Back in high school, Sandra and I would hang out at lunch and swap our homework and our essays. And then we would edit in red ink on them for the fun of it.
The other girls wouldn’t bother us because they were at the mall buying Twizzlers from Bulk Barn, smoking Marlboros and spitting in the woods, or in the wild searching for boys.
Our kind of boys were so good at math they became school tutors. They, like us, stayed at school for lunch. And so, our high school lunches were spent primarily in libraries. There we edited our papers into shiny, beautiful things to hand to our teachers, or in the math rooms crunching numbers that we hoped would turn into a Pride and Prejudice– style love affair.
The numbers never were in our favour.
We may have miscalculated the probability of finding love among the math tutors, but at least we pleased our parents. Both children of immigrants—Sandra’s Chinese, and I’m Polish—we knew the importance of getting good grades. If we got good grades, our parents let us out of the house.
We made fun of our parents’ strictness. Sandra’s mom once locked her into her room to study. Each year, my parents bought me books of the What Your Fifth Grader Needs to Know-style— a great “hobby for summer” my parents called these books. And then there was my mother, who made me write paragraphs explaining why I should be allowed to leave to parties and other events—if the paragraphs were good, I could go.
Both Sandra and I graduated at the top our class, won scholarships, and went to the universities of our choice. And I could write killer paragraphs.
Looking back, I’m convinced that we graduated at the top of our class not because we were better or smarter than the others. But we desperately wanted to be better and smarter. And we wanted to be better and smarter because of our parents.
By expecting and demanding nothing but the best from them, immigrant parents give their children a priceless gift: the gift of high academic expectations.
We as teachers, in loco parentis, have the same power. In our classrooms, we can set expectations of our students. We can expect them all to learn and perform challenging tasks, or we can expect only some of them to succeed at easier tasks.
If you think you could raise your academic expectations, but you don’t know if it’s worth it or necessary, read on.