I’ve changed the way I approach my students. I used to tell them, “You need to...you need to…” What I was really saying was “I need you to…I need you to…”
But I don’t need anything from my students anymore.
“Wait a minute!” you’re probably saying. “What do you mean, you don’t need anything from them? What about their cooperation? What about their respect? What about their participation in your program? Don’t you need that?”
No, I expect that. But what’s the difference?
When you need something from someone, that person has power over you. Often times, two people need something from each other, and the balance of power can be very interesting until each satisfies the other’s need. I need food, you need money.
Middle schoolers are just beginning to recognize their power. They try it out every day, sometimes for good, sometimes for ill. As they get larger and stronger, the recognition of how much power they actually have can be quite scary for them. They don’t have the experience to use that power wisely. They hurt people sometimes as they wield their power far too bluntly for a particular situation.
When I needed something from them, cooperation, respect, I gave them power. It was power they didn’t ask for and didn’t want. By cooperating and respecting me, they had the power to make me happy. It was inappropriate to give them this power, because, as I said, they did not agree to take it and have very little ability to wield it. The result was that they either overused their power to please me or misused it and hurt me, in both cases making me a kind of victim.
This year I realized what “need” meant. I changed my approach. Instead of needing their cooperation, I decided to expect it. I let them know what my expectations were and held them accountable for meeting them. If they failed to cooperate, I gave them a lower grade.
Now the only power they have is the power to meet my expectations. If they fail to meet them, I don’t lose something I need, and so I don’t have to get angry at them for not meeting my needs. Bad behavior no longer feels like a betrayal, only as a disappointment, one which, I can explain to them, makes it harder for us to succeed.
Do you need anything from your students? What do you expect?