A Temptation of Teachers

We teachers know a lot about teaching children. It is our profession after all. Most of us have thousands of hours of experience in the classroom, hundreds of hours of training, and are subject matter experts in our fields.

Still, we must avoid the temptation – common in my experience – to believe and act as though we always know better than parents how they should be raising our students.

This is a child given to them. They are not ours in the way they are theirs.

And yes, in addition to our expertise we do spend many hours a day with our students. We see a lot of their behavior. We hear a lot of their words. We do very often have insight into problems, strengths, and strategies.

However, our language is too often loaded with the hubristic assumption that if parents would just listen to us, everything would so much better.

“If only those parents didn’t give their 4th grader a phone! What could they be thinking.”

“If only his parents would discipline Johnny better.”

“Sam has way too much screen time. His attention would be so much better if only they would limit him. What could his parents be thinking?!”

What is this but frustration that we are not in charge of everything?  Combined with a selfish desire to have everyone do and say and believe exactly what we think would make our lives easier?

I take practical and theological issue with this pattern. First, we don’t know nearly as much as we think we do. Parents have been with their kids every day for YEARS. We see them almost daily for almost a year. Our knowledge does not extend to being the expert on Jack or Sam or Evan or Sara. Many causes and effects are necessarily outside of our experience. We must keep this in mind when we are frustrated by some behavioral issue.

Second, this child is simply not ours. Assuming that a particular parent doesn’t happen to be a depraved monster, they are far more invested in their child’s well-being than we are. They will be in the child’s life forever, we are a passing stage. God has ordained this child to these parents and apart from truly destructive (as opposed to simply sub-optimal) parenting, they are the ones who will be dedicated to understanding what is truly best for this little person.

Teachers must treat their own expertise, their relationships with their students, and their advice to parents with great humility. If we have knowledge or insight it is to be placed at the service of parents and not hurled at their errors. Our frustrations with things that make our jobs more difficult must be understood as the temporal things they are. Sure, we can imagine a teaching utopia of perfectly behaved, perfectly intelligent, perfectly sweet robot students with perfectly wise, perfectly invested, perfectly balanced parents. But this means nothing. We teach actual flawed children, with actual flawed parents, and we are actual flawed teachers tempted to believe we are the only ones who are perfect.

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