conduct with students.
Other common pieces of advice that were easily imparted, but were equally important were avoid being alone with students of the opposite sex, don’t give students a ride home, if you do have to be alone with a student make sure that you are clearly visible, and most importantly no hugging.
All of this was easy to understand and apply, especially working in a upper years high school setting. When discussing it with friends, many would agree that teachers should be conscious and avoid hugging students. I even have one friend that believes that any hug, even those given to colleagues are inappropriate. In his words “hugs are for home” – yeah he has taken it a little far. A staff was by some circumstance falling out of a chair towards him, and rather than assist the staff, he avoided contact and moved out of the away. Like I said a little to far.
All this aside, I was a little apprehensive getting ready the first morning I was to teach early years. Rightly so, I was all ready, had some work for the morning, classroom set up, coffee in hand, and ready for anything. The kids arrived, not so bad, although this is a behavioral classroom and school, the kids came in quietly. They are directed to their classrooms. All is going well, I walk into class and get ready to welcome the students when all of the sudden I am attacked. The smallest of my students walks up and says good morning, and before I am able to react gives me a hug, well gives my leg and hip a hug. I had just enough time to turn side ways so that most of uncomfortable of events didn’t occur, the head of a child with no ill intent in the wrong physical location. I swear I almost screamed and the other teachers, just laughed.
Well, lets just say the remainder of the week was stressful, hugs in the morning, hugs at the end of the day even hugs as the kids left for lunch. I did however have to have many conversations with the teachers I worked with and my administrators. Needless to say it has been two years since that career changing and fateful day, and I have not turned into a babbling bag of emotions or cuddly bear. I greatly enjoy working with the students I do and have no issues giving hugs. I have however understood some basic rules and guidelines about giving and receiving hugs from students.
All humor aside, giving hugs to students is not inappropriate. They are a basic need to not only feel connected but to also assist an individual in balancing an emotional need. The basic rules that I have discovered and use are:
If a student asks for a hug, then the child gets a hug.
If a child is upset I can ask them if they would like a hug.
I don’t ask for hugs, and I only say a child must wait for a hug, if they are in an angry or aggressive state.
Then there are rules for giving hugs based on the age of the child.
The younger the child the closer to the ground you have to get, to well prevent the obvious. If this is unavoidable turning to receive a side hug is the best. I usually try to remain seated while children are in a hugging mood – that way we are at the same level.
Needless to say, I have come a long way. I understand and accept why hugs are important (shhh don’t tell any one, but hugs are nice). Most people who know me will say that I am still not a cuddly person, but hopefully they will say that in some ways the kids that have influenced me as much as I have influenced them. Hugs or public displays of affection show students and others that you are real, that you understand and that you care. It also builds trust and a relationship that says to younger children that if they need you are there, not only to teach and guide them, but to keep them safe, not just physically but also emotionally. I don’t know if I will continue to teach early years, but I do know this, that opportunities and experiences that I have had in the past two years are two elements that I would not trade for anything. They have made me a better teacher, a more patient teacher and overall a teacher that is more conscientious of how my behaviors can affect and influence the children/students I work with.