Saturday, November 16, 2013

What Did You Expect?

This morning I read about the mother who took her son off of the Honor Roll at his school because he earned a "D" and a "C," and in her mind, there was nothing honorable about either of those grades.  The whole situation got me thinking about expectations and the expectations teachers have of students, but specifically, what expectations mean.

I was floored during two different conferences last week.  Both were with parents whose kids are  spoiled rotten.  Kid #1: argues, whines, pouts whenever he doesn't get what he wants.  Kid #2: charming with great interpersonal skills, but she just doesn't think academic learning applies to her.

I really don't want to hate on others but both those parents reported that the reason their kids are like that is because their former school had low expectations for them.   One told us that his son was taken out to lunch or given a pizza party when he'd been on good behavior for like, 3 days.  The dad was like, "Huh?"  Another parent told us that her daughter pretty much ran the school and her teachers. She reported that she was rarely marked tardy even though she was late every single morning, and that whenever she needed a "break," she would go to the office where they'd give her Takis and gum, and then she was allowed to just stay in the office.

Regardless of how much truth there is to these reports, it comes down to this:  Both parents believed the elementary school was at least partly responsible for their child's spoiled rotten behaviors.  And both parents strongly believed that their kids carried those behaviors into middle school because their children would not expect it to be any different.

And why would they? 

To be honest, I'm not shaken by these two students who admittedly require lots of redirections.  My teaching partners and I know that it takes a direct, straight-up approach with an emphasis on academic engagement to help turn these spoiled kids into students.  Just as concerning to me are these parents perceptions and beliefs about teachers, which in turn, affects their relationship with me and educators in general.  Inasmuch as I feel a responsibility for their children as students, I feel an immense responsibility to these parents whose faith in public education has been shattered by how teachers have treated - or mistreated - their children.  Because lets face it, low expectations are what drive teachers to give into students which then perpetuates this behavior pattern that manipulates and controls adults.

And I know this is only one side of the issue.  Trust me, I'm credible.  I've been that teacher.  The one who dished out empty praise, the one who negotiated in the midst of a power struggle, the one who felt icky at the end of the day because manipulative behaviors got the best of me, the one who feared reactive kids, the one who leaned towards the "if you do this, then you'll get that . . ."


Suffice it to say, I grew out of that and grew into my own thanks to the village.

I'm coming to the end here because I'm just done talking and thinking about this for now, but let me just say that the kids and parents I profiled here are black families.  After hearing these parents out and getting a sense of their beliefs and perceptions about teachers and school, I was left with a sleepless night coupled with more impatience than ever with teachers in the system that writes off kids through their willfulness of low expectations.  At least that's my view from the receiving end.

So what's the takeaway?  It's that there's some simple power in expectations.  It takes a strong sense of self coupled with an incredible mentor or two to help a teacher make a conscious point to look for greatness in all kids.  It's not easy.  It's freakin' hard.  Yet everywhere I go, I see kids excelling and at some point, teachers of all kids are going to have to say to themselves - well, of course.

What did you expect?

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