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Love in a Modern Classroom*

Earlier this year, I had a student "teachersplained" to me.

I'd spoken with the girl about inappropriate behavior, just like I would any other student, only the next morning, her classroom teacher came to me to tell me about the student's homelife and family, about how important it was for her to stay in school, and basically (though, I truly believe it was out of care for the student and because I was new to the school) to giver her a bit more leeway than I would others.

This conversation has bothered me ever since.

It bothered me in a professional way - "Don't tell me how to run my classroom."
It bothered me in a parental way - "I'd want my kid treated the same as everyone else."
It bothered me in a personal way - "Who are we to speak of families like this?"

Where I live, I don't encounter racism daily. I know it exists intellectually. I see it happening to people I interact with online and in the media, but around here, there just aren't many people of color. The discrimination I see is based on class. The "lazy poor." The "welfare families taking advantage of the system." The kids who come to school dirty, cold, and tired - for whatever reason - and we feed them and clothe them and save them from themselves and generational poverty thorough the power of education.

Gold star for us.

I hope we feel great about how we interfere in their lives.

See, yesterday, I got to meet the girl's parents at conferences. She dragged them in after they'd met with the classroom teacher, because, "Poor Mrs. Windisch has only had like, six people visit her."

This mother, described to me as "hard" and "foul-mouthed" stood in my classroom and shone with love for her daughter. We talked about the girl's goals, dreams, and achievements. Her parents were so proud. Her parents have high expectations and a vision for her future.

I didn't see a dirty woman with stringy hair.
I didn't see an exhausted father, ready to leave because school was not a kind place to him.
I didn't see a family scraping by - raising eight kids plus grandchildren in a tiny trailer in the woods.

That was all there.

But what I saw was a family. Like mine. Like yours. Living and loving the best way they know how.

The way we live and love is different from each other. Some people's love is bent and twisted and hurtful. Some is smothering and overwhelming. Some is all-business responsible and not affectionate. I think as teachers and humans, we'd be better served to understand this - that love isn't meant to be judged. Love just is.

Maybe that's why the conversation we had about this student bothered me so much. I judged the love the teacher had - I judged it as wanting to "fix" this student.  I judged it for wanting me to have a preconceived notion of this family and their situation, rather than an insight. And I judged it as an attack on my love - that I couldn't care about this student in the way a classroom teacher could.

This the time of year that we, as teachers, meet with families. Conferences can be intimidating, even contentious, but instead of exasperation with situations and personalities, (and for the love of stuffing, not the awful "the apple doesn't fall far from the tree with that one" mentality) let's meet together to talk about children that we all care for - for our kids.

Look for the love.

If you're looking, you'll see it.


*If you didn't sing this title to the tune of "Love in an Elevator" by Aerosmith, I'm disappointed in you. Here. Attone:

Oh, Steven Tyler. I love you.


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