One of the things that strikes me about the language school is that school reformers often say, “It’s all about the students.”
It never was.
Teachers have needs too. And those needs are an important part of what happens in our classrooms. And to ignore that is to miss a really powerful lens on our classrooms.
School is often about the competing needs of teachers and students, and we have to acknowledge that they don’t always align.
There are a million examples of this every day, and a simple one is deadlines. Many of us, as teachers, need to have a sequential classroom where work is handed in on time because that’s the way we can keep on top of our work, know what kids are doing, and manage giving feedback and keeping track of the kids on our academic rosters.
And that’s ok. It’s ok for teachers to feel a real need to do that because those are real needs.
But our students might have competing needs. At the high school level, the kids are balancing the needs of anywhere between five and eight teachers all giving them different work to do. They are balancing (much like we are) the needs of school with the needs of family. Many students are balancing part-time jobs with school work. Or they are balancing athletics and academics, and trying to figure out how to meet the deadline of a teacher with the fact that they worked until 10pm the night before or had a big game and came home tired or had to take care of a sibling. And in any given moment, any of those needs can feel — and might be — far more important than that work we’ve given them to do.
And all that’s ok too. And kids having needs outside of the work we are asking them to do doesn’t not negate the need for the kids to do the work we’re asking them to do. That’s our job.
The problem comes when we don’t acknowledge competing needs… or worse, when we don’t tell the truth about whose needs are actually primary in a moment. To use the deadlines example, we tell kids that deadlines are for their needs when we say things like, “In the real world, no one accepts late work,” and such…
When that’s really not true.
Zac and I blew through deadlines when we wrote our book. People ask their bosses for more time on projects all the time. The federal government even lets you file an extension your taxes. And yes, some deadlines are real and important, but not all.
But the best reason why we create deadlines for most of the work we give to kids is because it helps us manage the teaching life as much — if not more — than it helps kids. And we should tell kids that for a lot of reasons. But the best reason is this:
It’s honest. And we should be honest with our students.
But more that – imagine a school that worked hard on being a place where everyone worked on being honest about what they needed and learned how to navigate and negotiate those needs when they competed with others’ needs. Imagine colleagues who sat down and looked at when stuff was due and worked to make a sane project / assessment schedule for kids. Imagine a school where administrators and teachers spoke about the competing needs of their respective positions and worked to make healthy decisions where everyone felt respected and valued.
And imagine that happening in a way that was open and transparent and modeled for kids, so that they felt comfortable speaking their needs to teachers who could see their classrooms as negotiated spaces where competing needs were acknowledged and discussed and solved for. And imagine a school where students had a better understanding of the “why” of teacher actions because they saw their teachers as fully human with needs of their own… but also as fully human and willing to listen and understand the needs of students as well.
Now imagine those kids out in the world, applying those lessons to their personal relationships, in their work life, and to the world around them. It’s just one more way we can help kids become the kinds of citizens that our world desperately needs.