Esquith on Peer Relations

I have learned that before I decide if a kid is truly special, I had better observe and listen to his peers. They are a much better judge of a child’s worth and potential than I. They are the ones who know if the child is nice to play with, easy to get along with, and honest and decent. As teachers or parents, we have a very limited view. Yes, we have a lot to say, but so do our children. (Esquith, 2008).

There is a riveting section of There are no shortcuts where the author describes three students of whom he was particularly fond.  That’s not the riveting part, of course, since Esquith is known for his charismatic, no-nonsense classrooms.  The riveting part is his description of how one of these students later went on to write a scathing criticism of their former teacher and his methods.  The vitriol in this one letter shattered Esquith, and he took quite some time to recover from the blows dealt him.

The portion germane to this week’s discussion in EDU6132 is how completely oblivious this gifted teacher was to the real events and the real character traits of students in his classroom.  The lesson I take from this chapter in the book is how poor a judge the teacher can be of the true peer dynamics going on in the classroom.  That’s the gist of the quote above.

What then is the teacher to do?  All that perhaps can be done is to recognize that a teacher will always see some of what they want to see in the classroom and ignore the rest.  As the quote above indicates, the teacher needs to corroborate any judgment of character with a students’ peers.

The other part I take from this story is the real inability any teacher has to make students like one another.  Respect is a pretty high bar when you see that one young adult in the classroom really does *not* want to be sitting at a table with this other young adult.  You can enforce positive peer relations through rules, but you can’t make a student like another.

Finally, Esquith relates that his class mission statement:  “Be nice, work hard.” was developed in direct response to this episode in his teaching career.  The quintessential statement embodies his hope not only for students and their academic growth but also their character development.  And that, of course is at the bottom of peer relations.  And although we will all fail, we need to see the way forward is growth.

I was no longer anguished about the [three students]; I was upset with myself for not having given them a chance to see a different type of human being. I did not want these children to be like everyone else, but I had never clearly shown them the possibility of a different kind of existence. I was upset because I had been a poor teacher. (Esquith, 2008).

References

Esquith, R. (2008).  There are no shortcuts.  Anchor Books.

This post is also here:
https://weisenfeldj.wordpress.com/2011/05/17/esquith-on-peer-relations/

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