Why Do We Hold Students to Higher Expectations Than Adults?

I told one class today that I was not there for their sheer entertainment.  I didn’t raise my voice, nor did I yell.  I simply stated it and asked them to step it up, to show engagement, to show me that what we were doing mattered to them because I could tell they were checked out and it made me unhappy.  And then we continued on with what we were doing.  Just another moment teaching 7th grade.

Yet, as it popped back into my mind, a seemingly insignificant moment from my day, I now see what a missed opportunity it was.  Not for another lecture, but instead to realize that these are kids that I am teaching.  Kids that we hold to insanely high expectations every single day.  Every single day, we expect full commitment in every subject matter.  We expect passion.  We expect interest.  We expect a willingness to try, to create, to experience   We expect them to pay attention, to shut everything out except for what’s in front of them.  We expect total compliance with all of our rules.  At.  All. Times.  No Excuse.

Yet as adults those same expectations don’t apply to us.  Go to any staff meeting or professional development opportunity and you will see adults not paying attention all of the time, not trying all of the time, not tuning in all of the time.  Not because we don’t want to.  Not because we don’t find it engaging, but because we can’t.  No one can.  Our brains need a break, and we know it. So we allow ourselves to fidget, to whisper, to slouch, to shift our attention for a moment, because we know we need it.

So why do we forget this fundamental truth when we create our learning environments?  Why do we forget that in the very place where we are trying to fire up as many brain cells as possible, that those same brain cells needs a moment to recover, to regroup, to make new connections?  That kids need a moment.  That these kids are trying.  That these kids do want to learn and most days are giving us the best they have. And yes, I get why we have to have high expectations, we are teaching them to be better humans, but at some point we also need to give them a break, because they are human beings first not just learners.

So tomorrow, I will remember that when my students start to slouch, when they start to whisper, when they start to drift, it’s not a reflection always on what we are doing, but more that they are in school and have been working for x amount of hours before they got to me.  It’s not always that they don’t care, it’s not always that they don’t want to learn, it’s not always that they are bored.  Sometimes they are just full and it is up to us to help them through.

I am a passionate teacher in Oregon, Wisconsin, USA but originally from Denmark,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  The second edition of my first book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” will be published by Routledge in the fall.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Join our Passionate Learners community on Facebook and follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

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16 thoughts on “Why Do We Hold Students to Higher Expectations Than Adults?

  1. Pingback: Why Do We Hold Students to Higher Expectations Tha… | EducatorAl's Tweets

  2. Thank you for posting this. I’ve had the same reflections as you the past few weeks about this very same topic and you were able to put this into words so eloquently. We need to remember students do not always come to us 100% just as adults do not. There is more to being human than school and that is perfectly okay. Thank you for allowing us, as readers, to gain insight from your reflections. I always look forward to your posts.

  3. Thank you, for posting this! I sometimes get so caught up in my expectations that I forget they are just children, and cannot expect them to be these magical and attentive creatures every second of the day.

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  5. Such a great point. A point so many educators forget or fail to tap into. It really is about looking at the whole child. Understanding where they are at, acknowledging that and pushing when necessary but sometimes adjusting too and know ing that is ok. I also find this standard to be true of creating and risk taking. Some educators expect these things of their students yet fail to have the same expectation on themselves. Thank you Pernille. This piece is a great reminder to just always take a moment and take the whole student in and consider everything they do and the expectations we hold.

  6. Great post Pernille. Lots of very valid points that we should all remember. I wonder if the issue is especially pertinent in Secondary schools where it is perhaps easier for teachers to lose sight of the fact that the poor kids have been getting the same (or sometimes very different) demands from teacher after teacher all day/week? My own daughter is in Year 8 and I’ve not enjoyed witnessing the impact of this first hand!
    I liked your parallel with teachers in meetings or PD sessions – I can relate to that from both sides!
    Thanks.

  7. That’s a great reflection Pernille. It is good to have a break for a few moments, and then settle down again. A laugh, a chat with a neighbour, an opportunity to get up and stretch or walk around, a hands-on activity: all of these can offer a refreshing break making a return to the harder thinking easier.

  8. Great post! And sometimes the kids have things going on in their lives at home that prevent them from being fully engaged at school, no matter how many “brain breaks” they get. When your mom is battling breast cancer or your dad is out of work and can’t find a job and the bills are piling up, kids of all ages carry that with them to school and we don’t always see it.

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  10. I have often thought this through my years in education. thank you for putting these thoughts into such a great post. I don’t often comment, but your posts always give me a lot to think about—and I so appreciate that. 🙂

  11. So true. I get upset when my 9-10 year olds act like 9-10 year olds. How crazy is that? Have to figure out a better way to balance between all the expected behavior and being a kid.

  12. So many truths in your post. Our students have so many struggles outside of just being a perfect student! It’s good to step back and see the big picture. I’m sharing this at our staff meeting today ☺️

  13. Pingback: Teacher Blogs… Inspiration! | SLM 508

  14. Reblogged this on My Wired Life and commented:
    This is a very well said observation. As a parent, I see that my kids need these breaks, yet school doesn’t give many – and certainly not in a way the kids can control. Breaks are on the school or teacher’s schedule. Why do we expect kids to always follow the adult schedule?

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