I walked away from this conversation feeling sorry for these kids -- kids who are most vulnerable and fragile. Those who are on the verge of withdrawing from education completely. Those who need a teacher both trained in meaningful, purposeful intervention and who actually care. She isn’t that teacher. She simply monitors them while they “complete packets and get missing homework assignment done.”
Not only am I a teacher, but I also have two kids of my own, and I can’t imagine them in her classroom.
Let’s create an imaginary boy and assume he isn’t doing well in school. He misses a few assignments. Doesn’t turn in homework. Didn’t pass a recent exam. Hasn’t met with his teacher to request a make-up exam or deadline extensions for missing homework. Is your first instinct to say that the child is lazy? The teacher I met this weekend would.
But here is another way to look at the situation.
Missing assignments? Look for commonalities among the assignments. It’s possible the student has a gap in knowledge that keeps him from completing the work. In English this could manifest as him not turning in anything written, because he doesn’t know how to organize his thoughts. In math, this could mean that whenever fractions are involved, the student doesn’t know where to begin. This isn’t laziness -- it’s an opportunity for a teacher to help.
Didn’t turn in homework? Maybe the homework required access to technology unavailable to the child. Maybe he doesn’t have a quiet place to work. Maybe, even, he needs a little more instruction to be able to do the work on his own. It may even be he is busy with other activities: soccer, basketball, work to support the family, babysitting younger brothers and sisters, church commitments -- his life is actually extra full. Again, not lazy.
Low test grades and not advocating for himself? This could simply mean he hasn’t been taught how to advocate for himself, is afraid to approach the teacher, suffers from anxiety that prevents him from approaching adults, missed key instruction because of a verified absence, or the test was just badly constructed. None of these mean lazy, they simply mean teachers need to know more before labeling their students.
My own kids have challenges at school. All our kids do. If one of our kids’ teachers went around campus calling one of our own children lazy, we would be livid.
I guess I just want to challenge educators to make sure all kids are empowered, rather than labeled. I want children to receive the benefit of the doubt. I want teachers to really care and ask questions to uncover a child’s individual challenges. And I especially want our most vulnerable, fragile kids to be treated with respect, kindness and compassion.
In fact, ironically, wasn’t this teacher the one being lazy -- by being so quick to label?
I think maybe so.