There’s one word that keeps popping up in each place I teach. One word that seems like it should be unique to one demographic or another, but it’s not. It is a word railed against in the faculty meetings and teachers’ lounges of schools all across the country.
I hear that word everywhere. I heard it at the wealthy private schools filled with upper-class elite, where parents’ checkbooks ruled the day. I heard in Alaska where government assistance for the natives was the cultural norm. I heard it in the “progressive” schools in Seattle, the urban schools of Boston, and the traditional schools of the Midwest. Entitlement is not unique. It’s everywhere.
A student wants a good grade simply because he showed up to class. A parent offers to pay for another basketball coach so that his son won’t be cut from the team. A teenage driver wrecks three SUV’s in two years of high school, knowing his parents will buy him a new one each time. A student spends class playing games on his phone, and then he blames the teacher when he doesn’t understand the material. An 11th grade girl loses a worksheet and is annoyed with the teacher when there are not extra copies on hand to cover for her irresponsibility. A 9th grader thinks “I forgot” is a legitimate excuse for not doing homework and is truly angry at receiving a failing grade on the assignment.
I wish those were hypothetical examples. I wish I couldn’t picture names, faces, and specific conversations to go with each one. Written down, combined in a list like that, their ridiculousness is even more evident.
But in each moment, they aren’t all consolidated together in a list. In the moment is an adult who must deal with the disappointment, frustration, and anger of a teenager, which isn’t easy. The parent knows his son loves basketball and wants him to be able to participate. A teacher must build a thick skin against the disappointment and anger in the eyes of a student accustomed to earning A’s. That teacher may then face the student’s irate parents, too, and must decide if sticking to the failing grade is worth the battle.
But it is worth the battle. It would be easy to give in to the entitlement. It would be easy to just give them what they want and make the disappointment and anger go away. But I choose to fight that battle, not for the sake of “winning,” and not because I dislike the student. On the contrary, I fight it because I care.
I would rather have a student fail in the safety of my classroom than learn that poor decisions don’t have consequences. Because they do have consequences. Life is full of disappointment. The ability to follow instructions matters. Paying attention to deadlines matters. Hard work to achieve something difficult matters. Learning how to process disappointment and pick yourself back up after a failure matters. And those are things that you can only learn from experience.
I know how heartbreaking that look of disappointment can be. I know we adults want to make their pain go away sometimes. But what are we teaching them if we always make the consequences disappear? If we don’t allow our young people to feel the very real possibility of failure now? What’s going to happen when they face an academic and professional world after high school that doesn’t care about their feelings? Who’s going to make the consequences go away when they’re in their twenties or thirties? I’m not. Are you?
So to the teens who stormed away from my desk angry because I wouldn’t change your grade, you didn’t see it, but I was trying to teach you something. I was trying to build you into a better young adult. Please don’t hate me for that.
To the parents who try to remove the disappointment from their children’s lives with their checkbooks, stop and think for a minute. What are they learning from you in that moment? Are they learning to work hard to achieve something difficult, or are they learning that when things get hard, their parents will just bail them out?
And to the teachers and administrators who give in sometimes, I understand how hard it is. I really do. But please… you’re making the battle against entitlement so much harder for the rest of us.