I Am Not Mr Rogers

It’s no hot take to describe Mr. Fred Rogers as a hero of youth development and youth work. Teachers, childcare professionals, alternate educators – Rogers offers an example to all of us. He’s an example to many people with his quiet attitude and demeanor. A constant inspiration to me – I use his videos to help prep summer counselors. “Here’s what I mean,” I say.

Rogers was quiet. He valued quiet – in a Charlie Rose interview he bemoaned the noise of modern life. Such was his gift for public speaking, it didn’t sound like an old man yelling at a cloud. It was an articulated point about how we don’t sit and listen. How we ignore mindfulness in pursuit of distraction – he stated we desire “information” over “wonder.”

Which is a whole other topic – what a way to point out the change in national science standards positively, years before they hit – the acknowledge the importance of process over fact-learning. Not today.

Today, at the risk of narcissism, I speak about myself. For the past several years I have worked very hard to cultivate a youth-worker persona. With children, I am quiet, calm as much as possible. It’s something I have to work at – and I’ve done it because of Fred Rogers. But I’m not Fred Rogers.

This thought came to me as I helped coach my daughter’s basketball team to victory this weekend (kudos to the lead coach). I am a naturally loud person, honed by improv and theater, I can project well and deeply. I get very excited – my demeanor when truly interested is still childlike. Full of wonder. But I am not Fred Rogers – his soft-spoken, truly other-focused demeanor is not the way I have fully developed.

It was in the moments of that basketball game I realized how okay that was. Fred Rogers would say “I like you for being you,” and this dawned on me as well. And it was a happy moment to realize I wasn’t Fred Rogers because there was only one.

Lessons from him I internalized – be kind to others. To listen to children. To let them wonder. To let them lead.

But lessons from others as well, and self-developed skills. To focus. To look children in the eye. I am more intense with children, more willing to speak sharply. These are not moments I look for. But I have been paired with children who needed extra love, and that love comes sharply at times. Sharp and stern do not equal mean and loud, however. Volume counts as much as tone for many.

My own style for educating has been honed over almost 16 years – constant work with children. Constant looking to heroes – Rogers is and always will be one.

The lesson to take for anyone in education is love and patience and caring. Caring for your students, showing them the respect you hope they give you. And patience, immeasurable patience, patience so long and calm some may say “you let those kids walk all over you” but others will see a relationship built on trust. Because those kids are the ones who have internalized failure and non-action. You give them room to grow when you offer patience and calm.

Quiet and focus. These are lessons from Fred Rogers, who I wish I could have met and whom I think would be proud of me if he did.

But I am not Fred Rogers, and I am proud of that.


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