When a child is misbehaving, not learning (at the rate and manner determined by the adults), or appears sullen and unhappy, what do you do? Do you blame the child?
“It’s because he’s lazy, spoiled, insolent?”
Or, do you blame the parents?
“They’re spoiling her.”
“They don’t set limits.”
“They let him do whatever he wants.”
“They aren’t supporting her learning at home. “
Blah, blah, blah.
Sound familiar? No? Really?
Come on, don’t tell me you’ve never participated in staff room conversations that blame the child or the parents for the child’s performance? No? Really? Well, let me try to jar your memory.
Have you ever been in the staff room on a bad day and you just need to vent, so you start venting about a particular child in your classroom or his parents? You start slowly because, in your heart of hearts, you’re not sure this is an ethical conversation to be having with your colleagues. But, slowly, as people start cheering you on, you get stronger in your convictions and your rant reaches a crescendo level. Finally, you’ve gotten it of your chest. And by this time, everyone is nodding in sympathy and someone has gotten up to close the door – in case there’s a parent lurking somewhere. Then, later, after you’ve cooled off, you may regret what you’ve said and wish you could take it back. Or, maybe you don’t regret what you’ve said. Darn it! That’s how you really feel!
Either way, I doubt any teacher is exempt from having participated in this kind of discussion at some point in their career. We’ve all been there, done that.
Why am I insisting on this? Because I want us to consider the damage these conversations, large and small, have on us as educators, and by extension our profession, and our students. They focus on the negative and don’t solve any problems. In fact, they may create feelings of inadequacy and impotence. And, you still have to figure out what to do to teach this child who is challenging you to be your best.
Instead, we need to ask ourselves the following questions:
- What can I do to help this child learn?
- What angle or interest does this child have that can I use to attract his attention towards learning?
- What haven’t I tried?
At every school where I’ve taught I’ve heard and read about the importance of “parent involvement”, or at least that’s what we used to call it when I first became a teacher in 1985. Now, that’s a long time ago! But over the years, we’ve gotten more PC. It is now called “parent partnerships”. In the end, it means the same thing: parents are talked (down) to and are told what’s wrong with their child. Then, they are told what the school thinks is the best decision for their child. Rarely are the parents asked what they think might work or what they would like to try. Oh, and forget about talking with the child to see what’s going on! No, no, no. That would be a “family partnership”. Can’t have any of that. Everyone in their place. Teachers at school. Parents at home. And, students…students…Oh, yes, of course! Students at their desks.
There’s something wrong with this picture. Seriously wrong.
We need to paint the opposite picture. All of our lives depend on it.