I’m protective, as a rule, and fiercely so as a dad. I get it when parents bring concerns to my office, and I understand the solicitousness they bring to their own child’s education. The perspective of moms and dads resonates with me because I’ve been a dad myself since I was 27 and my niece, then six, came to live with my wife and me. She’s all grown up now, with a family of her own, and at the northernmost stop of this summer’s family road trip it was in her apartment that I got a beautiful visual of the parents’ eye view of kids. Holding my grand-niece Adilene, I had in front of me the whole chronology of my kids from baby to young mother.
As educators we see students in isolated years, perpetually twelve, always thirteen; parents see in their 8th grader the baby, the toddler, the elementary schooler, and the young adult their child will become. Recognizing this perspective helps me as I work with the adults in my students lives, and with the students as well.
On this trip Adilene reminded me that the girls who will find themselves in my office with drama in need of sorting out once were held in their mom’s laps, that before makeup and hair products, they had blinking eyes and that new baby hair smell. And their parents remember it. My empathy increases when I try to see it as well.
Those rambunctious boys, those young men who shout a little louder than we’d like and jostle when we’d like them to walk in straight lines? That’s my son and grand-nephew, who I see (at six and four) as sweet kids full of life, their mischief balanced by kindness. I’d be fibbing if I didn’t admit that they raise my blood pressure when they show selective hearing and what my great-grandmother would have described as “vinegar,” but I do well to keep their faces in mind before I tell a mother that her son is overly energetic. She knows. And I don’t have to compromise expectations or lessen consequences when I make a point to see what she sees in him, his humanity as well as his actions. And if I look for this character before he gets into trouble I might even make a difference.
The two girls my wife and I have parented, at nine and twenty-four, loosely bookend the ages of the students I work with. In them I see the strength and fragility of youth. In them I see hope and the ability to succeed. I see what we talk about when we talk about “growth mindset” and the ability for all to learn, grow, and become stronger.
Every member of my family will have successes and struggles, we all do as humans. And some of these struggles, whether social or academic, will happen in school. Seeing students in crisis as complete and complex young people, not simply manifestations of the problem at hand, isn’t just the purview of parents, but should be ours as educators too.
Seeing the many stages of youth all together this July is a memory I’ll carry with me as I work with parents and students (who just happen to be in 7th and 8th grade right now) this fall. And I’ll join with parents and the very best teachers who see in these middle schoolers the children they have been, the students they now are, and the adults they will become.