Our Kids Need More Time Than Teachers Have Capacity For

It was two years ago that I wrote a blog about my son’s behavior in school. At the time he was a second grade student at a small public charter school struggling with his behavior. His negative attitude, disrespect towards teachers, and distaste for school had been occurring since Kindergarten. With numerous phones calls coming in, I became disappointed, hopeless, and embarrassed. Overall I knew there were many reasons for his troubled behavior, some of which his own parents contributed to. But after accepting these facts, I began refocusing my attention to help my son develop the necessary character that would make his life better, not only at his school, but in all areas of his life. I realized that he was a real person with real struggles, and I couldn’t expect him to know how to deal with his attitudes at 7 yrs old. Because he is a child, he would need to be retaught, reminded, and refocused. This is the long view of parenting and I knew it would take time.

Today my son is a fourth grader in Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS) and has made significant development in his behavior while there. Last year he did so well readjusting his behavior that he earned the reward of “Most Improved” and later “Student of The Month”. Even in this school year he has continued to show development. But still, I refuse to say he has “arrived”. I’ve been a parent long enough to experience over and over that my son is not as big and mature as I may want him to be, and what may sound like simple instructions to me are not so simple to him. I think teachers can naturally make the same mistake.

Students need time to develop appropriate behavior, they have to learn how to readjust negative attitudes, and it’s actually normal for them to have failures along the way (especially in the grade school years). Teachers are capable of forgetting these principles due to the nature of their work and the lack of support in the classroom. This stress induced amnesia can lead to unrealistic expectations of student behavioral development, and even unrealistic expectations of the student’s parents. I don’t believe teachers are intentionally functioning in this way. In fact, due to their continuous proximity to their students, I don’t even think they realize that they’re doing this. It is an unfortunate reality that those of us who most affected in dysfunctional systems are the very ones who are potentially blinded to what is actually causing the dysfunction. 

Many teachers are underpaid, under resourced, and employed within dysfunctional school systems. This will hinder them from providing better practices to their students. Teachers have little to no support in the classroom and one teacher is simply not enough for 25+ students. Certain manners teachers are forced to manage students in these conditions may not be effective. Because of the nature of their endless work throughout the school year, and the unfortunate fact that they do a great deal of it at maximum capacity, I believe teachers are being influenced to expect rapid behavioral change in some of their “troubled” students. Frankly, rapid behavioral change would alleviate some of the frustration they experience in the dysfunctional systems they teach in. But rapid behavioral change should never be a realistic expectation of students (especially in the grade school years). 

I have personally called for more than one formal meeting between myself and the teachers. In these meetings I have tried to emphasize my deep regret of how my son’s behavior has negatively impacted them. I emphasize that I don’t approve of it, and I even apologize on his behalf. I have also tried to communicate that my son will need time to develop appropriate behavior, he has to learn how to readjust negative attitudes, and I have asked them to be realistic about that process. I have experienced over and over that his teachers don’t seem to want to hear this from me. To them it sounds like I’m giving him license to continue the same behavior. They also believed I was crippling him, and that I wasn’t seriously considering the various negative outcomes that could occur if I didn’t get him to change “right now”. The hidden assumptions I heard when his teachers would say these things caused me some grief. They somehow assumed I had the power to change my son’s behavior immediately. It would be great if I really did, he would be perfect all the time, but I know that I don’t. I have the ability to influence his behavior, but I can’t change it. They also assumed that everything they were doing was right, and were not initially open to the possibility that their own approaches, corrections, and discipline methods may be ineffective. And what’s almost as bad as the first assumption, is the fact they never admitted to me that they operate under-resourced. I realized then that teachers may not see a clear connection between their lack of support and their student’s behavior.

I have been an active parent volunteer in my son’s classroom in every grade except his present one. During those times, I have read books and helped kids with class work right there alongside his teachers dozens of times throughout each school year. Let me tell you what I’ve seen. I’ve seen one teacher take on 25+ kids. In order to teach them, the teacher would call groups of five students in 10-15 minute increments in order to personally teach them lessons. While this is happening, other students do “group work” by themselves, even though it was always clear to me that they needed additional help. I’ve seen one teacher deal with the attitudes and aggression of several students. I’ve seen one teacher receive what I perceived to be a casual class observation from the school’s principal, and this would be the same one teach responsible for the 25+ students. I’m not trying to be dramatic. I’m trying to explain that I have seen teachers do their work alone. I’m trying to explain that I’ve seen dysfunction within the school systems themselves, and if I can see it, I know that teachers (and students) can see it too. Now before my readers forget, my argument is that because of these dysfunctions, teachers are expecting their students to change more swiftly than what is realistically possible, because it obviously makes their work go smoother. I understand this, but I believe children cannot develop as quick as we want them to; they are going to struggle.

As a parent, I see these unrealistic expectations and I cringe. As I said, I have established myself at each of my son’s schools as an involved parent, showing up to mostly everything. Some teachers equate an involved parent with good student behavior, assuming if the parent is involved, the student will give them no problems. Contrary to mainstream narrative, not all children who struggle have uninvolved parents. It is completely possible to be an involved parent with a child who struggles with their behavior.

Inconveniently, a child’s behavior will never change as swiftly as their teacher desires. No one thing will make the struggle go away, we can only count on our children developing appropriate character over the course of time. Why are teachers getting away from the principle that it largely takes time for students to develop good character? Again, I believe I know why – teachers are frustrated, under-resourced, and work in dysfunctional school systems. Why are class sizes so large? Why isn’t there two certified teachers in every one of these large classes? Why is one teacher dividing 25+ students in groups of five in order to teach lessons? And what are the rest of the students supposed to do if they need help? Is this a best practice that encourages learning? And considering the fact that a major sports franchise is paying CPS millions of dollars in order to move into the neighborhood my son lives and goes to school, I want to know how much money CPS is allocating to my son’s school to support his frustrated and under-resourced teachers. The best behaved students on the planet will not significantly change teacher’s experiences if they’re still under-resourced.

I hope any teacher that reads this, would feel that I’m on their side. I’m only trying to address a principle they are capable of forgetting due to their job conditions. I also would like to say that my perspective here is one alongside many others. Many parents may not be doing enough to influence lasting change in their children, teachers can’t parent our children, and there is never an excuse for bad behavior. I believe all of those perspectives are true and should continue to be spoken. However, I believe the perspective I’m giving deserves to be spoken as well. I hope readers who are parents that resonate with my experience find this helpful as well, we’re all striving together.

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