When Teachers Care

I am sure when a doctor attempts to hang out with random friends, everyone around them has a personal “on-duty” question or scenario to ask them. Intentionally or unintentionally, I am certain it’s done to all professions; mechanics, beauticians, cooks, etc. However, not all of these professions are entrusted with the consumers most prized possession; their child. With that being the case, I find we (educators) are hit with questions and scenarios time and time again. Some we can answer quickly and others that may leave us slightly stumped. Unfortunately, with over 20 years of education under my belt, here lately I am hearing things that sincerely leave me in awe, and slightly heart-broken.
The most recent one came when I was at a party and a friend asked me to read a response she received from her child’s primary teacher. She showed me an extremely harsh teacher-initiated conversation with mean words underlined and bold print in a hostile manner. Whether we want to admit it or not, in the day of technology, words have taken a non-verbal personality that shows both frustration and adulation. These words and their intent were obviously coarse. I expected the response to mirror that of the teacher, being filled with negative connotations and bold excerpts. However, I was pleasantly surprised! It read:

“I understand that she is growing and must conform to the different levels of expectation at the school. I am not unfamiliar with the frustrations, though my perspective on unacceptable levels of behavior may be coming from the other end of the spectrum.….

Do you have any recommendations for how I can help improve the situation?  I am open to coming in, on your schedule, to discuss in more detail what we can do to address concerns.  I want to be able to support you and make sure that she is meeting both of our expectations in your classroom.

Best Regards,”

As a teacher, I would have been ecstatic to receive a response like this when I am trying to deal with the growth of a student. I would have been encouraging and delighted in my response. Instead, the parent received the following from her child’s teacher (via email):

“Just to be clear, I did not put her on red today. She put herself on red by the choices that she made today.

Yes, I raised my voice to her.  Raising your voice to a child or fussing at them will not damage them. Maybe that is exactly what she needs to hear to get herself together. If she does not get it together, she will not be prepared to go to second grade. It is early in the year, but the lack of concern about her work is alarming.

I would suggest that you discuss with her the importance of listening and following directions and the seriousness of school. This school is very intense with student learning and is fast paced.  It is not for every child as there are high expectations for work, behavior and work/study. Please understand, that we are on the same side and want her to be successful, but she has to start paying attention and do her work instead of playing around.”

So, this is a first grade student in a public school. My son, is a first grader in a public school. When I read this with my educator hat off, I immediately thought how I would have lost all my cereal if she had spoken to me in this manner about the most important thing in my world. I would have went coo coo for Cocoa Puffs, possibly used all my Trix, and made her wish her Lucky Charms she had never met me. She would have used all of her Fruity Pebbles to just be done with me. However, with my educator hat on tight and snug, it disappoints me that over and over again I am hearing the lack of value we put in “caring”.  There is no telling where my life would have drifted to if it was not for the loving and caring nature of MANY teachers in my (public) K-12 schooling.

Nel Nodding is considered one of the premiere educators and researchers in the area of “caring”. She has said over and over that the first job of educators is to “care for our children.” She often spoke of an action called receptive attention. Her approach is to examine how caring is actually experienced (what we might describe as a phenomenological analysis). She asks “what are we like” when we engage in caring encounters? ‘Perhaps the first thing we discover about ourselves’, she continues, ‘is that we are receptive; we are attentive in a special way’ (Noddings 2002: 13). Receptive attention is an essential characteristic of a caring encounter. The carer is open to what the cared-for is saying and might be experiencing and is able to reflect upon it. In today’s world where we often discount the personal, cultural and ethnic experiences of others, society tells us that “they” can either conform or get out of the way. This atrocious thinking is bleeding into every area of society, even the areas that were once the foundational preparatory of interpersonal and intrapersonal ethics and values, such as religious organizations, non-profit groups, and sadly educational institutions of all kinds.

FORTUNATELY- THEY HAVE US!!

We are that group of people that are not only filled with instructional best practices, culturally responsive teaching strategies, and core social-emotional and leadership strategies, we also care more than others think is wise.
Infed.org discusses the research of Nel Nodding. They go deep into the area of “caring” and the idea of receptive attention.  However, they also speak on the idea of motivational displacement. In other words,

“the carer’s ‘motive energy’ flows towards the ‘cared-for’. The carer thus responds to the cared-for in ways that are, hopefully, helpful. For this to be called ‘caring’ a further step is required – there must also be some recognition on the part of the cared-for that an act of caring has occurred. Caring involves connection between the carer and the cared-for and a degree of reciprocity; that is to say that both gain from the encounter in different ways and both give” (
Infed.org).

I find joy in being able to work in the greatest school on the planet. Often times, we are given students that have failed over and over (and over) at other schools. They don’t trust the process. They don’t trust the system. Which means initially, they definitely don’t trust us. But when we stop everything to show them how much they mean to us, their anger and mistrust becomes displaced. When we love on them instead of yell at them; when we positively communicate with parents instead of patronize them; when we assure them that their success is as important to us as our own success, we all agree that “failure” is not an option. We focus on building leaders with the grit to fight through any/all tough situations, knowing you won’t be fighting alone. We work to build a growth mindset and purposeful planning for the future for each and every child. We look at ethnic and cultural differences to address biases, fears, and anxieties and also to promote gifts and talents shared from generation to generation. Why, because we care.
We often hear that we need more minority teachers. We hear we need more bilingual teachers. We need more gender-specific teachers. I am not negating the influence of all the fore-mentioned groups. Each come with a unique strength to provide to the whole. However, we will never have enough minority teachers. We will never have enough bilingual teachers. We will never have enough gender-specific teachers. However, if we all rally together and choose to remember why we got in this profession, we could definitely without question or refute have enough teachers that care.
Let’s change the world, one classroom at a time. Let’s show businessmen, politicians, and the world what happens, WHEN TEACHERS CARE!

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