The student sat across from me, and sized me up. There isn't anything quite like being sized up by a skeptical fourth grader. As we talked he regarded me with much disdain, and through the initial discourse it was clear that he was sizing me up, and seeing if he could engage me in a power struggle. When it was clear that I would not go down that path, he tried a different tact. He launched into a decent monologue about how I must not like him. I was honest with the child, I told him I barely knew him given that I had only been an administrative intern in the building a few short weeks. But I also told him something else. I told him that while I certainly did not approve of the behavior that landed him in the office with me that afternoon, it did not impact my ability to love him.
At first he seemed skeptical. Then I shared with him a few things. First, that as a mom there are definitely times when I am frustrated by the choices that my own children make, but those choices do not cause me to love my children any less. He conceded that, that was possible, but that it was because they were my kids; so I continued. I showed him a picture that I had, of a former student and I together. I asked him what he saw in the picture. To which he replied, "You like that kid a lot; I can tell because of the way you both are smiling." I said, "You're right I do like that kid a lot! I love that student. But you might also be surprised to know that last year that student really struggled in school, he had a really hard time, and there were behaviors that I didn't approve of. Does it look like I love him any less?" He couldn't argue, and suddenly the sullen boy sitting across from me dropped his shoulders, and relaxed. Yes, it is possible to detest a particular behavior, to have to impart consequences, but it is also possible to continue to love the child.
I think one of the most important things that we can do for children is to have high expectations for learning and behavior. The other is to treat them with compassion, and to love them. Many are fighting a battle we know nothing about.