I’ve attended my fair share of professional development workshops. I’ve heard a lot of educational colloquialisms, buzz words, and catch phrases shared in those spaces and one such thing I’ve heard facilitators say is for teachers to love students or love on students, as an enhancer for teaching quality. The thought is that teachers best teach their students when they love those students as if they were their own children.
I’ve usually heard it said to white teachers who teach Black and Latinx students. I’ve said something similar myself to teachers; specifically, to white teachers whose classrooms are filled with Black and Latinx students. I know that message could fall on deaf ears. I also know that such an ask maybe too much for teachers to bear. I get that.
However, I say that as a teacher of Black and Latinx kids, an educator who genuinely loves students whether I specifically teach them or not. I say that as a Black man who was once a Black student with some teachers who didn’t love me, or my classmates, enough to consider that colorblindness as an instructional ethos did more harm than good. My experiences and praxis influence my call for exhibiting love in the classroom.
With that said, some educators may disagree with my call.
Ms. Jherine Wilkerson, an eighth-grade English teacher in Peachtree City, GA, says that she doesn’t need to love her students in order to be a good teacher. On it’s face, it sounds a bit harsh, even controversial to say so, but Ms. Wilkerson has a point when she says that the professionals who provide her with a service in her life i.e., her doctor or therapists, don’t love her yet serve her effectively. Also, she mentions the role gender plays in such calls to love students; most teachers are women, and such calls place a tax on women as teachers.
I can certainly agree that loving children isn’t a prerequisite for being an educator. Love is such a strong emotion and truth be told, we grow into loving others, as we grow the love we already have. Teachers aren’t necessarily going to love every student they teach. Educators certainly don’t love all their colleagues.
But I submit that although you don’t have to love everyone you care for as an educator, your care for young people, whether you teach them how to read, write, critically think or solve an equation, is rooted in a desire to help someone else and if we didn’t have love in our hearts, we couldn’t do that job and do it with regard for the human we’re serving.
Teaching is a vocation. It is not just a career; it is a calling. Ms. Wilkerson said she entered teaching because she saw a need. There are a lot of “needs” in society in need of being met that don’t require the kind of interaction that teaching requires. But those that do require such interaction, service-oriented careers like teaching, law-enforcement and even the medical profession, one must consider the history of experiences and the circumstances thereof concerning those they serve to provide the best possible service. That’s the extra work not on the job description that is as important as the job itself.
The need to pay the bills isn’t always enough inspiration to do what isn’t required to achieve what is required.
Certainly, I wouldn’t expect education professionals to treat their students as they would their own children or loved ones. Love means something different according to context. But I would expect education professionals to develop over time the same energy for their students as they would for their own loved ones. Why? Because the golden rule applies to education—although modified; treat those loved by others as you’d want others to treat those you love.
We want the best for who we love, and we’d do whatever we could to meet the needs of those we love. We want doctors, dentists, lawyers, and therapist to do that for our loved ones. We also want that from teachers as well.
Where I Ms. Wilkerson and I diverge on the topic of loving students, I believe we’d would agree that students (and parents/families) must be respected; their histories, experiences, and cultures. Respect for people (in addition to the love of people) compel us to address the racial inequities persistent throughout public education.
As white institutional spaces, schools are staffed with majority white educators; administrators, professional support staff and teachers. Policies, procedures, and postures are primarily created and informed by white people to the extent that even if schools add educators of color, they often maintain and promote what’s already in place. Therefore, when it comes educating children, educators must understand how systemic racism plays a role in how kids are educated; from what and how students are taught to how and why students are disciplined… and who is disciplined.
Do educator consultants and influencers use buzz words and phrases to get likes and follows, of course. Sometimes (often times) these can do more harm than good – including telling educators to love their students. But whether you like the use of the word love in the context of educating students, the reality is that educating absent a care that is informed by a love of and for the people, particularly when teaching Black and Latinx children, isn’t enough.