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Monday, 25 May 2020

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You are here: Home > Online Articles > Are Staff Children Different?



Are Staff Children Different?

Part I of a two-part commentary

By Dallin Bywater


Are Staff Children Different?
Having lived in international school environments for much of my life—first as a student during childhood, and later as an educator—I have noticed something peculiar. I would even call it a trend. There is something different about international school staff children, that is, the children of educators in international schools.

Though it has been hard to put my finger on the exact cause or nature of that difference, the statement rings true both to me and to the many international professionals with whom I have discussed this hypothesis.

So what evidence exists to support this claim? Are staff children in actual fact different from their peers in some measurable way? Admittedly, I have no quantitative data to justify this claim.

Staff children certainly have a lot in common with their peers: they go to international schools, they are Third Culture Kids (TCKs) with a transient lifestyle, and they probably have at least one parent who is working long hours.

I have discovered that the crucial difference between staff children and their peers is in our perception of these children, and the social power differential that exists around them. Allow me to explain.

When I was a child at an international school of over 1,000 students, I knew which of the students were children of school staff. Everybody knew who they were. If you are an educator reading this article, you likely know who the staff children are at your school. This awareness in itself creates an unavoidable and often unintentional cognitive bias when interacting with staff children. Though a simple cognitive bias, I believe it has a significant impact on students and the learning environment.

In my role as international school counselor, I have seen the cognitive bias manifest in various ways as I have observed staff children in the classroom, in the hallways, and at school events. Please note that the biases detailed below are certainly not true across the board, but rather, common patterns of bias that can be observed:

1. Staff children are given more attention than other students. This is a natural social bias that educators may have. Staff children are called on more, checked in on more, and engaged more frequently in casual conversation. It can be a natural bias because the educator can feel a higher level of accountability if the child’s parent is also their colleague or their supervisor.

2. Staff children may be given favorable or different treatment when it comes to privileges at school. The invisible boundary between work and home is blurred for both the child and the parent. This might mean that the staff child is allowed to hang out in their parent’s classroom when other children have to line up outside for class, or the child might be allowed to go talk to their parent when they have a problem at school, while other students may not even be allowed to call home. There are diverse situations in which this treatment might manifest at your school, depending on the student, family dynamic, and school environment.

3. Staff children may be given more leniency with respect to behavior discipline. Perhaps you know a staff child that had a discipline issue at school, but the incident was not reported to the principal because the teacher who observed it was a friend of the staff parent. Or perhaps the assistant principal feared giving a staff child appropriate discipline because they wanted to preserve their relationship with the staff member. Again, this bias can manifest in a number of ways.

4. Staff children have unique social standing in comparison to their peers. The increased attention and leniency that staff children receive can either increase their social desirability, or breed jealousy in their peers. Either situation cultivates a social imbalance and power inequality.

Many staff notice these differences. Students notice these differences. In one instance, when discussing the potential disciplinary consequences for the inappropriate behavior of a staff child, the child suggested that a consequence would not be imposed because their parent was a staff member at the school.

Staff children live in a fundamentally different environment from that of other international students. Theirs is a subculture within the international school student subculture. This has the potential to create an unhealthy and uneven education environment. This phenomenon is in no way the fault of the staff child, or staff parents. It is a natural tendency of bias that exists in our anomalous international school context.

Staff children did not ask to be placed in an unhealthy, unequal environment. It is our responsibility to promote a healthy learning environment for all of our students, especially those who are vulnerable or find themselves in unique situations. As we increase productive dialogue about the issue and improve professional boundaries, staff parents, their children, and the staff who care for those children will all benefit.

Dallin Bywater is a TCK and has been an international school counselor in China for the past six years.

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11/13/2019 - Brian
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