158: Children’s Mistakes and Adult’s Mistakes

Children make mistakes. It is a part of growing up. This makes it sound like as you get older, mistakes will become fewer and fewer, and will eventually cease. We all intellectually know that this is ridiculous, but nonetheless, that is the perception – that grownups are not supposed to make mistakes, because they are not children anymore, and they have had the education and experience to be rational and logical humans. HA.

I have often  commented that teachers could excuse children readily for the mistakes that they make, because they are often just too young to know better, and it is part of our job to gently help them avoid mistakes, and to correct mistakes that are made. However, when dealing with a parent, it is often difficult to extend the same courtesy, because there is the built-in expectation that adults have mastered the most egregious sorts of mistakes, and no longer commit them. Not so. There have been many parent conferences where I have been mightily tempted to announce that this conference is over, now that I have met you, the parent, I understand completely why we are having such difficulty with your child.

None of us are perfect people or perfect parents, and none of us have perfect children. Our children make mistakes, in spite of the assertion I have received from many parents who have actually told me, “My child would never (fill in the blank).” Let me assure you, after twenty years experience of teaching, your child certainly will. He or she might not do such things at home in front of you, because he or she knows full well that YOU, as a parent, can impose consequences that I, as a classroom teacher, cannot impose. I am allowed to make requests and issue directions. That’s about it. When your child decides that he or she will not obey (and they do), I can refer them to an administrator, since they have been insubordinate to me.  The administrator actually has only a few more resources than I do. He can impose home suspension, which many children see as an impromptu vacation from school,  not as a punishment.

Ultimately, the discipline of a child is a parent’s responsibility. I, as a teacher, influence your child one hour per day – sometimes one hour per week. There is only so much I can fix that they have learned elsewhere in that one hour. You, as their parent, have had them for the five years before they go to school, and for the sixteen hours per day when they are not in school. Which of the two of us should carry the most responsibility for the way your child behaves? Seriously??

My job, for which I am not particularly well-paid compared to the educational requirements I have to achieve to be a teacher (although I am not particularly complaining about the pay because that is not what I wanted to become a teacher for), was undertaken because I have a sincere desire to help children learn, succeed and achieve. That is my goal, and I am assuming that is your goal as a parent, also, for your child. We are working together – and contrary to what many parents  obviously believe, I am not the enemy. I want your child to succeed, often, more than you do. I am not your child’s parent, and as such, I have an intellectual distance from your child to more effectively evaluate their behavior than you, especially since your child does not behave in school, out of your sight, the way he or she behaves at home, when you are watching.

Children make mistakes. So do adults. When I make a mistake, I say so and make sincere and honest efforts to correct them. This is the behavior I model for your child in my classroom, because that is how adults are supposed to behave. This is how I want your child to see that adults should behave, regardless of  how other adults the child views outside of school  behave. Don’t be so quick to blame your child’s teacher for every thing that goes wrong during the school day – it is possible that it just might not be the teacher’s fault –  and I know THAT is a novel thought.

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