As much as we like to believe that each day teachers show up in the classroom, they are starting with a blank slate and that the fund of goodwill that was depleted through one altercation with a student or another was replenished overnight, this isn’t true.
Being a teacher, being a student – these roles carry memory with them. The student who constantly disrupted class after repeated requests to remain on task will be remembered. The teacher who failed to take the time to ask how a student was on the day when the world felt like the world was collapsing will be remembered. The deleterious effects of these actions will be felt by those who experienced them the next time a quiz grade teeters between two letters or the effort available for a class project can be expended on this class or the other.
The people in schools and classrooms remember how the people in these spaces make them feel.
Because of this, the schools we need must stock themselves with an overabundance of goodwill.
It’s a difficult proposition, but it is not impossible. Within the realm of control for schools, it can only be the adults who are expected to remind themselves of the goodwill necessary to help the children in their care navigate the seemingly impossible task of growing up.
One piece, of course, is mindfully enacting an ethic of care. The reciprocity within such an approach to teaching means that adults who reach out to their students with a drive to create a caring relation will find new energy when that care is recognized by students. In simple terms, we can increase our capacity to care for children by caring for children.
Operating with an abundance of goodwill also means mindfully avoiding playing a “gotcha” game with students. Gotcha games in schools never teach the lessons their perpetrators believe they are teaching. The teacher who has an assignment due by a certain hour on a certain day and refuses to accept the work of a student turned in after that deadline – no matter if it is minutes, hours or days – will point to an important lesson about time management.
The lesson internalized by students, though, is hardly ever, “Oh, I must remember to turn things in on time.” Through the emotions of hard work rejected, students are more likely to learn that it matters more when they do the work assigned to them rather than how well. The lesson becomes, “I should turn this in now even though I’ve not completed it or made something of which I can be proud.”
Gotcha games are improper assertions of power in the classroom. Yes, teachers are within their rights to play such games, but that does not excuse such actions.
The second depleter of goodwill or evidence of its absence is the evocation of the “real world.”
These teachers excuse their hard-nosed approach to “accountability” by explaining they are not accepting late work from an eighth grade student because “when they get into the real world, their boss won’t accept excuses for why projects are not completed.”
This is possibly true. Also true along these lines of reasoning are the idea that this hypothetical job will happen when students are expected to pay rent, worry about health insurance, and file taxes among other responsibilities. They will also be able to vote and consider finding other employment if they want to escape an employer who takes such a hard-nosed stance.
Rarely, do teachers who invoke the “real world” do so in a way that includes the democracy and choice their students will find in the real real world.
Eighth grade is real. It is difficult and confusing, and it is real. Deadlines should exist, and time management is important as a skill. So too, perhaps even more so, is the giving and generating of goodwill. Given the choice between the citizen who has learned to submit things on time and the one who has learned the value and importance of goodwill, the one who understands goodwill is surely the higher aspiration of schooling.
Maintaining goodwill is difficult. It requires vigilance, commitment, and rejuvenation. Maintaining goodwill is one thing other than difficult. Maintaining good will is necessary.