Father: Raiden has been struggling with his grades, as you know, and there are probably some things his mother and I could do on that front, but I think there’s a bigger problem with your class.
Gibbs: What is that problem?
Father: Well, Raiden is convinced that you don’t like him.
Gibbs: I see. And why does he think that?
Father: It’s the way you treat him. He feels like you’re always hassling him and singling him out. He’s told me about some conversations you’ve had with him where you said some very critical things about him as a student. After listening to him, I think he might be right. I think maybe you just don’t like Raiden, which is going to make it very hard for him to do well in your class. I would like to hear it from you, though. Do you like my son or not?
Gibbs: I’ve been a teacher for seventeen years now and it has only been in the last four or five years that parents have started asking me that question. Why do you think that is?
Father: What? “Do you like my child?”
Gibbs: Yes, why do you think parents have come to ask that question so often of teachers?
Father: How should I know?
Gibbs: Personally, I think it has something to do with social media. I started teaching before social media, so I’ve seen the classroom before and after Facebook, Instagram, and all the rest. Social media has made people obsessed with being “liked” and getting “likes,” and they have brought that obsession into the classroom.
Father: Perhaps, but you haven’t answered my question. Do you like my son or not?
Gibbs: Try to see things from my perspective. What incentive does a teacher ever have for answering that question?
Father: Do you need an incentive to answer an honest question?
Gibbs: Well, do you personally believe that every student in the world likes all their teachers?
Father: Of course not.
Father: Some teachers are no good at what they do. They make the lives of their students miserable.
Father: By saddling them with unnecessary work and disrespecting them, insulting them.
Gibbs: Would you say a student has the right to dislike such a teacher?
Gibbs: Does the student have anything to gain in telling a miserable teacher, “I do not like you”?
Father: I see your point, but it would really boost my son’s confidence if you told him that you liked him.
Gibbs: And if I tell him that I like him and he asks me why I like him, what should I say?
Father: I don’t know. What do you like about him?
Gibbs: What reasons has he given me to like him?
Father: I’m not in your class, so I don’t know. But I know that Raiden is a kind young man who means well, which ought to be enough for any teacher.
Gibbs: When Raiden has told you that I single him out, hassle him, and criticize him, has he told you what exactly I’m criticizing?
Father: He’s mentioned that he has a hard time paying attention in your class, but that’s not something that deserves criticism. He needs help.
Gibbs: Can criticism never be helpful?
Father: He needs encouragement.
Gibbs: Is the conversation we’re having right now meant to be an encouragement to me?
Father: I’m encouraging you to help Raiden.
Gibbs: And I’ve encouraged Raiden to help himself. Raiden regularly derails the class by drawing attention to himself. He insults me, calls me “stupid,” sighs loudly, forgets his book three times a week, and brags about how much he dislikes school.
Father: But Raiden means well.
Gibbs: And so do I. Just a moment ago, we agreed that if a teacher gave unnecessary work and showed students blatant disrespect, he would not be well liked. If a student gives a teacher unnecessary work and show a teacher disrespect, how do you expect the teacher to respond?
Father: Look, Raiden is a good kid. He’s very helpful around the house and he loves his grandparents so much. I wish you could see it. He means well, but that doesn’t seem to count for anything with you.
Gibbs: I could believe he meant well on the first day of class, but I’ve asked him to change his behavior half a dozen times and he refuses, so I don’t have much of a reason to believe he means well. If he has good intentions, those good intentions aren’t sufficient to keep the class together when he makes a spectacle of himself during a lecture. I need him to live out his good intentions. And I need him to be obedient.
Father: Fine. Sure. But it would mean a lot to him if you told him that you that liked him because he’s convinced you don’t.
Gibbs: It would mean a lot to me if he acted in a likable way. At the same time, I’m simply not going to tell any student, “I like you.” As soon as a teacher says that to one student, every student will start asking, “Do you like me? Do you like us all the same? Who do you like the most?” There are natural consequences to obedience and natural consequences to disobedience. “The poetic justice of cause and effect…” It is an important lesson to learn in high school, otherwise you enter the world of adults expecting to get along with everyone, regardless of what you do.
Father: So you’ve had this conversation with other parents?
Gibbs: Yes. As I mentioned, in my first five years as a teacher, parents never asked me if I liked their children. These days, it happens all the time.
Father: Doesn’t that tell you something, though?
Gibbs: Yes, I—
Father: It means you dislike a lot of your students.
Gibbs: You know, there is a certain type of student whose parents tend to come asking, “You don’t like my child, do you?”
Gibbs: Yes. The sort of student who voluntarily sits in the front row, asks good questions, comes to class prepared, raises his hand to speak, turns in his work on time… That child’s parents never come asking, “You don’t like my child, do you?”
Father: It’s the parents of troubled students who ask, isn’t it?
Gibbs: After a certain student has vexed his classmates and teachers for months, and teachers and administrators have admonished and chided and not suspended the student, something happens which really pushes the envelope, and then that student’s parents come with accusations that teachers have something personal against their child.
Father: Parents are always the bad guys and teachers are always the good guys. That’s an awfully convenient story, Mr. Gibbs.
Gibbs: If that was my story, it would be a convenient one, but that’s not my story. We’re not talking about parents right now, just the parents of badly behaved students, and such students make up a fairly small percentage of the student population.
Father: “Badly behaved students.” You speak very bluntly, Mr. Gibbs.
Gibbs: I know you think that I’m withholding something good from Raiden, and that if I told Raiden I liked him, his grades would rise and he wouldn’t get sent to the office every week, but that’s not the case. Raiden knows I don’t approve of his conduct in class, he knows that his behavior annoys me and others. If I sat him down and told him I liked him, it would make him believe his actions didn’t matter—that he didn’t matter—because nothing he did would change anyone’s opinion of him. That would make him more contemptuous of me, you, and his classmates than he already is. Right now, you and I are training your son how to be a father and a husband. He can’t take responsibility for his family if he can’t take responsibility for his own actions. I have encouraged him, though. He knows that if his behavior changes, his time at school will go well. He knows he has that power, that freedom. You need to help him use that power well.