Today a student brought up a situation she was having in another class, and she felt there was an injustice. The details of her claim are irrelevant, but if they are true she most certainly has a right to be upset. I asked her to pick a fight, using good manners and proper personal confrontation skills (I feel _____ when you ______). She refused, afraid of how she would be viewed by the teacher, afraid of any negative repercussions. I asked her what she could possibly imagine could happen as a result, and she couldn't think of anything. Yet, she was still afraid.
I asked her what the last thing she bought was. A $5 Starbucks mocha-frappa-something-or-another. I asked what would she do if she took a sip of that drink and was so overwhelmed my cinnamon that she could drink no more. Of course, she would return it, ask for another, or ask for her money back. I asked "all that for a $5 drink?" She asked what would happen if this teacher ignored her or laughed at her. I asked what she would ask the young barista if she was ignored. She said "I'd ask to speak to her manager." I asked "all that for a $5 drink?" She started to get my point.
Our students have been so drilled by responsibilities, they forget their rights. We, as teachers, are told so many times to remind them of their responsibilities, we sometimes forget they have rights. They have a right to be treated fairly, a right to know how they will be measured, and a right to learn. We, as teachers, are very preoccupied in fighting for our rights (as well we should), but every now and then (and hopefully more frequently), we should think about our students' rights. We should ask students to challenge us, to question us, to debate us on how we treat them and work with them. I offer that every year to my students. I ask them to fight me if they feel I'm mistreating them. I ask them to challenge me on how I grade them. I begged a student 2 weeks ago to bring a test he took to his guidance counselor and claim my grade was unfair (he knows I caught him cheating, but that's not the point). This will force us to re-evaluate some of the things we do, but that is okay. It will make us better craftspeople. If we offer this challenge to our students, that they fight us, they will see something we have known for our entire careers: it's not us. We fervently fight for our rights, let's help our students fight for theirs. We're in it together.