Sometimes, I’ll hear a student say to a teacher, “You’re not my mom!” or “You’re not my dad!” On occasion, I’ve heard the teacher respond, “Thank goodness!” or some variation. I figured that I’d respond in the same way to any difficult student should the situation arise. I love my students, but in most cases, I am relieved I don’t have to be responsible for them outside of school.
Today, for the first time, a student of mine told me, “You’re not my mother!” and my reaction was unexpected, even to myself. First off, I wasn’t expecting this particular student to say that. I know that there’s something going on with his family situation, as his mom is in the picture, but he can’t see her as often as he’d like, and he lives with his grandmother. The only other time he ever brought up his mom was way back in the first semester when he responded to a bellwork prompt that he cares about his mom and wants to make her proud.
Secondly, he is a generally well-behaved student, rarely antagonistic. When he does get feisty, I remind myself that he, too, is operating from a place of love, even though his words may not be not particularly loving. I know he cares about his education, and even in his moments of “showing out” or pretending to quit doing work, his brightness comes through. I believe he likes me, which, in his class, is not that unusual, but it still makes me feel like I am making a difference with him.
When he talked back and told me I wasn’t his mother, I was taken aback, but the first thing that came to my lips was not a smart retort. I looked at him calmly, and I said, “I know. You’re not my son, but I’d be proud if you were.” He looked genuinely surprised and asked, “Why?” ”Because you’re getting mastery! Because you’re smart and funny!” It made me hope that his mother is proud of him and hope she knows how bright and talented he is.
There are students to whom my initial reaction would have been “Thank goodness!” and I would have meant it. But there are also children I would be proud to call my own, and it’s those students who make up for the first group a million times over.