I’m so glad my aide, Chris, opened my eyes today. I teach third grade and have twenty-five eight and nine-year-olds scurrying about our room filled with desks, books and promise.
At my school, I’m known for giving my students cool experiences that they will probably remember for years to come, as well as for being strict. And, to be honest, I embrace these descriptions. I have very high expectations for my students. They never need to be “the best,” but I’m constantly asking for “their best.” I expect them to be respectful, responsible and give one hundred percent effort.
Because of what I want from my students, I tend to focus on the gap between where they should be and where they are. At times I see the lack of effort, the choice to watch SpongeBob rather than finish their homework after school, the fact that I must ask them to walk in a quiet line down the hallway for the 462nd time this year, the lack of studying for their weekly spelling tests. I see that they are not where I know they can be.
Then today Chris, a retired second grade teacher, comes in and spends her daily hour with my students and me. Chris knows all about expectations. She also spends an hour each day in the other two third-grade classes on our campus. Today she tells me, “It’s such a pleasure to come into your class.”
Suddenly, I want to see my class through Chris’ eyes. “Tell me why,” I say. She goes on to tell me that my class is full of students who are so polite, who know so much, who stay under control, and who are incredibly respectful…and I smile.
I can easily envision what I want from my third graders, but because I don’t step out of my teaching bubble, I sometimes (or often) forget what’s realistic. I need someone like Chris, who sees other children the same age as my students, in similar environments, to tell me what they are doing great.
So, sure, maybe they haven’t reached my expectations yet, but could I possibly be expecting too much? No, not too much, but too much too soon? What if my vision for them is not the third-grade finish line, but instead it’s the seed I plant for the long-distance marathon of education? What if my vision is not where they will be when they leave my classroom, but instead it’s a staircase that they traverse over the years?
Then, I get to thinking about my expectations as a parent. I have two daughters, Grace and Riley (12 and 16). When I don my “Daddy Hat,” it’s strangely similar to my “Teacher Cap.” I have similar expectations for my daughters: respect, responsibility and full effort.
I find myself frustrated with them more than I would like: why must I ask Grace to put away her shoes every evening? I curse the fact that Riley’s bike is always blocking the door in the garage that leads to the backyard. They know their job is to wash the dishes every night, yet they won’t touch a plate until either my wife or I remind them…every….single…night.
But like teaching, parenting is often done in a vacuum. We raise our children in our homes, closed off to the rest of the world, and our only standards of measurement are our own upbringings and how our parents raised us. In addition, we frequently see unrealistic families in film and on TV, or all those Facebook posts from other parents, about the award this kid earned or the trophy that child won.
I need to take a step back and look from an outsider’s point of view: my daughters are both Honor Students, taking GATE and/or AP classes. They both get straight A’s. We never need to tell them to get their assignments in or homework done. They are incredibly creative and loyal to their friends. Neither of them swear, dabble in drugs, smoke, sneak out, are involved with gangs, are pregnant, nor have arrest records.
I am fortunate to be reminded that the finish line is not this week, this month, or maybe even this year. It’s for the long run, and with every step my daughters are getting closer to where I want them someday. I have to remember to appreciate the steps they are currently taking, and the incredible people they currently are, moving in the direction toward the women they will one day be.
My daughters are incredible…just like my students. Sometimes, though, we just need a little perspective. Thanks, Chris.
About Leon Scott Baxter
Leon Scott Baxter, "The Dumbest Genius You'll Ever Meet," has been an elementary educator for the last eighteen years. He's the author of Secrets of Safety-Net Parenting, which helps parents raise happy and successful children. Learn more about raising happy successful children at SafetyNetters.com or on Baxter's YouTube Channel.