I have rotten apples and oranges in my classroom. My students have brought in their science projects after working on them for weeks. Finally we will have a well-deserved celebration in the fourth grade classrooms. Most of their science boards, at a glance, are outstanding.
One particular student’s board was getting a lot of attention from the other students. Not because it was a stand-out but for the opposite reason – because his science board was so poorly done. I work at an international school where most of the students are paying a ridiculous amount of tuition to be at this school. Needless to say, these students are aggressively competitive when it comes to education. So, this student’s (I’ll call him Joe) cardboard cut-out turned science project was a crowd magnet in the morning because no one would dare to risk losing face by doing such an atrocious job on something as important as a science project. How would he save his face, right? I felt bad. I was also very annoyed. Not with him but with his parents.
I am a huge promoter of encouraging independence. And throughout the process of this science project, I emphasized to the parents and the students that the parents are only there to help. I said that all the thinking and doing needed to be done by the students. But, these students are 9 years old. I expect some support from parents. Particularly for a student like Joe – who constantly loses things, forgets instructions and has trouble following directions. The academic hurdles he faces daily, is a whole other story but I was just annoyed with the fact that Joe was left all alone to do this huge project.
I told him to stay in at lunchtime and I got some butcher paper to cover the back of his board and we colored his scribbled drawings to give the board a minor face-lift. As we were working on this, I asked him if his mom helped him with his project at all. Joe must have sensed the tone in my voice. This little guy just said, “Miss A, mom’s busy with my younger brother. He’s really young and mom needs to spend time with him.” I got the subtext: “Miss A, don’t blame my mom. It’s not her fault.” And then I just felt bad overall for jumping to conclusions about Joe’s mother.
Parents freely talk about teachers who have disappointed them. How some teachers have not met their expectations. Whenever I hear or read about these rants, I always think to myself, ‘If only you knew what we are dealing with in the classroom everyday.’ I think that some mothers may be thinking that way about me right now. I can’t judge Joe’s mother because I don’t know her story. My assumption may be right. But they could be completely off target. So. No judgement.