There was only one teacher in my entire life who yelled at me. Don’t get me wrong, I was no perfect child and you’re welcome to contact my parents to verify that. In school, however, it was a different story. I was a good kid. I behaved myself and was respectful and although I was not a stellar student in the GPA department, I completed my work and participated in class. “Pleasure to have in class,” popped up on my report cards like confetti.
That was until I had physical science class in high school. In all fairness, my friends were causing quite a stir. In no way did I try to stop them, and I definitely got a kick out of it, but I sat there pretty quietly, answering questions from the textbook. Although I did not partake in it, I did nothing to quiet them and probably laughed along with them.
When he had enough, my teacher directed his attention at us, scolded all of us, and then asked me to move my seat. At first I thought it was a joke because I wasn’t the one who was making trouble. I was outraged, embarrassed, indignant. When I went home that night, at the dinner table, I told my parents about his mistake.
My mother then said something that made a huge impression on me. She was supportive in all the right ways, but hands off when it meant teaching us a lesson. She said, “Well, Kate, you shouldn’t have been in a situation where he thought you were doing something wrong.” And if I really wasn’t doing something wrong, she explained, I needed to advocate for myself. And there it was. I didn’t move myself away from my friends, and I didn’t speak up for myself, and my mother wasn’t going to get involved on my behalf.
By not intervening with the teacher, my mom taught me critical lesson. It was a lesson to stand up for what is right, to remove myself in situations where I would get myself into trouble, and to not care so much about fitting in with the crowd. From that point, I was always much more aware of what people around me were doing and I made sure to think more about that I could be judged not only by my actions, but when I failed to act.
Coming full circle, I wish for my four kids to learn the same lesson about the importance of handling their own problems. As a lifetime educator deeply committed to improving the outcomes of all students, I wish it on your kids as well. When my son had friends over and they started a snowball fight, it quickly escalated into a mud war that turned my house and windows into a scene from The Walking Dead, I sat them all down and explained that life was a series of making good decisions and convincing your friends to do the same, and when they aren’t for always standing up for what is right.
Sadly, I don’t think that that lens of parenting is as common as it used to be. As a school administrator and consultant, I’m able to interact with administrators and teachers all over the world. I hear many stories of parents intervening on behalf of their kids, so students never have to experience failure.
As a mom, I am in no way saying that being involved in advocating for our kids is not important. I am saying that parents and teachers need to give each other the benefit of the doubt and support each other. Both parties have a shared desire to teach life lessons and have children experience and survive failure. Our kids need to reflect on the consequences of their decisions and need to advocate for themselves. . Instead of being instructional leaders in our schools, administrators spend a lot of time with parents intervening on behalf of their kids. Ask yourself: Have you ever asked for exceptions to the rule? One more chance? Or have you partnered with teachers and administrators and said, “I know we’re in this together. What can this teach my child about life and success?”
I was a good kid, but yelled at in school was one of the best things that ever happened to me. Have more faith that when there is injustice, we can empower our kids to use their voices and their actions to make it right.