Teacher Knows Best–Not

Teacher Knows Best–Not

Teachers should feel privileged that they have been entrusted to administer education to, and oversee the wellbeing of, other people’s children for a limited period of time. Nothing has ever moved me more than seeing parents reluctantly parting with their children before school, a cogent reminder of the love and aspirations people have for their children. This is why teaching is such a monumental task and an almost overwhelming charge to keep.

Teachers are part of the Social Persistence Team, along with pastors, social workers, community organizers, various types of volunteers, police officers and other first responders, and everyone who works in the criminal justice system and the healthcare industry. But teaching is not group therapy. And it isn’t social engineering, either. Teachers who enter the profession hoping to become microcosmic gods who will erase injustice from the planet and fix the world one child at a time are destined for disappointment.

Teachers often try to fix other people’s families, which is a horrible mistake. It’s crucial for teachers to realize that they were not hired to tell parents how to raise their children. It is a teacher’s primary responsibility to work with parents in order to come up with the best strategies for facilitating learning, not to berate or belittle parents. That’s why it is so important not too come off like “Teacher Knows Best,” particularly when the teacher comes from a different socioeconomic background than his students.

Here’s one small example of what I’m talking about: Like many people, I am appalled when I see parents bringing their small children to gory, R-rated movies. And it makes my job difficult when children want to talk about these movies in class. This can be particularly irksome when, during a discussion of a particular literary trope such as the use of flashbacks, several of my elementary school students remark that there is a really good flashback scene in the movie Killer Mutant Zombies from Outer Space. Because I don’t want to get a call from my principal asking me what in the world I’m teaching these kids, I say, “That’s not an appropriate movie to be talking about at school.” But then I hear a whole chorus of, “My mom lets me see those movies.” That’s when I quickly change the subject.

I knew a teacher who not only tells her students that she would “never” let her own children watch violent movies, but she goes on to inform them that she thinks it’s terrible that their parents aren’t as enlightened as she is. Of course, it’s okay for a teacher to tell her students what she would or would not allow her own kids to do. But condemning parents in front of their children is really not helping matters. If these kids go home and tell their parents that their teacher thinks they are raising their children improperly, it is unlikely that the parents will respond favorably. They certainly aren’t going to think, “The Great White Teacher believes we’re uncivilized. Oh, no. We better go buy some books on parenting.”

by Richard W. Bray


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