Working through my keynote for this morning and I keep coming back to this moment from my own students – I asked my students who the “bad” kids were and they answered, “The teachers tell us…”
Even though I was there to witness it, it still hits hard every single time I see it. The power we wield, as educators, as adults, in how human beings see each other is astounding. It is something I carry with me every single time I teach, that through my actions, whether conscious or not, I will shape how a child’s humanity is potentially seen by others. While not singlehandedly determining the narrative, my presence, my being will provide others with a road map of how to see themselves and others.
It is something I don’t feel we spend enough time discussing, pondering, and helping us shape our teaching experiences.
And it starts on the very first day where we explain through our rules what “good kids” do and a child looks at that list and doesn’t see themselves.
That quote is 5 years old and yet, I wonder how many kids would still say something like that in schools across the world.
How many kids would consider themselves “bad” kids because that is the legacy we make for them?
Or how we label entire grade levels as “hard” groups or other awful titles and then wonder why they live up to it?
Words matter, actions matter, and the way we help children shape their identities in school to the point of where some are trying to succeed despite us is something to sit with, and then something to do something about.
Because as the mother of a child who felt unsafe at school due to bullying, who felt her teacher hated her in kindergarten, that was exactly the legacy she thought she should live up to. A child who didn’t belong, who was angry, who was broken.
And as a teacher who continues to screw up, despite her best intentions, I have realized that the least I can do is ask the very kids I teach whether they feel safe and respected and if they tell me no, then do something about it.
Because then, perhaps, we can change the narrative.