An unusual downpour this morning prompted the memory. It was still dark outside, and I was sitting in my office trying to get a bit of work done before school really started to hum. I looked out my window at the driving rain and thought: in a novel by Thomas Hardy this would reflect the mood of the parent meeting looming later in the day. And then a chord of memory sounded and I remembered a Nabokov quotation I’d been given by an LCC parent: “Do not be angry with the rain; it simply does not know how to fall upwards.”
So often the tensions that rise between adults in our school community come not from genuine anger, but from fear, or frustration, or lack of information. We fall into patterns of behavior that seem natural, and even right: parents rise to protect their children, teachers stand firm to uphold high standards and the integrity of their programs. What sometimes gets lost in the downpour, however, is an ability to see through the storm and understand the other person’s point of view.
I’m looking for umbrellas.
Nurturing the process of education is paramount to what I do, and an important part of that job is to help folks get along. More often than not, doing this means helping them see each other’s point of view. Many teachers are parents, and all parents teach their children (even, and especially, when they don’t know they are). I’ve spent most of my adult life as a teacher, and nearly as long as a parent, and as a site administrator I have the opportunity and responsibility to see the situation from both perspectives.
Teachers work with students toward a common goal. Whether dancing or dissecting cats, graphing or painting, students fill classrooms with active learning. They’re pushed to be responsible, diligent, and focused. Teachers show students respect as they provide high expectations and hold students accountable. Teachers show students respect as they provide feedback, both praise and criticism. Students come to high school as teenagers, with the attitudes, clothing, and technology adopted (at least in some ways) to challenge the status quo as they set about becoming adults.
Parents know their kids differently than teachers do. Parents can see their nine year old daughter in their 14 year old. Their love transcends behavior and their perspective is broader than anyone else’s. Parents see in the sophomore who cheated on the quiz a second grader who got scared at the elementary school camp out. They see the senior who cut Econ class to go to the beach with friends as the kindergartner who needed stitches when he fell off his bike.
Parents have an emotional reaction with their teenage boys grow beards; teachers simply acknowledge that they look a little goofy.
Bridging this gap is important and not always easy. To see the adult in the child and the child in the adult requires a willingness to entertain a sometimes disorienting expansion of vision. Exacerbated by the tension that is a natural product of growth, emotions can rise and storms brew.
The challenge in high school is to one of transformation: students arrive at our green gates as children and leave them four years later as young adults. In these four years the insulation of childhood is replaced by the resilience of maturity. Sometimes struggle is part of this growth; sometimes even those with the best intentions make mistakes. Students figure this out.
More often than not students understand both their parents and their teachers better than either of those understand each other. Sometimes they take a side. Sometimes they simply step back and watch the rising storm. Occasionally they may even seed the clouds.
And when the thunderclouds of emotion gather, as they do when we are faced with challenge, it helps me to remember Nabokov. Rain is inevitable. Conflict is part of growth as showers are part of spring. I may not be able to help the rain fall upward, but in my best moments I may be able to bring people together beneath an umbrella.