Being the adult

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Street art Mott Haven, Bronx

As I’m hiring for the next school year, I’m starting to see a key teacher quality I hadn’t recognized before: the ability to be an adult around teenagers.

This may sound obvious.  What I mean is that the teacher knows that they are the adult, and that the student is a kid who may not yet possess all of the politeness, life skills, and behaviors they need to be productive and have good relationships.  The teacher knows that as the adult, they have the main responsibility for creating a respectful relationship.

As I’m interviewing teacher candidates, I see two ways of approaching teens:

The first way is the adult/responsible way, and it ranges from a calm neutrality—“Teenagers are teenagers, they have their ups and downs, let’s keep teaching and not take it personally”—to compassion—“It’s tough to be a teenager and we need to guide kids through this time in their life.”

The second way is the victim way, a constant skirmish between the teacher and student: “They’re making it difficult for me to deliver my lesson” or “I’m not letting Student X back into my class until he apologizes.” Continue reading

Melting grudges

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Student watercolor from the High School of Language and Innovation.

As a principal, I hear complaints from teachers and students about each other.  “Ahmed refuses to participate.”  “Ms. X didn’t help me even though I was raising my hand.”  I typically try to “solve” or mollify the complaints quickly so everyone can move on.

This week, coming fresh from a seminar on listening, I heard complaints differently.  Behind the complaints, I found hurt feelings and disappointment.

I came in for an early meeting with two teachers who are respected and even loved by their students.  We were deciding which kids needed extra academic support.

As we went down the list, the conversation seemed normal: “Jennifer could use more support outside of class.  Mohammed is doing fine in the class, he won’t need extra help.”

Then the tone changed, hitting upon two names: “Samantha doesn’t care.  She doesn’t do any work and when I talked to her about it, she said ‘whatever.’  Neither does Abdul.  He does nothing in class.”   Continue reading