"Children learn to smile from their parents." -Shinichi Suzuki
Teachers get all this flack for how our nation's youth are turning out. Probably it's because it's something you can (try to) quantify. Because it's more within the government's jurisdiction. Possibly because you can't tell a person they're a bad parent or don't have their child's best interests in mind. And there's really no "right way" to parent a child--after that whole Tiger Mom controversy it seems that much more clear that there's not really the perfect way to parent--every method has its pros and cons but each can produce successful children.
There are however, wrong ways to raise a kid, and several of the parents at my school are doing a great job of that. Like playing Call of Duty with their 2nd grader (true story) instead of, I don't know, reading with them? reinforcing how to be kind, share, and use words, not violence? Also by recognizing that their kid is not a perfect angel--and it's not always the other children's faults--their kid needs to learn to take responsibility for their actions.
Parents make a huge difference. I was reading a story with some first graders about dolphins. It starts out saying that they're mammals, just like dogs, or humans. And this boy, J, is just like, no, humans aren't mammals. And I'm like, yes we are. And we just read it. And J's like, no my mom says we're not animals and we were created by God. Whoa, okay. Bringing up God. What do I say to that? I didn't want to discredit his parents. And I didn't have time to talk about it--I had to get going to a different class, but I was just like, that may be so, but it doesn't mean we're not animals. And the other kids in the group were totally agreeing with me. But there was no compromise for J--he wouldn't even listen to what I was saying. On one hand, it's America--freedom of religion! But on the other hand, it's a scientific fact that we're mammals--we have warm blood, and live birth and all that jazz.
This kid has also had some issues getting along with other kids, and his teacher commented that there may be a little bit of a race issue based on the problems he's getting himself into (he's white, there are a ton of students of color at the school). And I know his older brother is often at odds with his classmates. The other day J did something rude to another boy, D (who has his own discipline issues but has potential and can be a total sweetheart. It may have been J who tried to tattle on D for something insignificant), and the teacher asks J to talk it out with D instead of fighting. And J says "Why should I talk to a bully?" And the teacher goes "Excuse me?" (as in, did this really just happen?" And J repeats it. And is immediately sent to time out until he is ready to talk it out and apologize to D. I got the feeling that maybe that was something his parents said--don't talk to bullies. Except that that was about the rudest thing he could have said at that point, in a situation where there was no way D was being a bully.
Some students' parents aren't supportive of the teachers' suggestions or discipline, which makes it very hard for a student to learn decent behavior. Home life is so important. A lot of the children with the worst behavior problems also have the least supportive parents. I don't necessarily know a lot about the families, but I know some of these kids are certainly playing against the odds to be successful.
The 3rd-6th graders are taking the MCA tests, which is a required state-wide test for reading and math. I helped proctor the test for students who are in special ed/ell who have special accommodations for test taking--extra time, reading of the instructions etc. As a result I sat right next to a student and glanced at his test a few times. Some of those questions are not exactly clear--not to mention almost opinion questions for multiple choice. And how can you really expect a 3rd grader to master some of this higher order thinking when they're dealing with neglectful parents, or homelessness or hunger? A lot of these kids have gone through so much just to survive, and when life is a challenge like that, it's hard to take some of what goes on in school seriously.
It makes me think about Maslow's Hierarchy--something I've read about related to education/psychology classes I've taken. The basic idea is that there is a pyramid of needs, and you need to fulfill the bottom before you can move to the upper levels. The bottom includes things like food, shelter and water, and it moves up through levels of relationships with others, and self actualization is at the top. Well, no wonder some of these kids aren't doing well in school. If they aren't getting enough of their basic needs, how can they concentrate on anything else? I guess it's as much a societal issue that set these kids up to be in the situation they're in. This one 3rd grader was offhand telling me about his neighborhood--that there were police on his street, and some man got taken away from that house and at one point the woman who lived there came out of the house and was bleeding. I didn't try to press the issue, but what kind of environment is that for a kid to grow up in? And there's a 6th grader whose dad apparently has a warrant out for his arrest. Another kid's dad is in jail. And nothing the government is doing is helping to end the cycle of poverty--cutting the education budget is going to hurt poor kids more because they don't have the money for private schools, or summer camps etc. Right now it seems like the government is set up to maintain the status quo in terms of wealth and quality education. (And it's clearly not working spectacularly--there was talk about a government shutdown after all).
Ultimately I'm not entirely blaming the parent for the way their kids turn out. They may be incredibly bad parents, but where did they learn it from? Not only that, but sometimes it's more of a time and money thing than bad parenting. I helped a girl out with the previous night's homework once because she didn't understand it--and no one at home had time to help her. I don't think her parents didn't care, but they were probably more focused on working and getting food on the table to be bothered by one homework sheet.
Anyway, I don't want this post to get too long (too late?), so I'll probably return to this topic again, because it's something that I think about a lot--and wonder about with a lot of my students. So I'll leave you with a video my dad recently forwarded to me:
A reminder about where our priorities are and where they should be...
The answer to the question "What do teachers make?"