Kids are overexposed to teachers

This is a photo of my son taking a lesson from the cellist Hans Jensen. It was not like any teacher-student relationship I've ever seen. My son was not playing the right notes, and after the tenth time of playing the wrong note, Hans said, "This is just ridiculous. You are being stupid. Just play the right note!"

I winced.

My son played the right note.

And this made me think a lot about how the range of people who teach kids is very narrow. Hans only rarely teaches a child as young as my son. I appreciate that Hans is so different. And so did my son, because he asked to go back for another lesson.

There is a very narrow type of personality that would choose to be in a classroom with children all day long. Most elementary school teachers are ESFJs. This type of personality (here's an overview of the ESFJ type) has a lot of overlap with the type of people who choose to take care of kids after school. Which means kids are surrounded by emotionally-driven, system-oriented people who tend to live in the present, rather than the future. Because kids demand constant, present-oriented attention.

The problem here is that the business world, where kids will presumably earn money to support themselves, has almost no overlap with the systematic, feeling types. Because the business world sucks the life out of those types so they leave. The business world is run by unemotional, future-oriented, rule breakers. Those are the people who make money.

And even if kids choose not to go into the business world, the real world, which is not school for young kids, but rather opportunities for artistic types, is full of people like Hans.

So why do we lock our kids away with all the people who do not fit into the real world and then toss the kids into the real world at the end of college and expect them to adjust? They have no training for this adjustment.

If you take your kids out of school, your kids can interact with a wide range of adults—many of whom would kill themselves before they'd agree to engage a classroom full of third-graders.

You might argue that kids can interact with these people after school, but there is not time. Young kids are in activities—run by people who enjoy interacting with groups of fledgling ballerinas or overzealous soccer sprouts. And soon kids have too much homework to spend time in school and with their family and then go off with some other type of person who is not involved in organized kid activities.

Plenty of people in the work world would love to mentor a self-directed, self-motivated kid. Mentoring is something A-players love to do because it reflects well on them if they can identify young talent. But kids don't get the chance to attract one of these business mentors because the kids don't have any time away from the artificially narrow range of caretakers that almost all schools provide.

Posted in The truth about school
26 comments on “Kids are overexposed to teachers
  1. Jenn says:

    From what I see where I work, the best way to prepare for a corporate job would be to let kids watch professional sports all day and play golf as much as they possibly can. The more fantasy teams they can manage, and sports memoribilia they collect, the better.

    I'm sure some upper management types would think it was a hoot to mentor some confident 9 years olds on a golf course.

    • Penelope Trunk says:

      That is so insightful! Also, it's so clear that people who play sports do well in the business world that there are recruiting firms that specialize in recruiting kids out of college who played varsity sports.


  2. Jana Miller says:

    Penelope, this is brilliant…. once again and a great argument against all the cries of lack of socialization. Homeschooling provides so many real world relationshops for kids.

  3. Laura says:

    Hans seems so different to you not only because he doesn't fit the typical teacher profile, but also because he is Scandinavian. I have a mother of 100% Scandinavian descent and friends from Denmark, Norway and Sweden, and I gotta say: Your quote from the teacher sounds exactly like something I've heard a million times! It makes me smile in recognition. I love the Scandinavian "get on with it" attitude.

  4. SoCalLynn says:

    I am a product of the public school system of the 70's and 80's. The only teachers I learned from, and to be honest, remember fondly, are the ones who had high expectations with straight talk and clear goals for me. I was always suspicious and, frankly, dismissive of the ones who wanted to be friends with the students. Kids can rise to a challenge if given one, instead of having their emotions catered to all the time.
    I have been homeschooling my 13 year old daughter since she was in second grade. You always give me food for thought, Penelope, even though our methods are very different

  5. techkim says:

    What a great teacher to say that. I have to tell my son's different teachers for his different activities outside the home to stop saying good job and moving on to the next step when he frankly did a horrid job and was being "stupid" like Han's said. This one swim teacher took my son out of the baby pool and made him swim the deep lap pool at 6 yrs old. That teacher taught my son how to swim. The karate teacher was letting him get away with no skills at all and moving him to the next belt. What was that accomplishing? It is giving in to parents that don't want their kids to "look" like their are failing.

    • leah says:

      I have a friend who came to NYC to teach ballet but quit in disgust as none of the kids/teens wanted to work. They just wanted to goof off and then pass. He ended up becoming a personal trainer which was a much better fit in NYC as his clients wanted him to make them work hard!

