First Person

Dear Parent: I Do Not Plan to Discipline Your Child

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Dear Parent,

It was Einstein who said that we cannot teach people, but instead provide conditions in which people can learn and grow. There is an issue with your teenage son in class, and I am choosing to avoid disciplining him for his actions. In fact, I plan to pull back from teaching him all together. This decision is directly connected to my student-learning philosophy, and I would like to take a minute to establish my role as a teacher.

Your child is not working to his potential, with little effort and participation in class tasks—and I plan to do little about it. I am sure you would like me to wake him up, make him do his work, and possibly give him detention. My professional performance review is riding on his success, and you would like to me to do my job and teach him something. All of which are understandable reactions.

And just for clarification, I do not blame you if you suddenly feel confrontational. I truly believe you have a point and simply want the best for your child. You will not hear me saying, it is your problem to solve, although I do believe we all have our roles.

The other day I was working in the building on the curriculum, and my substitute was appalled that I was not concerned with your child’s lack of motivation to complete the assignment. She was clearly disturbed that I was not going to force him to get his work done. Maybe you have the same reaction. At the time, I avoided my long-winded justification of my philosophy, but for you I will explain:

The classroom is a place to learn. Teachers are there to provide knowledge, assistance, and support for learning. They are models of hard work and careful decision-making. And most importantly, they are providers of insightful feedback and quality advice for achievement.

My own personal experiences have affected my understanding of how children should exert effort, but it is unfair of me to force such an understanding on your child, as they are unable to share in those formative experiences. I do hope to be a positive role model, but I should never be considered the one in charge of handing out reprimands for lack of experience. The classroom is a place to be free to see how a decision has natural consequences. So I hope to prepare you for the idea that the consequence for “not working to potential,” may be failure of the course. I certainly hope a conversation about the implications of that decision on his future arises; but at this time, he lacks the experience to see the possibilities of his choice.

Your teenage son is in the middle of a wonderful learning opportunity, and I am requesting that you support this situation as a chance for him to learn and grow, as Einstein asserts. As I tend to say about education: I can lead a horse to water, but I cannot force a child to learn. I mixed a few metaphors, but the idea is that change will only happen when he decides to take action. Therefore, I do not plan to discipline him or force him to work hard in my class; and, instead, see this as a positive circumstance that can provide a quality education for your child. Please know that I will always be there in the classroom to offer stimulating learning opportunities and provide support, knowing that the reward for your son could be the experience he needs to do great things.

Thank you for your time,

Mrs. Kimberly Ortiz

Author's note: You probably don't want to actually send this letter to a parent.

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