September 04, 2008

Individual Support?

I am a parent and a teacher. No, I don’t think you have to be a parent to be a teacher, but sometimes the insight provided by being both a parent and a teacher helps me both parent and teach. It also helps to have a child who is the same age as the children that I teach. Because I spend time with my son, seeing school through his eyes, I can sympathize with my students just a little bit better. Life ain’t easy for kids these days.

Teachers guide their students along the journey of discovery that these young explorers must travel during their school-age years. These are wonderful days for individuals to discover who they are and to begin the process of actualizing their discovery. All along the way, each and everyday, every students learns a little bit more about who they are, what they are good at, and what they enjoy. They also find out who they are not, what they are not good at, and what they do not enjoy. It can be an emotionally polarizing experience, but fundamental to the process of self-discovery.

Teachers shepherd their students along their individual paths while building them up with knowledge and empowering the students with self-confidence. We provide opportunities for success and celebrate with our pupils when they do well. However, the same opportunities may lead to failure, and we commiserate with our kids when they fall short. It is both wonderful and painful sometimes at the same time as we teachers invest in our students and fly or fall right alongside them.

My son is entering his sophomore year of high school. He is excited by all of the opportunities available to him through sports, academics, arts, and clubs and wants to participate in just about everything. He, like so many other students I teach everyday, is immersed in the process of self-discovery. As my son samples the smorgasbord of high school life he is naturally learning about himself and where his talents lie. As his teacher I am enjoying watching his future unfold before his eyes; as his father it is pure agony.

I am use to the teacher role where I work with children everyday to guide them along. As a teacher I can recognize a student’s strengths and weaknesses and help them to realize what directions and avenues will fit them best. I teach elective courses at a variety of levels, some focused on the general population, and some that specialize. It is never a struggle for me to look a student in the eye and tell them that the advanced courses I teach simply are not for them (and this the exception, not the rule). Sure, the student may be disappointed for a short period of time, but ultimately it frees them to discover their strengths. Other times students who I believe show great potential quit, or choose to explore a different path. Either way, these kids go home to their parents.

My son recently chose not to continue with an opportunity presented to him at school. He participated for about 6 months, and then decided to quit. As a teacher I respect his decision and how it fits into this discovery process. But as his father I am concerned. Not because I think he made the wrong decision, he never had a passion for this pursuit he was really just exploring, but because I’m not sure what happens next. As a teacher I trust that he will find his way to something else. As his father I wonder what next thing is and how long it will take him to get there.

As teachers (and as parents) it is important that we recognize the individual in each of our students and children. Our pupils are individuals, each with their own road to travel. As teachers we are lucky that we can separate ourselves from the pupils somewhat during these periods of trial and error. Parents, sorry, you’re in to it much deeper with your own kids.

When I spoke to my son’s advisor about his desire to quit, the advisor (who is also my dear friend) was concerned for my son, but readily accepting of his choice. It was the right position to take. Teachers need to support their pupils and empower them to survive through the journey. Our job is to make sure that our individual students achieve a strong sense of self are ready to face the world with confidence.