Recently at a PD session, Professional Development for those who may not know, a speaker, we will call her Dr Jones, shared a recent experience of hers.
She said that at one of her student parent conferences at her daughter’s school, the teacher told Dr Jones how she gave her a high grade in reading. Dr Jones questioned whether the student, her daughter, deserved it. The teacher responded that she loved having this student and just wanted to encourage her. Dr Jones responded, “please just teach my child, don’t worry about loving her, we can do that at home”.
There is a lot going on in this scenario. Dr Jones is a great parent. She is diligent, attentive and loving. She addresses a sentiment that should be respected. In her statement, she is trying to teach her child responsibility and rigor. She cares about her daughter’s development and does not want her to think that success will be handed to her. This is commendable. Dr Jones is a black woman with a Ph.D. She was probably given very little that she did not earn, and she is trying to instill that in her child.
However, the teacher sees a lot of students, many of whom do not have Dr Jones as a mother. Their scenarios are different. They probably do not have two parents in the household. They may live with other siblings, and the only parent in the house has to find a way to get them all to school. Once there, the parent probably has to go to work. The parent may not be educated, and most likely does not have degrees any where near what Dr Jones has. Once the child is home, they probably spend most of their time in front of the television.
What does it look like in high school?
The young adult now goes to school and comes home, often picking up another sibling on their way. An aunt, uncle or friend may have moved into the house. Perhaps several have come and gone in the five or six years since elementary school. Ideally these would have been nice people, but that is not always the case. Some may have brought their issues with them, and forced the child to hide in their room.
The child, now a teenager, is not a great student, but at least goes to school. They have minimal exposure to closeness with adults at home, and their primary contact is in their class. How does a teacher do their job without love? What would this look like?
The teacher can offer rigor and discipline. They can demand the student sit in their chair, stay focused on their work, and complete all assignments. When the student is out of line the teacher reprimands them. In some cases they even put them out of class for being disruptive, where they meet with the school disciplinarian. This is usually the least wavering person in the school who believes in consistent punishment for all.
What type of student has the system created? They probably have not seen academic success and have a low view of themselves. Their attachments are minimal and they may not have seen anything like intellectual curiosity. But they have learned that if you haven’t worked, you get nothing, and academically that may be what they are left with in the end. They are probably left with the same emotionally.
Is this the system we want?