Before I begin, I must say this blog is not related to Lisa Delpit’s 1995 book Other People’s Children: Cultural Conflict in the Classroom. It is inspired by a speech during Leader’s Institute a few years back and confirmed by a recent event I experienced as a Principal at my school. This blog is merely a reminder and a counter to the ever-famous advice many educators live by and use as a rallying cry.
When I first got into teaching, I had mentors who give me advice. The advice geared towards how I would deal with the children in my classroom. I was not teaching in Pleasantville. My students would not come to school, sit with perfect posture, and follow every command I gave them. Many of my students would come to school carrying the baggage from their home life that, regardless of what I thought, would spill over in the classroom.
Teaching is hard they would say. They would all and always tell me, “Remember when they enter your classroom, they are your children and you must treat them as such.” I am not saying they had bad intentions with this advice. They were trying to give the 22-year-old fresh out of college single with no children sound advice for working with children daily. Their logic was if I treated them like they were my children, then I would be more compassionate, and I would treat them better. At the time, it made perfect sense. Parents do want the best for their children, so if I wanted them to succeed, I had to see them as my children. Good advice at the time, but over time that advice did not mean as much.
When I started working at Tindley four years ago, I worked with some of the most passionate people I have ever encountered. I never in my life been around a group of people who cared so much for the educational well-being of children. It was inspiring every day to be in their company and watch them in their day-to-day as educators. During Leader’s Institute in my second year with the network, the Data Coordinator began her presentation about network assessments and data dives with a passionate speech. She asked a simple question at the beginning, “When you teach, who do you see in those seats?” I instantly thought I see my students; I see my children. She immediately followed and said:
These are someone’s children in those seats. Do you understand that? Someone else’s child is sitting in that seat, not your child. This is their most precious gift. You walk in every day like these are your children, and it gives you a power that you do not own.
I was stunned. She was right, but it went against advice I was given since I first begin on this journey. They are not my children. They are the children of the parents who dropped them off or who enrolled them. I needed to remember that when I was teaching.
I want to now fast forward to today and an unfortunate event that took place at my school that made me take a more in-depth look at the advice given to me years ago and how that advice was countered during Leader Insitute. Two weeks ago, there was an incident at my school involving a staff member and student. The incident was a harsh reminder about how I no longer adhered to the advice I was given as a new teacher and was led by the advice given by our former Data Coordinator. These children are not my children; they are someone else’s children. We are not their parents; we are their teachers. We do not have the same rights over them as a parent would. Our job is to teach them. Our job is to provide them with a quality education. Our job is to teach them how to make good choices from bad choices. Our job is not to punish them as a parent might. I can’t go into all of the details due to the FERPA privacy laws, but this recent situation reminded me why I have to remember the differences and rights between the role of the parent and the educator.
My message to educators is to give serious thought about when you say these are my children. They are not necessarily your children; they are your students. That is a tough responsibility enough and a huge burden to carry. They are your responsibility to teach and educate. Do not give yourself a responsibility that may one day put you in a tough situation.
My message to parents is thank you for trusting us with your most precious gift. Thank you for the opportunity to teach your children. Thank you for allowing us to play a role in their development from child to adult. This is a huge responsibility and one that we do not take lightly. We take this seriously and do our absolute best to protect when they are in our care.