A new teacher gives the third grade an assignment and lets the students pair themselves up.
Two boys present a talk with crude remarks and largely inappropriate content. After their talk, the teacher thanks them for their efforts and moves on the next group without admonishment.
The class is so surprised one of the kids pipes up, “aren’t you going to send them to Mr Vincent for mucking up? That’s what Mrs Langard would have done.” Mr Vincent is the Vice Principal and Mrs Langard is the lady who just retired as their third-grade teacher.
“No honey” she casually replies.
“But they did a swear!” another blurts out.
“…and they didn’t even talk about the assignment” yet another protests.
“I know,” says the teacher, smiling.
“But that’s not fair!” adds a little girl with pigtails and a Pokemon backpack who rarely says a word except to answer questions posted on the whiteboard.
The teacher turns to the boy who originally asked the question. “Jimmy”
“You live at home with your parents, right?”
“Yes Miss” he tentatively replies with that deer-in-headlights obedience that comes over children of that age.
“And they love you very much.”
“Yes Miss” he inflects with that duh! of course, why wouldn’t they; I’m adorable bemusement only available to innocents.
“They encourage you to do well at school and to be a good student.”
“Yes Miss” not sure where this is going but starting to get the uncomfortable feeling that he’ll say something to get himself into trouble soon.
“They pick you up in the afternoon and when you get home they ask you to put your school bag away. They make sure you put your uniform in the wash and that your shoes are clean for the next day.”
“If you’re doing your homework and you have trouble with a question, is there someone you can talk to about it even if they won’t give you the answer?”
“When you’re tired after school and would rather play video games than unpack your bag and do your homework, is there someone who encourages you to make the effort?”
“Yes Miss” with shoulders slumped and life energy sucked completely from his being as if reliving the entire drama right here and now.
“Is there someone to make sure you have a good breakfast in the morning so you can do your best at school every day?”
“And do you get lots of hugs for trying even if you don’t get the mark you were hoping for in an assignment?”
“Yes miss, but how did you know all that Miss?”
“Because I’ve met your parents and I’ve seen the way they are with you after school and I know you’re not afraid to put up your hand even when you’re uncertain if you’ve got the right answer, and that only comes from being encouraged to try.”
The teacher pauses then asks, “What do you think would happen if you weren’t?”
“Weren’t what Miss?” Jimmy asks.
“Weren’t encouraged to be a good student. What do you think would happen if you didn’t have to unpack your bag after school or look after your uniform, or have a healthy breakfast of a morning?”
“I don’t know Miss? Is this going to be on the test?”
“No Jimmy. This isn’t a test. I’m asking because I’m glad that you don’t know what would happen. I realise it’s not easy to get through the day with all the help and encouragement you get, what with all the friendships to navigate and new decisions you have to make every day. Being so young you have very little of what they call “life experience” to draw upon, and I wouldn’t want your life to be any harder than it already is.”
She continues. “In fact, it’s my job to be there for you while you meet all the new experiences waiting for you in the classroom and on the playground, and I’m happy to do that whether you have a good student attitude or not because you’re just a kid and kids are just like adults in that they can only act on what they know.”
“Which means it would be unfair of me to give you a test on something we haven’t studied. But it also means it’s unfair to expect all of you to be something when only some of you know how to do it. If some of you are not encouraged to put away your backpack or do your homework or be a good student by trying to learn even if that means putting up your hand when you don’t think you’ve got the right answer, then I know how hard it is for you.”
“I know that it’s too much to expect a ten-year-old to motivate themselves to do their homework if no-one else will. I know it’s too much to ask that you be your own counsel, your own parental guide and support system when things get rough.”
“I also know that the people who can’t be encouraging or help organise a nutritious breakfast or an after school schedule, probably never had anyone show them how OR have to spend all their time with things the encouraging people never have to worry about OR that the kind of student this school system encourages you all to be, is in conflict with their idea of who you should be.”
“…and I respect that. So when Phillip and Paulo come to class with their ‘Farting as Music’ presentation, I don’t think they’re being naughty. I think they’re being the students they’re encouraged to be, and more than anything I want them and their parents to know that I respect that because I trust that we are all acting on the information we have.”
“Which doesn’t make for bad parents or naughty students. Just different perspectives, different priorities, and different people.”
“And if I really care for people (and not just how they can make my life easier – whatever that means) then I’ll love them as they are and be curious about who they have been encouraged to be. Not so I can figure out the best way to change them. Not so I can make my life easier, but so that I can look myself in the eye and recognise my own biases about what “should” be, what would be “best” and who “they” could be if only…
“Now, who’s next?”
Obviously, a third-grade teacher would not say any of these things to their class, and that’s not under scrutiny here. I’m just telling a story.