When I started my teaching career in my first school, I was filled to the brim with principles and ideas which I was convinced would enable me to become the teaching success of the century. Training college had taught me all the modern techniques: Psychology, Sociology and all the rest. In particular, I was convinced of the value of honesty and truth in education. There was simply no point in beating around the bush — the children would have to be honest with me, and I would be the same with them.
And so when it came to the annual report cards, I took it for granted that every parent would value my refreshingly frank comments. If a child had been disruptive and had wasted her time I said so, bullies were exposed, cheaters revealed and the angelic elite duly praised. Then two weeks later came the follow up… parents evening. This was the chance to explain my Report Card comments in full, and, no doubt, enjoy the deep gratitude which would be bestowed upon me by satisfied parents.
Now that I have school children of my own, I look back on the boyish and confident grin with which I greeted Mr and Mrs Proctor with disbelief and amazement. I now know that if any teacher dares to criticise any of my almost totally perfect offspring, it is only because they are mentally defective sadists, Anti-Semitic, or Anti-Semitic mentally defective sadists. Mr and Mrs Proctor seemed to have a similar view of me that night. Most of the parents did.
But there was something I learned at training college that never let me down. We were told of a primary school which had been contacted by their local University. The University explained that they had developed a new test which was able to detect children who were “Late Developers.” No matter what the academic record of the children had been till now, this test would show which children were about to come to life and start doing really well.
The University people turned up and proceeded to test all the school’s children. Teacher after teacher was amazed to discover that the pupils they had written off as being hopeless would within the next sixth months blossom and start doing well.
The University neglected to tell the school that they were making the whole thing up, and had given the children a normal I.Q. test. They simply selected the names of the lowest scoring children, and told their teachers that they were about to do well.
The amazing thing was that every one of the children did start doing well. Because the teachers started to “believe” in them and put in more effort with them, they actually became late developers.
Very often, people and particularly children don’t live up to our expectations. When we change our attitude towards them we often learn that they didn’t let us down… we let them down.
copyright Rabbi Y.Y. Rubinstein
Rabbi Yehudah Yonah Rubinstein is a world renowned educator, lecturer, radio broadcaster, and seasoned author whose articles have appeared in Hamodia and other periodicals. His newest book, That’s Life: Torah Wisdom and Wit to Live By, published by Targum Press is available at Jewish bookstores and at www.targum.com