Sometimes we break them

Orchid buds 2 by Mal Booth, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  Mal Booth 

I was gardening yesterday and I was delighted to see that my “neglected” orchid had buds, very much like the photo above. It was not really neglected in the sense that these plants like to be outside, in dappled light…and obviously it was happy enough to flower!

That was the good news. The bad news was that I broke the bud cluster (or whatever they’re called). Yes, I broke it and my heart broke…a little. See, I wanted to bring it inside the house in the flower pot it vacated after flowering years (yes, years) ago. So, I thought I’d tidy it up a little and pull out some of the weeds and get rid of some snails. When I was done, I looked up and wondered where the flower buds were; they were on the ground….broken off.  Aargh (did you hear me then?).

Now, I know this story is RICH and full of potential metaphors but the first thing that came to my mind was – kids; and I thought that as a parent and a teacher. We want them to flourish in optimum conditions and when they  flower, we want to celebrate it and to be honest, glow with pride (yes – show them off…perfectly human, I reckon).

But not all kids survive such process, sometimes we break them. This is not necessarily due to the extremes of neglect or over-attention (can one love too much?). In fact, I’m more inclined to think it’s when kids disconnect (break off, so-to-speak) for which there could be many, many reasons.

My train of thought (yes, this was all still part of me grieving the broken buds yesterday) led me to think about my choice to only have 2 kids and my preference for smaller class sizes. To connect with kids, we need to get to know them and that takes time and effort. Hats off to parents with more kids and teachers who can handle many students. Me? I sort of know my limits.

So yes, it worries me when a politician says class sizes are not important and harps on too much about teacher quality. Doing my Grad Dip Ed, The Importance of Teacher Quality (2002, Rowe) really hit home. What really struck me then was that there were more differences in schooling experiences and outcomes between classes (not between schools, genders, SES, etc) …. which then got credited to teacher quality.

Little did I know that as a teacher, the experiences of my students would differ even during the same school year, i.e. my “quality” is not that consistent.

What gives?

There are so many variables when people are concerned. Dynamics are important. Yes, relationships….which, as mentioned above, need time and effort. And time and effort, we must expend (as teachers and parents) because ….we might break them (kids), even with good intentions.

So is it really teacher quality that makes the biggest difference or is it a combination of factors? Frankly, I’m a little confused now.

Many have said that our education system is broken. Or is it our society that’s broken because we’re all a little confused (not for lack of information but the glut of conflicting information, more like). Anyway, I have no solution. Is it to make classes smaller or give performance pay or give more strategic Professional Development or mentoring or selecting “high achievers”? Hey, maybe it’s none of the above or all of the above and more besides.

What we must remember is this….sometimes we break them. Sometimes, we notice straight away and can ameliorate but sometimes, it is too late….and that is tragic.

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6 thoughts on “Sometimes we break them

  1. John T. Spencer says:

    My wife was sharing a story from her 8th grade year. It was the year that she began to hate science altogether. It was the first day of school and she didn’t have new shoes. The teacher said, “Everything is new. It’s the start of a new school year. Even our shoes are new. Let’s see,” and then he pointed to different shoes and said, “Ooh, nice Converse, nice Jordans . . .” and when he came to my wife, he said, “Where are your new shoes?” She lied and said, “I wore these because they match my outfit” and he said, “to each their own.” A few weeks later, the teacher told her that no rational person could believe in God.

    That teacher broke her.

    I point that out, because that’s where it gets tricky. Often in every department there is one lousy teacher. Would kids have been better off in a big class with a better teacher? Are there enough quality teachers to go around if class sizes are smaller?

    This is why I don’t know what I believe about class size. Would smaller class sizes mean less access to good teaching or would it allow all teachers to improve and in the process help developing teachers become quality teachers?

    • malyn says:

      Thanks for this.

      That story is heartbreaking, perhaps more so because I know something like that happens all the time…even from the best of us. Really, we cannot guarantee how our words or actions are taken by others – least of all, children (apropos, year 8 or middle years are toughest methinks).

      Saying that the solution is to make classes smaller is naive and may lead nowhere. but are there silver bullets?

      Thanks again.

  2. Errin says:

    I chose to have two kids because I knew that those two needed all of me. I wanted more and there are days when I wonder who the third would have been and I’m a bit sad, but most days I’m thankful and full with my beautiful two boys.

    As a teacher I’ve taught small classes and loved the time I had to develop the relationships with the students. I’ve also been given large classes with the added ‘you can do it, you’ll be good for them, it’ll be fine’ and had great years too. But those large classes always seem to come with sacrifices, especially sacrifices of time. Was I good for them? Were they better off with me even with the sacrifices that were made? Seemed to be the thinking at the time, but I don’t know if I agree with that.

    Kids are tough and kids are vulnerable. Working with them is wonderful and complex. I think being aware of all this is the first step, but the system doesn’t seem set up to go much beyond that, does it?

    • malyn says:

      Thanks Erin. I think we’re all capable of doing more than we think we can do – be it more kids or bigger classes. So, I guess our choices were really more to do with preferences.

      And yes, it’s all a balancing act, judging toughness and vulnerability, navigating the complexities….because as much as it’s true that sometimes we break them, sometimes we strengthen them and make them grow. And sometimes, we even purposely ‘break’ them to help them grow – and don’t we just die a little when this happens, too?

  3. Sheila Stewart says:

    Enjoyed your thoughts and concerns through this post, Malyn. It is always good to reflect on the related aspects of parenting. Good points about personal limits. In some situations we have choice and opportunity to match our limits and preferences, and in others we don’t.

    I often think: “Oh, what we wouldn’t have to think and debate and struggle with……if it really is/was/could be about/for the children…..so many other influences. I agree….a lot rooted in societial struggles.

    I think it may be as you said…It could be none of the above, all of the above, and more besides…..
    But do we count too much on nailing what it ‘is’? Maybe we can’t. Or we may think we have it figured out….and then a situation will teach us differently, or show us a different angle. For example, it seems to make sense that a smaller class size would always be preferable. But as John already pointed out, there are other things to consider as well. And even in a smaller class, would there be other variables at play that may still affect some of the natural or assumed benefits of a smaller class? I would think the focuses and expectations on a teacher may still have an influence on how student needs are met. Can we assume that the “whole child”, and every child will be supported even in a smaller class? Could something be overlooked because a student excels in one area (eg. academics), and thus not get the focused support for other areas of need (eg. social, artistic expression)? Lots to think about with how these things intersect/interplay.

    No easy answers though for sure. It is like we are supposed to just be thankful that a child does click or connect with a few significant adults, but I am not sure if it makes up for negative experiences. Is it enough over time? More crucial or impacting at certain times?

    As for parenting….there are certainly times when I think I am challenging my teens to grow and be independent. It isn’t always pleasant or easy, but it can seem necessary. It is also easy to worry that you have tipped the balance and, in ways, may be “breaking them”. A lot depends on the relationship and respect already established though, I think….I hope! 🙂

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