“Do you want this kind of thing in your file where everyone can see it?”
“Employers will see these grades when you apply for a job.”
“Belonging to that club will look good on your permanent record.”
“If you get arrested, it will stick with you forever.”
The Teacher Talk above is delivered by educators with different intentions. One intention is to warn students that there is a consequence to their performance in school. That consequence is a file that contains a cumulative record of their behavior and achievement. They are also warned that the information in that file could be used by others to make judgments about them, now or in the future.
While this information is helpful for students to have, it is often delivered in a tone that is heard as a threat. Warning students that a permanent record exists and that it will follow them for their entire life is often an effort to manipulate those students into desired behaviors. Some educators might call this motivation. If it is motivation, it is an attempt to motivate by warning of dire consequences.
Another intention of the language above is to shame. “Do you really want this kind of reputation to follow you around forever?” or “You’ll never get that off your record,” are examples of shame-based teaching. The effort here is to shame the students into choosing a different behavior.
Other educators use language like the examples above to give students information that they can use to make personal choices about their own lives. Their intention is not to threaten, but to simply give information. Their belief is that students need this knowledge about a permanent record and how it might be used by others later, in order to make informed decisions now.
While on one level the permanent record exists, it is our belief that students might be better served by also informing them, “There is no such thing as a permanent record.” This statement helps them understands that on another level nothing is permanent. While it is true that acceptance to a specific college or obtaining a desired position of employment might be influenced by high school grade transcripts or a behavioral record, it is also true that those things and who they are as people are not permanent.
We create ourselves anew every day. We do not have to be who we were yesterday. Wouldn’t it be better to help students see that their high school grades are not who they really are? The young man who dropped out of school can become the young man who went back to school. The young woman who got suspended can become the young woman who used that opportunity to make different choices. “This is going to go in your permanent record” does little to help students understand that they are not the thoughts they created, the feelings they felt, or the behaviors they chose at some previous time in their lives.
Today, they can start over.
Today, they can make a different choice.
Today, they can decide again.
Perhaps, there is no such thing as a permanent record.
Chick Moorman and Thomas Haller are the coauthors of The Teacher Talk Advantage: Five Voices of Effective Teaching.They are two of the world's foremost authorities on raising responsible, caring, confident children. They publish a free monthly e-zine for educators and another for parents. To sign up for the newsletters or learn more about the seminars they offer teachers and parents, visit their websites today: www.chickmoorman.com and www.thomashaller.com
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