Every marking period I contact the parents of my most remarkable students to tell them how great their kids are. I do this for a few reasons. Too often, my attention is consumed with kids who need refocusing, redirecting and all the other IEP-mandated practices teachers do anyway. But mostly I contact the remarkable students because I’ve noticed that the kids who do good work often go unacknowledged.
I’m sure that some teachers say this every year, but I feel like today’s kids really are different from those in the past—and not in a good way. Yes, kids are still kids, with all their attendant potential for greatness and destruction. They still make me smile, weep and cheer.
However, this is the first year that kids have destroyed the toys I have in class. They’ve broken keys off our class laptops and popped buttons off the media center computers. In addition, students have said things to me this year that I would never have had the audacity to say to an adult.
What’s interesting is that when I demonstrate shock or outrage, these students are truly surprised. They are not purposely trying to be disrespectful. They’ve been inundated with messages about respecting themselves, and I suspect some have confused self-interest with self-respect. Others just don’t know the many forms that respect takes.
Self-respect grows from a number of places. Unconditional love from parents is one. Working toward a challenging goal is another. And then there’s persisting despite adversity and caring for others without the expectation of a reward. Respect comes from a job well done.
And that’s why I make those calls and send those e-mails to parents.
The kids I acknowledge are not attention-grabbing or compulsively high-achieving. They are good kids, producing quality work, cooperating and collaborating with me and their peers. They are not perfect. They are not teacher’s pets. But these students earn what they get. They don’t complain about a project, they work through it. And while I love all my students (even the ones who drive me the craziest), I have a special fondness for those unacknowledged kids who persistently do the right thing even when no one is looking.
Sofen is a middle school writing teacher in New Jersey.