It’s back-to-school time, and you’ll find me lurking in the school supplies aisle and jotting down ideas like a crazed mad scientist. Due to the cyclical nature of working at a school, I get two clean slates each year: one at New Year’s, one at the start of school. Both times are occasions for reflection, self-evaluation and resolutions. I’ve been thinking about classroom decor, leadership modules, learning styles, and field trips, but I have a short wish list for better understanding between families and classroom managers, too. If I could take my parents out to coffee (and maybe I will!), here are the three things I’d like them to know before we start the year:
Your Student Behaves Differently at School
This is something I need to remember, too. I work with teens, so there’s a lot of experimentation with identity and social belonging, etc. I mean, remember when you were a teenager? Yuck, right? The angst!! Teens need room to figure themselves out. And I sometimes feel it’s constricting to view them only in one context. It puts a lot of pressure on a student to be the same all the time. (Despite the tons of “Keep It Real!” memes bombarding them.) The message to “just be yourself” is good; only sometimes, they’re not sure who that self is… If, say, I have to deliver the unfortunate news that your student left a booger trail on the wall next to his desk, you might say, “It wasn’t him; he’d never do that!” The reality is, he’d never do that at home because he would get in major trouble! No fun. But at school, he just might do something like that to gross out his friends and get some cool points for having to scrub those crusties off the wall during a break. Hypothetically, of course 🙂
Discipline Is Beautiful
Is it weird that I watched the 28-minute video of Mister Rogers discussing discipline with parents while standing, frozen to the spot, holding a cup of tea? Well, it shouldn’t be, because it is riveting. He was hypnotic when I was little, and he’s like a childhood development sensei now that I’m an adult. This video touches on a concept I love. The word ‘discipline’, seen as a dirty word at times, comes from the same root as ‘disciple’. Keep in mind, our students watch us and learn from us and will eventually pass on our lessons to their children. It’s humbling. Effective discipline, though difficult to appreciate at the time, has to come from a place of intense love. The student may not like discipline, but has to know it’s because those in authority — parents, teachers, administrators — have their best interests at heart. Our goal is for them to stand on their own two feet with integrity and capability for the day when none of us are there to guide them. What a responsibility, but what an honor!
Don’t be Afraid to Let Your Student Skin Their Knee
Not literally. But just like we would figure out how to help an actual skinned knee heal (band-aid, ointment, etc.) we’d like your student to be able to figure out the steps to fix an educational mishap. If a student fails an assignment, misses a deadline, or experiences an unpleasant result, it can be tempting to swoop in and solve the problem. It’s faster, easier, and cleaner for you to just take care of it. I’m not saying to let them get into a situation they can’t resolve. But it’s okay to exchange some of their short-term comfort for long-term comfort. For example, it may be frustrating to hear them pecking through the keyboard when you know you could type that paper in ten minutes, but let them. (Shoot, by the time they get to college, they’ll probably just dictate their papers with a voice-to-text application, anyway!) Trust me; it’s painful to be on an out-of-town trip and see a teenager struggling to order fast food on their own. Like I said, we aren’t going to be with them forever. The more skills they can practice under our supervision, the stronger their wings will be when they take off and fly from the nest.
But, above all, remember… We love your family.
I really look forward to parent teacher conferences so I can get to know the student’s family and context. Don’t be afraid to get to know the teacher, either. I won’t say all, but the vast majority of teachers do this work out of love. We love your students and we love their families. I’ll bet if you casually bring up one of these three topics, your teacher give you some appreciative feedback.
What do you think? How ’bout taking the next post to find out a few things students wish teachers knew?