Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Don't Take It Personal

When a parent meets with a teacher to discuss issues related to the student-teacher relationship and the performance of the student in the classroom, it is difficult for the teacher not to take the concern as a personal affront. However, the teacher--as the professional--must do exactly that: not take the concern as a personal affront.

Taking a concern as being personal translates in to personal criticism: there is something wrong with me. From that point on, the teacher is no longer hearing the concern or focused on the better interest of the student. From that point on, the teacher can only hear in his mind, "Why don't these people like me?" "I'm doing the best I can." "Am I the only one here who realizes that I have to deal with 150 kids who don't want to learn what I'm teaching?" In other words, the issue has become not only a personal affront, but also a personal defense. The teacher is now so completely self-absorbed that he cannot do what is expected of him, concentrate on the issue as it relates to the student and try to find a way to get the student to work to his potential.

At this point, I would like to suggest that having a student work to his potential is something different from having a student work to the teacher's expectations. This does not mean that the teacher's expectations are not important or should be ignored. High expectations are important to the success of all students. However, when those expectations take into consideration the student's potential, then it may be possible to really stretch the student and to have the student learn more. Expectations alone will not do the job.

Back to the making it personal...

Sitting in a conference between a teacher and a parent, the teacher stated, "You make me feel bad when..." I don't know that I have heard a statement of more personal self-absorption. The teacher could not hear the concern of the parent. The teacher was not interested in the needs of the student. The teacher felt that he was under attack and that those attacking him were wrong and needed to know that. In other words, the teacher was not being a professional in that moment.

It is important to know that parents have a privilege of being emotional. Teachers, as professionals, are not afforded the same privilege. Teachers are required to listen to a parent's concern and to respond to the concern, without making the issue personal. That will communicate to the parents that the teacher is a professional, that the teacher places the concern for a student's well being and achievement first, and that the student is in competent hands. And that is what is expected of us, as professionals.

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