Monday, August 11, 2014

Swimming Against the Current

The Indiana State Fair is home to many wonderful things, not the least of which are the finest soft pretzels in the world.

At the state fair you will find all manner of deep-fried goods, great music, crafts, animals, rides, and thousands of Hoosiers who enjoy this annual celebration of what our state produces.

Yet when I recently attended, I witnessed something near the Indiana State Police booth that was disheartening.  A woman was walking with her son who had just obtained a free yardstick.  The boy appeared to be about four or five.  His behavior must have been inconsistent with his mother's expectations, for she said yelled, "If you don't act straight, I'll get that stick on your butt.  I'll tell him (indicating one of the officers) to get out the handcuffs and put you in kiddy jail so you can learn to act straight."  

My wife and I are parents of two, ages 13 and 9, so I am quite familiar with how a parent's buttons can be pushed.  I also know that a person may make an extreme statement in jest, e.g. "Our team is going to KILL you on the field Friday night!"  My reading of the mother's tone and body language suggested she was not playing cute with her child, and I had not seen anything in the child's behavior to warrant her comments if indeed they were meant to be taken by him at face value.

I also could not help but connect this scene with the product being displayed at the next booth.  It was a spa, the kind you install on your deck.  The salesman was demonstrating the various currents that could be produced at one end so a person could swim against them and get a workout.

Teachers are the swimmers, and there are many things, including bad parenting, that form the current against which we swim.  If we are swimming with the current in a community that supports education and in which parents understand what is best for their children and work to achieve it, we can go far.  Of course, going far for teachers means taking everyone else with us.  If, on the other hand, the current against us is strong, stirred up by parents who threaten to beat their children, for example, then the going can be tough.  We do not make much headway, and we end up feeling like the swimmer in the spa, expending a tremendous amount of effort without going anywhere.

 A recent article that Sean McComb, 2014 National Teacher of the Year, shared with some of us makes a distinction between communities with great schools and schools with great communities.  No school, good or bad, exists in a vacuum.  When the results are less than what we want from a particular school, perhaps it would be a good idea to explore the conditions of the community.  What percentage of the children are living in poverty?  What percentage have their physical needs well met?  How many have supportive families?  How many are living in environments that no one could reasonably call a home?  It just may be that the schools in that community have some teachers at the level of Michael Phelps, but they are swimming against the current.

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