Schools must help the growth of resilience and humility, not just in students but also in teachers and parents
One of the best lessons students can learn at school is to understand the issue and nature of entitlement. There are of course very basic entitlements for students that should characterise every classroom: respect from the teacher, safety from bullying, a stimulating environment, and a sense of purpose, validation and order. These aspects of entitlement are entirely appropriate, though sometimes absent. A teacher can respect these aspects of entitlement by preparing for lessons, becoming an expert on their subject matter, developing ongoing skills in pedagogy, and through learning to believe in the students they teach. Most classrooms celebrate this form of entitlement as an extension of the human right to an education.
However, there are aspects to entitlement as practiced in schools that can create arrogance, reduce resilience, encourage selfishness and engender a false sense of security. These aspects of entitlement are evidenced in the approach some teachers can have to the classroom and their students, and that some parents can have with respect to schools.
Negative aspects of entitlement can be seen when lazy teachers ‘outsource’ learning to students. This can take the form of endless lessons based around the ‘read and summarise’ approach. Negative entitlement can also be seen when a teacher has a sense of ownership over a particular classroom space even though another teacher may need the space. This sense of entitlement is particularly selfish when the room in question is needed for a student who cannot climb the stairs due to recent surgery – but is not given up.
Entitlement can come across in a subtle manner. For example, teachers who have a practice of failing to clean a whiteboard in a room they have just used, or who fail to ensure a classroom is left tidy, appear to be particularly self-centred and lacking in awareness of others. Here the sense of entitlement extends to a sense of space. Moreover, there are teachers who will not reply to emails, take weeks to mark student work and who are only available outside of class for very restricted times.
Not long ago I was on a lunch break at an interstate conference when I was marking work sent by a student via email during the holidays. A senior educator chided me and said that I was setting a very poor example. She added that teachers who ran extra classes in the holidays for students were undermining the profession because teachers deserved holidays. The next day a major newspaper carried a story celebrating a teacher who was running holiday classes at school for her Year 12 students, prior to major exams. I showed the article to the critic who shook her head and said, “That teacher is placing herself in danger for being called a paedophile.” Sadly, this critic was in a senior position within an educational institution.
The selfish sense of entitlement as recounted here and practiced by some teachers provides a negative role-model for students about the nature of work and the nature of a ‘professional’ person.
Parents sometimes can also do things, or bring an attitude that brings out the worst, from a skewed sense of entitlement. Here I am distinguishing between all responsible parents wanting what is best for their child and more broadly for all children, whilst understanding the limitations of resources, time, and energy.
From the perspective of parents, the worst aspects of entitlement are evidenced by a sense that their child must be in a particular team, competition or class. It can also be seen when a parent cannot bear their child being dropped from an extension class or extra curricular activity, even though the child does not merit being there and another child is more deserving.
Negative entitlement can also take the form of unreasonable expectations. It can be seen when a parent double parks in front of the school, placing the children of other families in danger. It can also come when there is a demand for attention but no commensurate understanding when limited resources cannot fulfill every demand immediately.
A misplaced sense of entitlement is also evident in the attitude of some students. This can be seen when they seem unable to adapt to circumstances that arise quite often and are predictable, such as a failure in technology. It is also evident when they are hasty to complain when expectations are not met, cannot work if there is no air conditioning or are reluctant to work with others, share ideas, time or space. These indicate a lack of resilience and a lack of humility.
Resilience and humility are character traits that an education should instil, foster and grow. A sense of entitlement that is misplaced, arrogantly assumed or not tempered by empathy, patience and kindness, or that is poorly role modelled by teachers and parents, is likely to undermine what a true education can provide.