Balancing Levels of Concern

Teaching has always been synonymous with caring, and I see this personified at all levels. Whether I am at an elementary school, like I was yesterday, or dodging careening students at a high school like today, the teachers manifest their “caring” in different ways. Chris Lehman at Practical Theory posted yesterday about his definition of caring as it relates to teaching and professionalism, and I think it was, as is usual with Chris, a timely post. We have all been engaged in conversation at some point while explaining our choice to become educators to either parents or friends, when the idea that you have “passion” or that you “love kids” comes forth, either from you or as a suggestion from the other conversants. What does this really mean for us as educators? Many people in various professions love kids too, even ones that aren’t there own. Christian Long says that we should be in love not necessarily with the children, but with the collisions we create with ideas, learning, and the students we teach. I dig that, but there has to be room for the idea of caring, or genuinely having a concern over their future, and the future of those that love them.

To continue a recent them on this blog (which might be long in the tooth), I read Chris’ post with an eye on Ashley Merryman’s almost simultaneous post on the responses to her an Po Bronson’s article on Praise. They say similar things, whether Chris is talking about parents and choices being difficult, but necessary, or Ashley commenting that teachers should feel more comfortable about accountability at all costs. Take a look at a short sample:

Chris Lehman:

The best parents aren’t the ones who smoke pot with their kids because, ‘Well, they were going to try it anyway.’ And they aren’t the ones who let kids think that it’s o.k. to break rules, etc… they are the ones who teach kids the lessons they need to succeed in life, even when those lessons are really hard to learn. Same is true for teaching.

Ashley Merryman:

Since we began our research on praise and self-esteem, Po and I both heard many stories from parents and teachers about self-esteem issues. My favorite was from an English teacher. She’d recently given one of her students a “C,” and the mother came down to complain, saying “You’re ruining my child’s self-esteem.” The teacher shot back, “I’m not here to make him feel better; I’m here to make him do better.”

For two years before I become a technology coordinator for this
district, I was a history teacher on a middle school “team.” Our
philosophy, though strangely unspoken at first, was heavy on caring.
The lengthy list of issues that our students ran into, most
non-academic, were handled with a quasi-medical approach of “first-do
no harm.” We genuinely cared for our students and we did everything we
could to make that known to them. Did this produce a major change in
test scores? Not that it matters, but probably not. Did it directly
impact learning? Again, I don’t have that answer. What I do know is
that we all left those two years, teachers and students alike, with a
deeper level of respect for one another. What I now want to ask myself, however, is whether or not I was too focused on keeping kids feeling good rather than doing them the service of being honest.

This is the “art” of teaching, the intangible aspects of being a teacher that no length or depth of teacher training will prepare you for. These types of conversations bring us deeper into introspection, which I believe will lead us towards a higher level of empathy, one that does not involve just self-esteem for our students, but will allow us to make the difficult teaching decisions that we should.


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