Rampant gun violence in our community has caused many children to think living to 21 is a great accomplishment. Some community activists say we need stricter gun laws. Others say our children need to think before they act.
Perhaps we just need to raise our expectations.
Something happens to children’s expectations the more they interact with society. The more they listen to us, the more their expectations shrink in number and scope. It is important that we-parents, teachers, and community members-set high expectations for our children and consider two important questions: What do we expect from our children, and what actions do we take to show it?
On my block in the South Austin neighborhood, the most visible adults are drug addicts. They loiter near alleyways and meander around abandoned buildings. Other adults, mostly younger, sit on car hoods drinking from glass bottles or stand on corners making mysterious exchanges.
Navigating these street scenes on a daily basis impacts a child. It teaches them what to expect from the world around them. It shows them how to pass time, how to make money, and how to treat other people. Regardless of how many times we tell our kids that gangs and drugs are wrong, when we send them out into the community without the proper guidance, we implicitly teach them that these actions are OK.
When kids in your neighborhood are outside, encourage them to play softball, jump rope, or plant flowers. Never allow them to sit on the porch idly. This encourages inappropriate behavior. In addition, take a stand against crime in your neighborhood. When you see illegal activity occur on your block, report it to 911. If a fight breaks out, call the police instead of standing around to watch. Your attitude towards crime will prevent children from imitating the negative behavior they see on their streets.
Like most first-year teachers, I struggled with classroom management. Fights broke out regularly in my classroom and students talked back. Disciplining students became such a routine that curriculum suffered. Instead of expecting third-graders to follow rigorous academic standards, I was happy if they completed assignments and sat quietly while doing so.
Although these things should be valued, they should not be the only things we expect from students. When teachers base student-excellence solely on student behavior, they teach students that behaving well is the exception and not the norm.
We expect students not only to attain behavioral goals, but academic goals as well. When students see how much more teachers expect from them, then students will begin to expect much more of themselves.
Many parents hold higher expectation for their children than they do for themselves. Parents often make excuses for why they cannot achieve certain goals, such as, “My work hours are too long,” or “I’m too busy raising children.” Because of these excuses, parents may feel justified in why they do not aspire.
But children take cues from their parents. If parents serve excuses for why they do not meet expectations, their children will do the same. If you expect your child to say no to drugs and gangs, then don’t condone violence by listening to gangster rap. If you expect your child to value education, pick up a book and read. Even if you haven’t been to college, you can still show your child the importance of learning by continuing your education on a smaller scale. For example, take a quilting class or learn to speak Spanish. It is not good enough just to tell your children what you want from them. You must also try your best to meet those expectations, too.
As a parent, teacher or community member, you are an automatic role model for children. Remember to live the words you speak, so that your high expectations will be that much stronger for our kids.