Caring Enough to Demand the Best

An excerpt from the Second Edition of Teaching Practices from America’s Best Urban Schools. Available now at all book retailers.
Teaching Practices from America's Best Urban Schools Second Edition Book Cover
Teaching Practices from America’s Best Urban Schools Second Edition

Students in high-performing urban schools believed their teachers cared, in part because students perceived that their teachers taught challenging academic content, insisted upon good behavior, and demanded high-quality work. Irvine and Fraser (1998) described educators who cared in this manner as “warm demanders.” Bondy and Ross (2008) explained that warm demanders knew their students as individuals, demonstrated unconditional positive regard, and then insisted that students perform to high standards. Ladson-Billings (2002) emphasized that caring educators demanded that students work hard to succeed. Johnson, Uline, and Perez (2017, p. 21) explained, “Warm demanders dominated the cultures of these high-performing urban schools.” In particular, teachers served as warm demanders for every racial/ethnic/income group served.

Elementary, middle, and high school students from all racial and ethnic groups offered many examples of their teachers’ high expectations as evidence of caring. For instance, at Franklin Towne Charter in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, both White and Black students expressed pride in the rigor of the curriculum they were expected to master. “They [teachers] care because they could just give you easy work,” one student explained, “but instead they push you to learn tough topics in math, science, and other subjects. When youleave this school, you’re ready for college.”

At KIPP Adelante in San Diego, California, a Latino middle school student expressed a similar sentiment by stating, “The teachers here want you to have a future. We’re going to be able to get into the very best high schools. Our teachers make sure we’re learning everything we need to learn.” This student and others at KIPP Adelante accepted their teachers’ high academic expectations as expressions of caring.

Often, teachers spent time explaining details about learning expectations and helping students understand how lessons were preparing them for later success in college, the workplace, or in other aspects of life. For example, at Maplewood Richmond Heights High School in St. Louis, Missouri, teachers posted model assignments associated with each lesson. Teachers explained to students the rigor associated with the model assignments, emphasizing how performance at the level of the model would be comparable to college-level expectations.

An educator at Westcliff Elementary in the Fort Worth Independent School District claimed, “Students don’t feel loved if they’re not held accountable.” In high-performing urban schools, teachers insisted that students develop and demonstrate the ability to discuss the concepts they were learning and relate the concepts to real situations. In the high- performing urban schools, teachers demanded student accountability for demonstrating deep understanding of concepts and ideas. Teachers expected students to be able to explain, discuss, demonstrate, compare, apply, and utilize information. Even when state standards, teacher’s guides, or textbooks demanded less, teachers pushed their students toward higher levels of thinking.

Frequently, educators conveyed caring and commitment as they insisted upon scholarly behavior. At Jim Thorpe Fundamental Academy in Santa Ana, California, teachers prepared students to behave as scholars. Signs on walls reminded students how to behave in a scholarly manner and teachers referred to students as scholars. At Bursch Elementary in Compton, California, Black and Latino students knew they were being prepared to attend college. Their cooperative work groups were named for various colleges and universities. Students were eager to live up to their teachers’ high expectations.

Students don’t feel loved if they’re not held accountable.

Students also indicated that their teachers’ high expectations for their character and behavior was evidence of caring. “The teachers make sure that everybody follows the rules,” an Escontrias Elementary (El Paso, Texas) Latino student explained. “There’s almost never fights here. This is the safest school I’ve ever been to. The teachers make sure everybody is safe.” At Franklin Towne Charter High School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, students expressed the same opinions. “I’m never scared in this building,” a Black female sophomore stated. A White male senior reported, “I’ve been here since my freshman year. I’ve never seen a fight at school.” Students emphasized that teachers, administrators, and support personnel worked hard to make sure they were safe. “You don’t have to worry about being picked on or bullied at this school,” a Black student at Cecil Parker Elementary in Mount Vernon, New York, explained. “Teachers make sure that you can do your work and be safe.” Students in many of the high-performing schools echoed the belief that their teachers cared enough to create learning environments in which they and all other students were expected to adhere to strong codes of conduct.

Teachers reinforced expectations for positive student behavior by fairly and consistently enforcing reasonable rules. Students were expected to work hard, stay engaged in learning activities, and interact with each other in polite and respectful ways. When students did not follow rules, teachers responded calmly, yet firmly. For example, a teacher at KIPP Adelante quietly and discretely gave her cell phone to a misbehaving student. The student gasped, took the phone, and quietly stepped outside the classroom door. He called his parent, discussed his behavior, and brought the phone back to his teacher. The routine was simple, yet powerfully effective. The teacher did not raise her voice or show any emotion. The teacher did not waste any time with reminders, pleas, or threats.

Consistently, throughout high-performing urban schools, we observed similar firm, fair, and calm enforcement of rules and consequences. A student receiving special education services at Tucker Elementary in Long Beach, California, confessed, “Before I came to this school  I  used  to  be  in  trouble  all  the  time.”  When  asked  why  things  had  changed,  he explained, “The teachers here care about me. They want me to succeed in school. They like me, but they don’t let me get away with anything. This is a good place to be.”

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