Teacher Boundaries

As a teacher, you have students who you will never forget…ever.  One of these I got to see over a four year period of time.  She was one of those students who was constantly on the edge of something, and needed to be pulled back in often.  And every time I pulled her back in, I was met with, “You are always getting on to me.  You hate me.  You never let me do anything!”

My reply was always the same, “If I did not care about you, I would let you ruin your grades and go play in the freeway.  Get with it.”

She usually complied, but continued griping the entire time.  I tuned that part out.  She knew where the boundaries were with me. 

Somewhere along the way, the emotional manipulation must have worked on someone in her life and enabled her to get her way no matter what.  For someone in her life, it was more important to be liked than to set clear boundaries for this child.  And that lack of boundaries came to a nasty climax – one that could have easily cost her very life.  This child needed boundaries with love more than anything else. 

I cared enough to set them.  And this student was one of many in this situation – a child without boundaries.  I was one of the ones who cared enough to set them, even if I was met with an attempt at emotional manipulation.  Someone in this kid’s life had to remain a firm fence line. 

As both a parent and a teacher, I know that the “You hate me” reaction to correction actually translates to “I am mad because you are not letting me do exactly what I want at this moment.”  I do not correct my own child because I hate him, rather because I love him.  The same applies to all of my students.  ALL of them – even the one who threatened to kill me, the one who threatened to kill himself in my classroom, the one whose mother tried to punch me over cheerleading, and the one who wanted to cut my hair.  I could have easily disliked these kids, but I didn’t.  They still had the same boundaries as everyone else – no more, no less.  Same. 

Correction and boundaries are not personal, in that I do not have different ones for different people, and I do not correct some students more than others.  If students are not turning in work, or have ten tardies, or are talking during instructional time, it is not a personal attack when I correct them for this – it is pointing out that I know they can do better.  And yet, the “you hate me’s” come flying from all directions when I correct students, even some coming from their parents.  Why?

So “you hate me” has never changed my attitude on a student, because there is nothing to change.  I don’t give in to it.  And emails from parents wanting to know why I hate their child does nothing to change my attitude either, other than to make me a little sad that they are buying in to that line of reasoning. 

I know that the student does not really hate me; I am simply standing in the way of their immediate wants and desires.  Parents need to understand the same thing.  We have to set these boundaries for their kids because we have large classrooms to manage and we want to ensure that every student succeeds.  And to do this, we have to have boundaries, we have to give correction, and we have to create an environment where everyone can learn.  This means that your child may not be able to do exactly what he or she wants to do whenever and however your child wants to.  We are teaching your child self-discipline and self-control.  And we are making sure every child learns.

And that type of loving boundary is about as far from “you hate me/my child” as you can get. 

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