    • Judy says:

      I laughed out loud when I read the teacher's comment. As a parent I would have no problem with the comment and may have said something similar myself. The indulgent parenting that I see everyday drives me insane. Just yesterday a mom barged into my daughter's ballet class to inform the teacher that her daughter doesn't respond well to negative feedback. When the teacher ignored her, the mom continued to say that the daughter doesn't like to be told she's doing something wrong when she's truly trying her best. Come again?

      Of course, I was the pariah parent who wouldn't let my son get a soccer trophy one season. It's one of those "everyone gets a trophy for showing up" deals. Well my son did exactly that – he showed up because I drove him to the field. He made no effort in practice or at the games. I did not tell him that he did a good job. In fact, I told him what a lousy job he was doing. So he was the only one who didn't get a trophy. And guess what? Now, he puts in 100% effort in his sports and feels proud when he receives an award because he only gets it if he earns it. My kids know that only 100% effort is expected and rewarded.

      As for the "stupid" comment, while I do try not to make personal attacks on the kids, sometimes we all need a jolt to snap us out of our doldrums.

  6. mysticaltyger says:

    This is VERY well said, Penelope. You hit the bull's eye on this one. At the same time, you're only hitting the tip of a much larger iceberg because the school system is narrow in lots of other ways as well. Personally, I believe it's deliberately narrow by design. Our school systems were set up by elites who want compliant and obedient people who don't question authority or anything outside what they're told.

  7. Tom Lemon says:

    Hey, how do I find these kinds of adult interactions for my 10 yr old son? He's wicked smart and the school types bore him to death (worse — they make him act half the age he is, instead of encouraging him to act older than he is).

    Sports actually doesn't work all that well. Most coaches are immature jerks.

    Music? Science camps?

    • Penelope Trunk says:

      Something I've learned once I took my kids out of school is that most adults are happy to interact with kids in a structured way. So if you create a project with your son and find an adult to help him with it, the adult will interact in a way that is normal to that adult, not in a school-teachery way.

      Step 1: Find your son's interest
      Step 2: Make a project with a clear goal and a start and a finish.
      Step 3: Find an adult who works in that area and ask the adult to do it with your son.

      Most people will say yes, believe it or not.


  8. Evelyn says:


    Man, this is great and I totally agree BUT… what about the children with Aspergers who cannot handle such tough criticism at such a young age? (and maybe not ever?) My son, who is 8.5, is so painfully sensitive and has a very difficult time ("I can't do it!"…"I hate blah blah.."…or "I'll never be good at anything") with making mistakes and not having most things come easily to him. I've found that some adults (even some teachers) can be put off by that. I agree that for typical kids, finding their passion, and then an adult who shares the same, is the perfect way to create a life path that helps that child to feel successful in any field. However, finding adults to work with ASD kids can be more difficult, depending on the personality of the child. Hell, it's hard enough to understand my own son, who I think hung the moon, by the way….so expecting another adult who doesn't normally interact with children to do so with an ASD kid is a tad overwhelming for me.

    Also, I understand that there are certain types of personality traits that tends to give birth to the school teacher type, but in contrast, there are some a**holes for teachers. Sorry, but it's true. And they, who combined with the stress of the school system, mandates, and a nonstop testing culture, can end up being short and dismissive and downright rude to the kids, despite their obvious emotionally driven personality and job calling.

    I check your blog everyday and have only commented once or twice at the most, but you've pretty much convinced me that homeschooling is the way to go, so thanks! I'm jumping ship! I connect on so many levels to every one of your post and I find myself bringing up this blog quite a bit lately. I guess I would at least rather be able to decide if the person that is spending time with/teaching my son can talk to him in a "get on with it!" attitude, instead of being a doormat of the crappy public school system where his teacher has the capability to do so everyday for the entire school year without any say so from me.

    Yikes, this was long.

    • Penelope Trunk says:

      You are jumping ship? That's great. Congratulations. And it will make you happy to hear that I have never met anyone with Asperger's who liked being in school.


  9. JRW says:

    I'm with you on homeschooling being a great way to ensure kids get exposed to many different personality type, bu I would never take my young child back to someone who called him stupid, even if it did make her perform better. And even if she wanted to go back. To me that seems like the same thing as when you don't believe kids who tell their divorcing parents that they're fine. Children at this age are people pleasers. It's our job to point that out to them and tell them that it's not ok for people to call us names (ie verbally abuse us). I don't care what personality type they are, my goal is to seek out people who will listen to my children's mistakes with as much peace as their successes. If my child wanted to go back I'd have a discussion about it and hopefully get on the same page that Hans needs that time that we would have been with him to work on getting a peaceful heart. We all struggle with that, I'd say – we're just doing our part to help him by not going back.

