All My Children
At the Independent School where I teach, there are about 25 “faculty children,” and my son and daughter are among that group. There are many great benefits to teaching at the same school where my children are enrolled…we are all on the same schedule, we commute together, we enjoy a break on tuition, and we have easy conversations around the dinner table where we discuss school events or issues. I’ve attempted to be a respectful parent and give both my children and their teachers appropriate distance, as neither my teenage son nor his math teacher need me to micromanage their relationship and the class curriculum. That said, I do have a few wishes for the coming school year, and as I write them down I realize that they serve as a useful set of ground rules for how I should approach my own students in my classroom.
1. Be kind. Be polite. I wish for my children’s teachers to treat Will and Julia with respect and kindness. Sarcasm has no place in the classroom, and jokes told at the expense of a student can be hurtful. Will once had a teacher who would stop the class cold when he rustled in his bookbag for a pen…it just made him embarrassed and more clumsy. I have been known to roll my eyes at a completely off-track response to a question about the Federalist Papers or the New Deal. This year, I pledge to treat my students with kindness, working to create a “fail safe” environment, and to avoid singling out students in a negative way.
2. Have high standards. I wish for my children’s teachers to challenge Will and Julia, even beyond what they might seem initially able to achieve. This is not in the name of a relentless pursuit of a top grade, or to create a stressful environment, but rather in the belief that all students have room for growth and development. I don’t think we do children any favors by allowing them to complete “good enough” work. This year, I pledge to take the time to give more feedback on essays and meet with students who are struggling. I’ll remind my students that over the years, many students have found AP USH to be a huge challenge with a steep learning curve, but that with some grit and support, many have excelled. When I believe my students are bright and capable of more, they may believe it, too.
3. Communicate. Perhaps “no news is good news,” but I always appreciate getting information about how my children are doing in the classroom. A quick e-mail or conversation in passing goes a long way to reassuring me that all is well. Or, if there is an issue, let’s talk early and often. I pledge to be more communicative with the parents of my students, and to make a special effort to share good news as well as concerns.
4. Build a Better School. While much of our job as teachers centers around skill building and content mastery, there’s a huge opportunity to have an impact on the social climate of our classroom and school. I wish for my children’s teachers to intercept bullying, help dismantle cliques, and promote diversity and equity for all. We are fortunate to work in a school that is incredibly diverse, and where most kids get along well. But this year, I pledge to use any insensitive comments as teachable moments, and to build a classroom environment where all students are able to work together productively.
5. Encourage balance. My own children have rich and full lives outside of school. Between church activities, athletics, and the arts, Will and Julia have many interests and commitments. Family time is important, too, and we eat dinner together each night and my husband loves to read to each kid before bedtime. I wish for my children’s teachers to limit the busy work and lengthy homework assignments, and give plenty of lead-time on projects. This year, I pledge to be more respectful of the extracurricular lives of my students, and assign homework intentionally. “Homework free” nights, while unexpected, would no doubt be met with excitement!
My children are blessed to have caring and wonderful teachers. They can be credited with teaching Will and Julia to analyze literature, write, think like scientists, tackle word problems, read music, and collaborate with classmates. I have long thought of my students as distinct from my children, and I fully recognize that my students have parents of their own. However, I realize that when I think about how to approach my students, considering how I might like my children to be taught is a valuable place to begin.