January 16, 2020 | #FliptheScript
The Home and School Partnership: A Teacher’s Perspective
I stood in front of the crowded room. It was our Awards Day ceremony – a joyous day of celebrating the achievements of the school year. As I glanced down at my notes and saw the next student’s name on my paper, my eyes welled up. With a lump in my throat, I blinked back tears. Scenes from the past year replayed in my mind, as I tried to gather my thoughts.
At PCS, we prioritize the development of virtues. This particular student had seemed to be on the warpath against several key academic virtues. Day after day, he turned in illegible, incoherent assignments. And day after day, I would hand his papers back to him to re-do.
This student was genuinely convinced that it was impossible for him to grow to meet my standard; he believed that it was a total waste of his time to try. His days were filled with stomped feet, furrowed eyebrows, and mumbled complaints as he resisted the standards he thought were too high and persisted in the belief that he was incapable. Throughout this time, his parents and I were in frequent communication. They received my phone calls and emails gratefully and were intentional about creating harmony and consistency between home and school.
I had many moments throughout the year when I questioned myself. “Is it really worth making him rewrite this again?” “Should I just be happy with the progress he’s made in other virtues and let this one go?” Honestly, it would have been so much easier to lower my standards in order to avoid confrontation with him. But I knew that this issue did not start and stop with his messy handwriting. That was simply one tiny, visible fruit that revealed deeper, root issues. The root of pride had him entrenched in the idea that he knew what was best. The root of self-pity entrapped him in a victim mindset rather than a victor who could make changes. The root of laziness lured him into the belief that good things are always easy, and hard things must be bad.
So, day after day, I dug into these root issues. I pointed him back to the big picture of why our high standards were for his good. I empathized when his hand tired of writing. I gave strategies to help him improve his assignments. I encouraged him with the fact that he was capable. I praised every bit of progress that I saw in him.
And then one day, I handed him a paper and geared up for the outraged cry, the tensed body, the furrowed eyebrows. But instead, he just smiled and sighed.
“Rewrite it?” he said, looking up at me.
I waited to see if the frustrated murmuring would start. But it didn’t. He looked over the paper I had marked, glanced up with a bashful smile that almost had a hint of camaraderie in it. And without another word, he sat down and began re-writing.
The next day, he came to my desk to turn in a paper and he had a huge grin on his face.
“Mrs Rosario, every ‘i’ is dotted, every ‘t’ is crossed, and it is all legible.” He laid the paper down on my desk with a flourish.
From that day onward, he began turning in beautifully written assignments, laboring over each one, often the last student to finish in class – checking over his work carefully before submitting it to me.
And so, at the end of that year, I stood at our Awards Day ceremony in tears. My eyes welled up even more when I looked out in the audience and spotted his parents. His quantifiable growth in academic virtue had been a team effort in every way. Every time I had challenged this student to hold himself to a higher standard, his parents had supported and reinforced me in what I said. He knew he couldn’t go home and complain to his parents. This is the power of that special home and school partnership that Mrs. Lansner wrote about last week. This student knew that his parents and his teacher were united in having a high vision of who he could become. And eventually, this student latched on to that vision as well.
The parent/teacher relationship can be tricky. Parents come in with baggage from their own time in school and with insecurities about their parenting. Difficult conversations about their child’s sin can bring all these issues to the surface. The parents of this student, however, wisely “flipped the script” on this relationship. Instead of being defensive when I discussed their child’s weaknesses, they became my biggest supporters. Instead of having the consumer attitude that sometimes comes with paying for a private education, they dug in and recognized how crucial this time was in their child’s development. This mindset changes everything, and it led to the flourishing of their child.
At PCS, with daily, intentional, habit-forming standards and practices, we have the opportunity to cultivate virtues through these seemingly small areas. We help mold students’ affections in a way that will lead to harmony and joy. That student not only grew in producing good work….he grew to love and find joy in pushing himself toward excellence. His parents’ attitude toward me and his journey was key.
Plato writes in his Republic that the well-governed soul leads to the well-governed city. Urban life is far from easy but when I think about my commitment to living and working in the city of Philadelphia, I can’t imagine a more tangible connection to this calling than diligently taking the time to cultivate virtue in each student in my class. I’m thankful for those parents who have partnered with me and have helped our work to be fruitful.