It’s not about good or bad.
You’ve heard that old saying that ‘the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree’. You can be sure that there are teachers the world over who have rolled their eyes and echoed that apple/tree sentiment after meeting some kid’s crazy parents. We’ll talk about those crazy parents next time.
Right now I want you to think about the the kid who is an apple that not only fell far from the tree – it rolled downhill and across the street! What about the teacher or parent who seems to do everything right and the outcome is still sad, bad or worse (see also Parents #1)? This is a critical distinction for two very important reasons. It goes to the heart of what it means to be a good parent or teacher and it goes to the heart of teacher evaluations. That is to say, how do we teach about parenting and how do we evaluate teachers if it is possible to do everything right and still have it come out wrong? What standards do we use?
It’s not about good or bad parenting or teaching. Those are moral judgements which encompass a wide range of behaviors. It is better to look at it as, ‘What is effective and what is ineffective?’ Translation: it is better to ask, “What have I given this child to make him or her a self aware, self supporting, functional adult?” What is effective can be different for every child and every adult. Teaching about parenting can be tricky for that reason. For example:
We know that parenting can be very difficult and stressful, single parenting even more so. Yet if we were to teach that having two or more responsible adult caregivers is potentially more effective child rearing than having just a single adult caregiver, those kids (or their parents) from single parent households could take that as an insulting moral judgement rather than a simple statement of statistical fact (remember there are no absolutes when it comes to people). This should lead to a thoughtful discussion of effective or ineffective parenting and not just an argument of who is right or wrong. I have met parents who said, “Don’t ask me to check to see if he did his homework! I work and put food on the table. It’s your job to teach him.” What do I say to that? I disagree? Parents are teachers too?
Just knowing about effective parenting or teaching doesn’t always mean that you will be effective. Warning kids of danger doesn’t always work. I would quote Merle Haggard (Mama Tried 1968) to my students:
And I turned 21 in prison, doing life without parole.
No one could steer me right but Mama tried, Mama tried.
Mama tried to raise me better but her feelings I denied.
That leaves only me to blame ‘cuz Mama tried.
Sometimes, no matter what you do, things come out badly. I believe in training and discussion, but even being well trained doesn’t always matter. We teachers would often laugh at our own shortcomings, “You want to know who will act up in your class? Look at the kids of teachers, preachers and law enforcement!”
I wanted to smack this kid in the head!
Esau’s mom was a teacher. Esau was smart enough and skilled enough to do well but he was another one of those kids who had issues so negative and so deep they remained a mystery to all of us. He did no work. He constantly disrupted class. Esau liked to boast about how much trouble he could get into.
Now please believe me – I don’t use corporal punishment (for a variety of reasons, feel free to ask me why) but the temptation to burst forth with wrath and smiting was great on the day we handed out grades. Esau was again boasting about getting failing grades. He laughed as he said he could make his mother cry! He laughed as he told us that the last time he got bad grades his mom was so upset that she hit him and broke her wrist! I have never wanted to beat a child more than on that day. I believe I get kudos for my restraint. I think the only thing that held me back was the knowledge that, as satisfying as it might feel, giving Esau a beating wouldn’t do him any good and I’d get fired!