Monday, February 7, 2011

The Educator’s Golden Rule – Does it exist?

rockwel1 Norman Rockwell: The Golden Rule as found at

One of the easiest pieces of advice I remember getting as a child was “The Golden Rule.”  You probably know it.  Basically, “The Golden Rule” states something along the lines of, “Treat other as you would want to be treated” or “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  The curious thing about that advice is that as simple as it sounds, almost all (if not all) children fail to follow it at one point or another.  Therefore, I am left to believe that such advice, while sounding good, is virtually impossible to put into practice at all times.

So I began thinking about some of the “Golden Rules” of education that I have heard over the years and found that many of them fall victim to the same issue – they are simple to say, easy to understand, but nearly impossible to employ without fail.  Here are a few “Educational Golden Rules” I have heard.

“Teach every student as if he/she was your own child.”

This was one of the first “Golden Rules” I heard when I began teaching.  Right away, I was skeptical.  If I do not have any children, then how does this apply?  On the other hand, even if I do have children, do I really want to teach every student like they were my child?  Being a parent is HARD WORK.  I have two wonderful children, but I cannot imagine trying to teach 20, 50, or 100 of them in a school setting.  At the end of the day, I want to go home to my kids.  As much as I respect and like my students, I do not want to go home to them.  Also, like most parents, I have bad parenting days.  When they happen, I can provide extra love and do not have to worry about getting an email or phone call about my bad day.  I can’t say the same about a bad teaching day.   

Teach every student as if they were your own child?  No thanks.  There are too many opinions about how to parent.  I cannot teach my class worrying about all the different thoughts on teaching as well.  I find that an impossible standard to uphold.

“Be consistent.”

Here is another “Golden Rule” I often hear.  When I do, I usually ask a clarifying question, “Do you mean consistent or fair?”  As I see it, consistent and fair are two different concepts.  Consistent means doing the same thing or having the same response no matter what context or situation.  In other words, there is no possibility for differences in responses to the same stimulus.

Fairness, on the other hand, implies reasonable consideration given to the context involved.  In other words, being fair involves being willing to at least consider the reasons for the stimulus having happened.  It does not mean that the response will necessarily change.  Only that fairness demands a willingness to consider reasons.

In my experience, students say they want consistency, but really want to be treated fairly.  I say, “Being consistently fair is better than being fairly consistent.”

Never have casual conversation with the general.”

Before I began working in administration, I really liked this “Golden Rule.”  It implies that teachers should avoid having casual conversations with administrators for fear of “saying too much.”  Since becoming an administrator, I do not understand this rule.  Obviously the teacher who is credited with coming up with it had a terrible experience with an administrator at one point and lost trust in them.

Of all the conversations I have with teachers, the casual ones are usually the most productive and enjoyable.  Getting to know someone beyond the “business” relationship is a key to building trust.  Besides, a break from the “Do you have a minute?” conversations are very much appreciated.

Make friends with the librarians, cafeteria staff members, and maintenance crew.”

Ok – this one I really believe in!

In the end, I usually fall back on a quote from Theodore Roosevelt that is the closest thing to an “Educator’s Golden Rule” that I can find:

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

Do you have any “Educator’s Golden Rules” to share?  If so, feel free to comment. 

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