Educators love being right. We choose education as our career because somewhere along our respective paths, we were conditioned to believe that there is only one right answer. We must fill the empty cup. We must establish values. We must enforce the following of routines and rules. I accept that this is a gross generalization and with the popularity of constructivism in all its many branches on the rise, this once concrete and safe point of view is now in question. And yet, we continue to battle against this invisible feeling of superiority which governs our actions and interactions between students, colleagues, and parents.
I would like to discuss today our interactions with parents. Our students quickly and often seemlessly convert into a profound specie of foster children; we worry about their health, the food they eat, and the things they say. Day after day, we observe Sara, assessing her needs and applauding her achievements. The snowball effect begins. The first week of school Sara comes to school well groomed, well-rested, and well-fed. She begins to make friends although she is very shy. Over the next few weeks, the teacher observes that Sara is more restless, her hair is decidedly more unkempt, and she prefers to play alone at recess. At this point, the expert teacher has three clear options: call the parents to report the observations, continue to observe saying nothing yet, or begin to speculate on possible causes for Sara's changes. For many of us, option three is not an option at all. After all, we know that making assumptions is a masked form of gossiping. So we opt for option one if our personality is straightforward, and option two if we are more cautious.
Two years have passed and Sara is still in the same school. Her early warning signs continue to be present and new ones have been detected. Her situation appears to be deteriorating. Numerous meetings with parents have taken place. Therapy for Sara and parenting courses have been recommended, but in the eyes of the school, "the parents just don't give the right importance to Sara's issues." The reaction and the acussation is done out of love. The people involved in the school are concerned that Sara isn't developing the abilities she needs to be successful in the real world. They feel impotent, powerless to effect change in the family or in Sara. Poor, poor Sara.
Do we really, truly believe that Sara's parents aren't doing the very best they can? Are our egos so inflated as to believe that our priorities are the only priorities that matter? Do we have the blueprint of Sara's purpose here in this life? Sounds harsh, so let's do the math. Five people in the same room are bombarded every second by visual, auditory, and sensory stimuli. Of that bombardment, each person will take in only seven pieces of information, probably not the same seven as any of their peers. Then what the brain of each of these individuals does with those 7 stimuli is equally as unpredictable. This happens every second. At the end of 1 day, each person has taken in 604,800 bits of sensory information. Let's remember that what the brain has done to modify and store each of these bits is imminent and highly unmeasurable to the naked eye of another. These five unsuspecting individuals have each filtered and assimilated a unique combination of stimuli. Considering this, we can reflect back on our egoism and humbly accept that we have no clue as to the motives of others. We can ask questions and form hypothesis, but until we can communicate telepathically without barriers, we are incapable of understanding the complexity of the web of stimuli and experiences that the parent in front of us has used to make the life decisions made. And to complicate matters more, as educators, we only see the effect of the decisions the parents have made. And, you guessed it, our highly superior brain has used all 604, 800 bits of sensory input per day since we were born to interpret that effect. Humbling, no?
As an advocate for change, I would like to commend the caring intentions of the educator who is so concerned with Sara's situation. To care for someone as if they were your own requires an unselfishness that should be celebrated. But accusations are only a verbal form of violence. If we can approach each parent truly without judgement, present observable facts (our interpretations of the observed!), and listen to the priorities of the number one caregiver, I believe that we, as educators, can be of a much greater service to our community of students and parents alike. No two people are alike. It stands to reason that there is not only one solution and most definitely there is not a best solution. So the next time you feel the itch to berate or accuse a parent of not doing their best for their child, humbly remind your inner teacher that love has an infinite number of faces.
For those interested in human development on the individual as well as the global level, I recommend Executive Success Programs, Inc. by Keith Raniere.