Have you ever found yourself wondering about your students’ parents? When they come into our classrooms they could be bearing the load of a difficult home life or parents who need to work multiple jobs and aren’t able to be around as much as anyone would like. When we encounter challenges with our students, it’s easy to blame parents or what happens at home. Then the responsibility for the student’s behavior isn’t on us. But wait, what if I am their parent? There’s a phrase often tossed around in education classes - in loco parentis - in place of the parent. If we shift the paradigm and see ourselves as people in parental roles, then it may change how we interact with our students and hopefully increase our chance to be one of the adults they can learn from.
What do I mean “I am their parent”? As music teachers, if we are fortunate to stay long enough in one school, we have a real chance to build a family. We could see our students for up to nine years in the elementary setting - maybe longer in a K-12 district. We see them year after year, growing and changing. We literary witness them getting taller before our eyes! We have a privilege that no other teacher has; we see our students for approximately 21,000 minutes or 350 hours over the course of nine years, from kindergarten to eighth grade. We may not be able to solve problems they encounter outside of the classroom, but we can improve a lot of things for our students. Some might argue this is not enough time to impact someone the way a parent does, but I argue it is. The one hour per week that we spend with our students is not just a regular hour. We’re trained to make every minute count and to make it productive and meaningful for our students.
As new teachers, we want and need to be liked by our students. That creates a real pressure to please. If you are not natural entertainer, then you may find this situation even harder to deal with and it may cause you to constantly question your personality. This pressure can lead to an unstable and inconsistent classroom management system, emotional responses to issues and feelings of guilt when we think we have failed. Nightmares, crying during our commute, anxiety, depression or anger can be familiar to new teachers. We are trained to care and are all-in when it comes to teaching because we’re so passionate about it. Yet we struggle with feelings of failure. Well, the truth is we are not failing but we could look at things from a new angle.
When we see ourselves as second parents, we realize sometimes we have to make the hard decisions, but that doesn’t mean we have to be unkind. When a kid needs medicine and refuses to take it, a good parent hold her ground and finds a way to give the child what they need to be healthy. This year I had a breakthrough with a student who reassured me of this approach. He was a particularly difficult student who resented everything that we did in class for the last three years. I tried every strategy that I could think of from modifying tasks, spending recess with him, counseling, incentives, taking away privileges - you name it! Until I decided to change my whole approach. As soon as he would walk into class, I would greet him warmly and would let him know that I’m here for him if he decides to learn, but otherwise would leave him be. This went on for one full quarter and he failed because he refused to participate in any way. The next quarter, I reminded him again that he can start over and I’m still here for him. I was astonished when he gracefully acknowledged me and asked if I could help him with our task. He earned an A the next quarter and he had turned an important corner!
Our students need firm and steady care. We have to be assertive and we have to be kind if we are to thrive in this relationship during the years we have the privilege to work with these students. In the moment, it is often the harder choice to be consistent with classroom expectations, but in fact we are teaching them unconditional love that is steady and unstoppable. We do not have to please our students to show them our love, but we have to realize their need for fairness and consistency born out of our care for them. This is obviously easier said than done, but we owe it to ourselves to at least try. Our words and our actions should be constant reminders that no matter how many mistakes our students make, they can start with a clean slate with us because their actions cannot change our commitment to them!
Fahimeh Mehrabkhani earned her Associate degree in Music from Baha’i Institute for Higher Education and her Bachelor in Music Education from Northeastern Illinois University. She is an Orff certified teacher and has been teaching General Music and Choir in Chicago Public Schools since 2016 and currently teaches at Haines Elementary School. As a teacher her passion and goal is to make quality music education accessible to ALL students.