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The 4 R’s

by on Apr.16, 2010, under Environmental influences, Learning, Parenting, Peers, Relationships, School

What  an amazing experience I had last weekend when I lunched with two women with whom I went to elementary school, one of whom I have not seen since I graduated from 6th grade. Seriously! Keep in mind that I graduated from Seeds UES in Los Angeles, now called The Lab School (of UCLA), in 1960. That’s right, 50 years ago.

But this blog is not about all the catching up we did nor is it about the 50 year reunion we are organizing.

In sharing our memories my two classmates and I discovered a common thread:  the profound impact, the indelible etching, that is made by a child’s relationship with each of his teachers.

Do teachers know how much they matter to their students?  I had a teacher in sixth grade who made what he probably thought was a harmless comment about me. It is not likely that Mr. Moss knew that his comment wounded me deeply. But it flavored all my memories of that year. And it actually still stings when I think about it. Each friend had a similar tale to tell; neither of them had forgotten the bad…or the good …they had gotten from a teacher.  I remember my fifth grade teacher, Mr. Covington, fondly. I felt like it mattered to him that I was in his class.  What a memorable year that was.

This is the time of year when parents are flocking to school consultants. What is the best school for their child?  What is the best preschool that will get him into the best elementary school and then into the best high school and finally the very best college? And he’ll live happily ever after? May I admit how this turns my stomach?  What does “best” mean, anyway? It makes me think of the title of the book by Rabbi Sherre Hirsch, We Plan,God Laughs.

Much as a parent wishes she could chart the best educational experience (or whole childhood, for that matter) for her child, that just can’t happen. The school experience is more than the 3 R’s.   Schools are filled all kinds of variables that cannot be predicted or measured, filled with teachers and friends and relationships. The school experience is about people as much as anything else.  And there are really 4 R’s:  Reading, (w)Riting, (a)Rithmetic, and Relationships. Relationships with peers and relationships with teachers.  These are the things that enable the foundations for learning, the learning environment, and form the lasting memories.

Along each step of their pathway, children have relationships. And it is through these that they practice and discover who they are, how they are, and how they need to be in various situations. I wonder why it is that schools don’t actually add that last R to their curricula?

Even the very best school might not be the best for your child. And if he has an unfortunate experience with a teacher one year it is the worst school. But the next year it just might be the best.

Our school memories are composites of so many things. Robin, Joyce, and I marveled at that over lunch. But there is just nothing that sticks as much as your relationship with your teachers, bad and good.

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