Though I will try to explain, not all will understand. But my kids would understand, and maybe, for this, that is all that matters. I call my kids losers. Every day. Every day, as they leave, I throw them a “Later, losers!” as we shuffle off to the next segment of our day. Many of them, return the sentiment. And I accept it warmly. Takes one to know one, and I am the lead loser in the room.
Okay. I know that some are raising a brow by now, “What kind of teacher calls his kids losers?” I get it. My job is to build them up, not beat them down. It runs counter to the idea of creating a nurturing, safe environment for our young learners. So, then, Mr. Syrie, what gives? It’s a test. One I have used for years. I call it the “loser test.”
Nothing I do is more important than build relationships–real relationships–with my kids. Everything follows from there. And in that building, comes a fond familiarity, the same fond familiarity that exists in most real relationships. When I call my lifelong friend Josh a jackass, he knows I mean, “I love you, man.” When I tell my two grade-level collaborators Jenna and Maddie that “I have better things to do than sit around and talk to you two all day,” they know I mean, “I cannot do what I do without you.” And so, when I dismiss my kids with a “Later, Losers,” they know I mean, “I value you, I will miss you.” Ask them.
Here’s my thinking around this unconventional approach. If I can call my kids losers without their thinking they’re losers, then I have established a real relationship with them. Of course, I do not begin the year by calling my kids losers. I don’t know them, and they don’t know me. But in my concerted efforts to forge relationships with them, it doesn’t take me very long. And, too, there are some kids I would never call “loser” individually, for the depth is not there. And that’s the reality of it. Try as I might–and I try hard–there are some kids with whom I never achieve that fond familiarity. But there are many with whom I do, and I let them know, as I often as I can, how much I value our connection. And, thus, I pay them the highest of compliments. I call them losers.
Today, I will pay my last compliment to my seniors as they walk into the next stages of their lives. I had many of them as sophomores, so after two full years with them, the familiarity, the fondness flows deeply. They are losers to the “nth” degree. And so, with a heavy heart, a warm smile, and a handshake or a hug, I will do today what I have done for so long, I will call them losers–one last time.