Whatís Love Got to Do With It?

 By Jane Weinkrantz

            On the first day of school, our keynote speaker, Dr. Nancy Doda told the teachers of Plainview-Old Bethpage a story about some students from a specific school who had met with academic and professional success in spite of a  general lack of support throughout their childhoods. When it was determined that they all had had the same second grade teacher, researchers visited her in a nursing home in Tennessee to ask her secret. The teacher thought about it and said, ď I loved them all as if they were my own.Ē

            I thought : What a raw deal. Spend a lifetime loving kids as if they are your own and the ingrates leave you in a nursing home in Tennessee. If thatís the case, Iíll  take my chances on showing compassion, respect,  professionalism, concern and fondness for my students and hope for a condo in a warm climate and the care of my own family and the company of a few cats in my dotage.

            For much of that morning we were encouraged to love our students as though they were our own children by---get this---people who have their own children. They must not have thought this over too carefully.  I calculate that at the end of my career, I will have taught about 3750 children. To say that I should have loved 3750 children as though they were my own trivializes the very specific relationship that parents and children have.

    At home, I have one child. One. Loving him is a deeply emotional,  intense, 24/7 commitment. My husband and I are prepared to do anything for him, Anything. Take-a bullet-anything. But I only expect us to feel that way. For example, when Jacob was five and decided Play-Doh would be the ideal complement to his ear canal, his father and I took him to the emergency room. Should I have invited his kindergarten teacher along for the ride so that she, too, could offer her support and share the experience?

This is not to say that my son hasnít had teachers who were very kind and knowledgeable people, but when I asked

 him if  his teachers loved him, he shrugged and said, ďI donít know.Ē Apparently, it didnít seem relevant.  Likewise,

this doesnít mean I am an indifferent or uncaring teacher in my classroom. Plenty of my students will tell you they

enjoyed our relationship, thought of me as someone they could talk to and felt comfortable in my classroom. But I

really donít think theyíll tell you I loved them like a mother.         

Usually, when a teacher does demonstrate the devotion and commitment of a parent, it is only because the studentís actual parent is unavailable, unable or unwilling to fulfill their basic responsibilities. Thatís when we find ourselves staying after school to help fill out college applications or buying someone a winter coat. I would argue that these actions come from compassion more than love.  

Teachers are, for the most part, people who enjoy children. The 1% who enjoy their subject matter more than their charges are not going to start loving kids as their own because someone tells them to. I donít think that fact means children canít learn from them too.

I can tell you that although I do not love my students as my own, I do understand that their parents have placed the dearest thing in their lives in my care and I take that responsibility seriously. We all do. From the teachers who stay after school with your second grader when youíre late picking her up because of  a snowstorm to the teachers who led their pupils to safety during 9/11, we all understand and appreciate your love for your child. We respect it and honor it, but we donít necessarily share it.   And thatís OK.

So Nancy Doda, please keep your pedagogy out of my heart. It is only mine to give away.

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