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They’re not my children! They’re my students! by Dr. Terance Shipman

They’re not my children! They’re my students!

I have a Facebook group named Team Shipman. The members of this group are my former students, their parents, and many former coworkers. I’ve been teaching for over 27 years, and I still keep in touch with many of my students. Some of the students in the group are from the first classes that I taught.

I formed good, healthy relationships with my former students. Many of them call me dad. I’ve gone to hospitals to hold their newborns and funerals to comfort them when a parent was lost. I am proud to say that these relationships have made me a better teacher and person.

These close relationships, with my students and their families, were a part of my foundation as a teacher. Over the past six or seven years, I have distanced myself away from these types of relationships.

There are two things that led to this distancing. First, the parents and students that I deal with today are often dangerous and predatory. They can hurt you in ways that change you. As the teacher, you want to build that relationship; you want to be a motivator, a safe place, an inspiration! Parents love it when their child loves the teacher, and when everything is going great. They promote and encourage strong student-relationships when things are good. As soon as the student doesn’t get the grade that parent thought they should have gotten, or when the child’s behavior becomes a problem, things change.

Now honestly, parents have always had to take time to digest unpleasant news about their children, but they used to adjust and move on. Back when I used to establish strong relationships with my students and their families, parents recognized that I had no need to hurt a child and that any correction or discipline I administered was done from a place of love and hope for improvement.

Times have changed, and students are often very manipulative. Parents are encouraging the students to look for loopholes that they can use to slide through. I tell young teachers, today that there’s a fine line to be wary of when getting close to students and parents.

Today, I set wider boundaries and offer less of myself to my students and their families.

Yes, this is the man who has a whole Facebook group dedicated to his former students speaking right. I have seen parents aggressively harass teachers when their child receives a low grade. They email everyone: administrators, PTO chairpersons, board members, superintendents… any one that they think will harass the teacher into giving them what they want. They scrutinize every assignment and every grade, looking for the slightest error to report to a supervisor. They talk to their children’s friends and compare notes with other parents. They work on finding ways to make (at the very least) the teacher very uncomfortable or to promote the dismissal of the teacher.

Then you realize that the bond you thought you’d established with the child and the parent was one-sided. You were building a bond; they were setting up a parasitic relationship.

You are reminded of your paid role. An administrator will come to you and let you know what your role is as a teacher is. Many times, you are left out on your own. Most administrators will ask for documentation of all correspondence with the parent and child and if don’t have it. That’s when you know you’re in trouble. You reflect and tell yourself: I was just doing my job, but you struggle to believe the parent attacked and accused you of mistreatment You go back to teaching that same kid and you realize that the kid doesn’t even care. That’s when reality sets in and you realize that the parent is driving that boat and you should be wary of the child and the parent; they are dangerous.

This has happened to me and so many other teachers I know. And each time it happens, you lose something inside of yourself. Each time, it chips away a piece your passion to education. It really hard to trust again after something like that. It takes a long time to heal. Sometimes, the school year will end before you are able to move on.

The second reason I’ve become careful about getting too close to students and their families is the school’s attitude. Schools are using the Jedi mind trick on teachers. In almost every meeting, professional development or conversation you have with administrators and board level employees you are told you are going to make these children learn and provide them with everything they need to learn. The children are not reading at home, so we have built in time for them to read at school. The children aren’t doing their homework, so let’s not give homework or when you do and the student doesn’t do it, don’t count it against them. The children aren’t logging in for their virtual classes, well call their parent and remind them that we’re having school. The parents won’t sign a school related form, so call the parent and beg them to sign it. The children are coming to school hungry, so we’ll bring them snacks. It’s too much!

So many teachers jump on board to save every student. They feel it is their duty to take ownership of these students and make them their children because they have a bond with the child, with the family. They take the kids home after school because mama couldn’t make it to pick them up after practice. They buy hundreds of dollars’ worth of paper and pencils for the kids because the parents put them on the bus empty handed every day. They tutor kids during lunch because parents won’t sign the free tutorial paperwork for after school tutoring. They do too much. The real problem is, they are expected to do too much by administrators and parents. The teachers who don’t do all of this are often looked at as slackers.

The close relationships I once built with students has been crushed by this new pseudo-parent paradigm that teachers are increasingly asked to engage in for the sake of the child’s education. I have seen teachers neglect their health, their families, and even forget to enjoy life because they were doing extra for other people’s children. They are sitting on a phone at 9 p.m. calling parents and begging them to parent. They are staying at work until 7 PM every night trying to do complete work. They are donating their own money to feed children., After all of that, at the end of the year, the administration still asks, “Couldn’t you have done a little more?”

I still love the art of teaching and learning. Although teaching online is really different (but that’s for another blog), I do enjoy teaching every day. But now, I keep a little extra emotional distance from the students and their families because somehow that relationship has become an evaluation point for me as a teacher. Being willing to parent other people’s children has become an expectation of a good teacher.

This expectation bothers me. If I want to do more for my students, let it be out the kindness of my heart. When a teacher does speak up and says, “Hey, these are my students not my children.” They are frown upon and seen as a person who doesn’t care, but that not true. It’s okay for teacher to feel this way. You must realize your limitations. I’ve wrestled with this for years.

When Covid19 sent us all home to become untrained online instructors, I gained clarity. After almost a full year of teaching online, the one thing that has become crystal clear to me is that I can’t control what happens in 20 something homes: these are really not my children. Although many parents seem to have abdicated their role as the first teacher and seem to wholeheartedly

think that their biological spawns are mine. Teachers are trying desperately, to make these things work. School district leaders want online schooling to be just like face-to-face school, but it is not. They seem to be on this endless quest to show the world how great teachers are and that they can build these fabulous relationships with students and parents, even online. Most of the times, we are finding that we can’t.

I desperately want to tell the districts and the parents to stop. Parents are mad because they don’t want to deal with their children.

And so, as I move into the twilight years of my career, I realize that those close relationships that I built with my first students and their families are a thing of the past. The distortion of the role of teacher in the American home has destroyed something good. As teacher are simultaneously scrutinized more closely than ever and are being pushed to parent their students, they are forced to keep a healthy distance from the students and families. School systems seem to want to mandate love and caring. You can’t. Parents seem to want to rest the responsibility of their children’s education fully on the teacher’s shoulders, requiring more of the teacher than they require of themselves the end result for me is realizing that teaching is a job and that the names are on my roster are not the names of my children; they’re the names of my students.

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