An Open Letter to All Educators: I don't understand
There’s something I don’t understand and I need help figuring it out.
Will you help?
We, as teachers, want to help our kids be better people in the world, right? That’s our purpose? To help kids to be smarter? To be able to have an education that allows them to be whomever they choose to be in the world, right? To keep the doors of opportunity open?
To get there, we want them to be able to read. To think. To do math. To ask questions and find answers.
We want them to understand the basic workings of the natural world. We want them to understand democracy and our place as American citizens in history and in the world. We want them to be well-rounded, understanding the beauty of art and the usefulness of technical skills.
And we, as teachers, work — and we do work hard — every single day at helping kids to be better. To be smarter. To grow. To practice on their weaknesses until they overcome whatever weaknesses they have.
But we struggle with why it is they fight us so hard. And believe me. They do fight us, don’t they? Why do they try to skip class? Why do they work so hard to find the shortcuts around assignments? To ignore our after-school tutoring supports? To quit school intellectually as early as 5th grade and to quit physically the moment they turn 18. Or 16. Or whenever our states allow them to.
I mean, after all, we’re doing all we can to identify their weaknesses. To point out where they are slow so they can work to get faster. To show them what they don’t know, so they can work to know. To highlight where their misunderstandings lie so they can be illuminated with understanding and rise from the depths of ignorance. To see how, where and why they’re weak, dumb, slow and wrong.
How in the world would they not appreciate all we’re doing for them?
Or wait. Maybe…and this is against all I was taught in my Teacher’s College and in my inservices since then…maybe we’re turning kids away from learning, away from school, with all our helpful suggestions, by pointing out their weaknesses, their struggles.
What if…and this is perhaps crazy talk…what if we instead began every single lesson and every single interaction, heck, every single moment just concentrating on finding their strengths? Finding out who they ARE, not who they AREN’T.
You know, paraphrasing Ken Robinson, not to find out how smart they are, but to find out how they are smart.
I know that every single child has strengths. What if we were to highlight those? Point out where they’re good? Where they’re strong? Where they can do things well? And we’d work hard on building up their strengths even more.
I wonder if our students would begin to listen to us more. And I wonder if, with that listening, they’d begin to trust us. To believe in us. And maybe, just maybe, we could then help them use their strengths to get better. To get smarter. To use those strengths to overcome the obstacles (aka weaknesses) of their lives.
But that’s crazy talk. We don’t have time to make kids feel good. We’re busy helping kids learn by pointing out their weaknesses.
Every. single. moment.
Every. single. day.
It’s no wonder that kids check out early. If my boss treated me that way in order to “help” me be better, I’d quit too.