Student Well-Being Opinion

Tough Love or No Love

By David Ginsburg — June 30, 2014 1 min read
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Many people go into teaching because they love kids. But staying in teaching--and being good at it--depends in part on how you show love for students, not if you show love for students.

Sonia Nieto spoke to this in an Educational Leadership article, What Keeps Teachers Going?, when she defined love as “a combination of trust, confidence, and faith in students and a deep admiration for their strengths.” Nieto then wrote that successful veteran teachers “demonstrate love through high expectations and rigorous demands on students.” In other words, tough love.

Often, however, holding students to high expectations and rigorous demands requires us to set limits we’re reluctant to set. As a new teacher, I took time during class to help students catch up after being tardy or truant. I’ve known many other teachers who’ve done this too, including those who explained their actions by saying how much they love their students.

Yet how can indulging tardiness, truancy, or other self-defeating behaviors be a sign of love? Of course we need to be sensitive and compassionate toward students. But we also need to stop enabling behaviors now that will prevent students from being successful later. Whereas, for example, I once accommodated tardy and truant students with encore lessons and in-class tutoring, I later let them experience natural consequences of being late or absent. Students could no longer count on me to catch them up, and instead had to rely on themselves or peers-- just as they would have to do in college or the workplace. (How often did your professors or bosses drop everything to help you get caught up after an absence?)

Do high expectations and rigorous demands make life easier for teachers? No, but this is about what’s best for students, not what’s easiest for us. Sure, students may protest at first, especially if they’re accustomed to lower standards and little or no accountability for classroom outcomes. Tardy and truant students even blamed me for their failure. But I knew I was doing the right thing when they stopped saying, “You failed me,” and instead said, “I failed.” I also knew I was showing love for students the way they needed me to.

Image by Cybervam, provided by Dreamstime license

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