"There is only one most beautiful child in the world, and every mother has it." This Chinese proverb speaks to our human capacity to love others, regardless of their objective beauty.
But our children grow into adults, some who populate our prisons or live lives of depressed helplessness or are terribly offensive to others. Similar to many teachers I know, I try to look past that surface to see that child that they once were. For nearly every one of them was an innocent baby, a toddler awed at their world, a playful child who giggled with playmates.
What we see in our littlest children is "potential." It is our hopes that they can become anyone they want to be. Parents are the first and primary teachers of their children. And the close community around a child is formative too. And some children inherit some limitations. By the time they enter elementary school, it is obvious that regardless of what we say, not everyone can grow up to become President.
As teachers we sometimes say that meeting the parents helps us forgive the students. But our job as teachers is not to change parents but to grow students. In America, that job has two parts. We teach language or math or (in my case) biology. But there is a second side to a teacher's job.
I have a delightful retired colleague who, when someone says "You taught biology, didn't you?" responds with "No, I taught students."
So, yes, he did teach biology-to-students. But not only did his students learn plants and animals and DNA, but they also learned to grow as young ladies and gentlemen. Be kind. Be responsible. Respect adults, classmates, and especially themselves.
More or less, American teachers are surrogate parents. And our students can really make mistakes. We actually learn a lot by making mistakes. Mistakes are important in life. And recovering failure is an important life skill. Misspelling a word or getting the math wrong is not the end of the earth. Teachers have no trouble getting a student back on track with lessons.
It is the misbehavior or mistakes in growing up socially that the teacher has to manage. Good teachers in America have to have a little "cop" in them because misbehavior cannot be ignored. For the good student who is remorseful and realizes "I shouldn’t have done that," the teacher is glad to have them back the next day to start over with a clean slate. It is part of growing up. This "unconditional positive regard" gives students the room to grow.
But there is a limit to positive regard. A student who continues bad behavior will exhaust that good will. The real world is not forgiving. School teachers are justified in having limits on what can be tolerated.
Unfortunately some American schools have seen a rise in misbehavior. In earlier times, if you got in trouble at school, you got in trouble again when you got home. Unfortunately, those days are pretty much gone. Today some elementary children who, having misbehaved badly and been corralled by the teacher, threaten "Wait till my mom hears about this!" And sure enough, mom shows up at school the next day with no better behavior than her child. Sometimes meeting the parent ends forgiveness for both!
I never see such behavior here in China. My teaching colleagues here have a minimum of 60 students per class. They are teachers mainly in the first sense—they teach language or math or biology. Because of the sheer numbers, they rarely deal with behavior or personal issues. They don't have to. If a child "acts up," there is another child waiting to take their seat and who will be very well behaved.
We should revisit our compulsory school attendance laws that to some extent guarantee students a seat regardless of their behavior. Detention and alternate schools are just legal dodges.
Would the mother above last many days with her bratty child at home with her? There should be no right to an education without the parent and child also assuming the responsibility for education too.
We focus on "rights." China focuses on "responsibility."
We don't need to adopt the Chinese culture.
We just need to get back to supporting our teachers.