  10. Rachelle says:

    JRW you should never let your kid to go to regular school because the kids call each other stupid and so much more all the time. My son is in Senior Kindergarten and I can't believe what goes on and is considered acceptable between the children. These kids are not even trying to teach my son anything. Frankly if you are accessing real world people to teach unique skills they're going to act like real world people rather than politically correct but often ineffective teachers.

  11. JRW says:

    An adult calling a child stupid is much different than an adult in an authority position calling them stupid. My oldest is five and although she doesn't attend school, she has many opportunities for interacting with peers and occasionally works through name calling issues while playing with them. I try to teach her that whenever someone is mean to us it's because they are hurting in their heart, and we always have an obligation to do our best to help them feel better. Sometimes this is working through it alone, sometimes it's getting an adult to help them figure it out, and sometimes it means walking away, because is we let someone keep being hurtful to us that's hurtful to them too.

    Frankly, I think giving an adult license to mistreat a child just because they have unique skills or are in a "real world" teaching situation is as hurtful as teachers who are PC in their degradation of children. It would be different if Hans had apologized and expressed a commitment to work on his impatience, anger, name calling (whatever he'd call it).

    I guess I'm just saying I'm not out to expose my child to adults who are mean to them. Every personality type can be kind. Or can be humble about their efforts to be kinder. Those are the mentors that I'm looking to introduce to my children.

  12. CL says:

    Hans Jensen is one of the best cello teachers in the world, which I'm sure that Penelope Trunk already knows. Cello students move their families to Chicago just so they can learn from him. I just read about him in Daniel Coyle's The Talent Code. Everyone is up in arms about Hans calling Zehavi stupid, but I feel that the response is not justified. It might be my upbringing, but I did not think that Amy Chua was a bad mother when I read her book. Zehavi has talent and drive. Hans, according to Coyle, changes his teaching style for every student according to their needs and he's almost supernaturally great at it. If being called stupid is what Zehavi needed, then I would trust Hans to do what was best.

    • Dave says:

      It seems that if "being called stupid" is what my child needed than perhaps a more important issue than working with one of the best cello teachers in the world would be trying to help my child need something different. I would suggest that the greatest teachers, mentors and educators in the world find ways to strengthen feelings of security and efficacy even if there is a strain of inexplicable masochism in there somewhere.

      • CL says:

        Dave, I recognize that Americans believe in positive reinforcement. I think part of this is a cultural and personality difference. I am driven, as Penelope is driven, to achieve the best that I possibly can. Jackie Chan, for example, was in a school where he was severely disciplined and beaten if he did not do martial arts, acrobatics, tumbling, etc. to his teachers' satisfaction, which Jackie has been honest about: He has gone on to be wildly successful. I am not advocating corporal punishment and I would never go to those lengths, but my family certainly was somewhere on that spectrum, since that was how my dad was raised. For example, Amy Chua's story of raising her kids was a totally normal story to me (my parents were in contrast lenient, but my friends' parents were even harsher) and it shocked me that it shocked other people. I stood behind Sheryl Sandberg when she pointed out that the Chua-Rubenfeld girls are well adjusted and intelligent.

        Also, you said, "It seems that if "being called stupid" is what my child needed than perhaps a more important issue than working with one of the best cello teachers in the world would be trying to help my child need something different." To me, that's nonsensical. I see it as: "If being punished was what my child needed, then the more important issue than finding the best teacher in the world for his prodigious talent would be helping my child never be punished." It's possible that I'm not interpreting your comment in the right way.

  13. Dave says:

    The thing that baffles me about this post is how into positive psychology you are Penelope. You frequently cite various researchers and outcomes from the field of positive psychology but in this case you seem to have forgotten one well established finding. That corporal punishment including verbal abuse has a powerful correlation with short term outcomes. According to the research your son would play the right note after being called stupid, that is what happens, but if this mode of teaching continues then in the long term he will grow up feeling resentful and disinterested in music; and possibly in a range of experiences, including having a relationship with you.

    Another commenter justified this behavior because Hans Jensen is such a famous teacher but I can't imagine you would fall for that, so why brush over how your child was treated?

  14. redrock says:

    Well, maybe in the blog-transcript of the interaction we are missing out on the tone of the conversation. It could be " … stop being stupid [because you are SOOOO stupid, and everybody else would have done this long ago …. ] " which cuts really deep, or it could be more a playful tone: "stop being stupid [I know you can do it, take the next step and play the note]. "

  15. OMSH says:

    The more I read about ESFJ's, the more it sucks to be one. Just saying…