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May 22, 2008

Future Presidents

Treat each child in your classroom as if he or she is going to be the next president of the United States.

I don’t remember the first time I heard it or even who said it, but I have adopted this philosophy and made it my own over the years. It may sound crazy to some, but it’s the only way to level the playing field in a profession that is fraught with what us Texans refer to as “Pobrecito Syndrome”.

The word pobrecito is spanish slang for “poor little thing”.  More specifically, Pobrecito Syndrome refers to teachers who feel sorry for disadvantaged students instead of holding them to the highest of standards. This syndrome runs rampant in inner city schools, all too often staffed with the most inexperienced teachers instead of those most seasoned in their craft.

Working in an urban setting in the Dallas area, I often feel that Pobrecito Syndrome is an epidemic. I have worked with more than my fair share of teachers who refuse to teach their students and give them the tools they need to succeed in school so they can rise above their circumstances. Instead, teachers afflicted with Pobrecito Syndrome take pity on their students. The pity can take many forms such as buying students material things (i.e. clothes), passing students who have earned failing grades, or showing one's students lots of affection and ignoring bad behavior. Don’t get me wrong, these teachers usually have big hearts and mean well.  What they don’t understand is that they are actually hurting their students. I show my students plenty of affection, but I also hold them to extremely high standards for their own benefit. 

The saddest part of Pobrecito Syndrome is that the students can tell which teachers are afflicted. Those teachers usually have the worst classroom management (because their students are just poor little things after all) and their students are constantly taking advantage of them. Students in Pobrecito classrooms are often demanding and unruly; they know they don’t have to behave because their teacher feels sorry for them. This is how the cycle begins, if students have more than one Pobrecito teacher in their primary years it becomes almost impossible for them to catch up.

Recently, an interesting article by Mike Schmoker was called to my attention (thanks Angela!). In his article, Crayola Curriculum, Mr. Schmoker visited a number of schools across the country and discussed a similar phenomenon in his piece:

“One of the questions I would occasionally ask teachers…, especially if it was late in the school year, was whether or not students knew the alphabet and its sounds. The teachers would regularly say no, but add that, after all, these were either poor or second-language students. The question in my mind, never uttered, was this: "Why wouldn't they be learning the alphabet? Why are they coloring instead of being taught to read?"

His findings suggest that students are given more coloring assignments than mathematics or writing assignments- thus spawning his clever title, Crayola Curriculum.

He urges all teachers to examine our teaching practices closely, especially those of us working within the early grades and with disadvantaged students.

“Kids, especially those in disadvantaged settings, don't have a chance unless we teach them to read, early and well. This can happen the moment we charge teachers and administrators in every school and district to give reading and language arts instruction the thoroughgoing, common-sense review it so desperately needs.”

One educator who has taken the "future president" philosophy to heart is Ron Clark.  Mr. Clark exemplifies a teacher who not only holds his students to higher standards, but also helps them to surpass even their wildest dreams. His inspirational story should be required viewing for all new teachers. Equally inspiring is his book The Essential 55.

I urge all of us, both teachers and non-teachers alike, to avoid falling into the Pobrecito Syndrome trap.  Make a point to set high standards for everyone, regardless of their socio-economic status or skin color, so we can all do our part in creating America's future presidents. 


AWESOME post Vanessa. You totally nailed it, why some PreK teachers get it, and some don't. I had to give you your props on my blog. I have seen this in working with pre-service teachers and mentoring beginning teachers. Don't fail them by pitying them expect them to be more than you can imagine.

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