I Wonder If He Really Meant This


A sweet friend who isn't a teacher posted this CNN article on facebook the other day and applauded it.  After reading the article it rattled me and I couldn't let it slide.  My friend is working hard to get approval to take in foster kids so she's at the beginning of her parenting journey.  I commented that further down the road she may find this article to actually be offensive.

Of course, she wants to know why and my thoughts are longer than a comment box will allow.   So here is my comment:

*I am only responding to what this author is saying.  I am not assuming that any other teacher thinks the way he does or communicates their thoughts the way he does.  My responses are only to Mr. Clark's article not with the profession in general.  I have been teaching for ten years too.

The very first offense hits me before I can even read the article.  The title is all-inclusive and assumes that this teacher speaks for all teachers about all parents.  I am instantly off-put by this.  Secondly, this is published on a network that educated people read. It is never going to be read by the parents that supposedly “need” to hear it the most.  So those who might backpeddle and say, “Well, he’s not talking to every parent” or “He’s not, of course, addressing parents who care about their kids’ education.”  Yes, he is.  Otherwise this would have been published in People magazine for the general populous.

The story begins about a principle, not a teacher, which are two different careers.  So, it’s an interesting way to start because it seems to be pulling right from the big guns in an effort to intimidate the reader.  Apparently, her comment reveals, the standards by which the principle was awarded her accolades were not based on the needs or desires of the parents. The parents were upset with her but she still got an award.  Huh.  It’s the administrator’s job to relate with all the parents.  If that isn’t working, then they are just as at fault as anyone else. 

As stated in the article the average tenure for a teacher is 4.5 years. I generously figured that the maximum amount of time a teacher gets with my child during one school year is about 1050 hours.  And then they are done.  They do not have a commitment to the best for my child.  They do their time and they go.  That’s just reality.  On the other hand, I am committed to my child for life.  I see him in every kind of situation, track his development, coach and encourage him, know his tendencies, strengths, weaknesses and dreams.  Therefore, a temporary teacher is not an expert on what my child needs and when he needs it. 

We don’t need to "stem the tide."  The teachers who leave after 4.5 years due to conflict with parents should leave the profession because conflict with parents will not go away.  If you have students, you have parents and if you have students in a broken world, you have broken parents as well.  Allowing these teachers their leave creates more space for teachers who can muster through the tough stuff and successfully listen to what students and their families need from that teacher. 

The truth is that teachers leave because teaching isn’t working for them.  Some understandable manifestations could be that its harder than they thought, the administration side of teaching overpowers the a-ha moments in the classroom, they don’t see their students changing and they are pressured to produce results or any other reason.  But let's be real.  Teachers, like all of us, leave for their own personal discomfort.  Passing the buck to parents is cowardly.

The article takes on a condescending tone at this point, “We are educated professionals who work with kids every day.”  Wow.  So am I.  And even if I wasn’t, loving and nurturing kids and teaching them in a classroom aren’t even up for comparison.  “If we give you advice, don’t fight it.”  Like the advice that my child needed to be medicated so that you could have an easier time running your classroom?  Not a chance.  Like the advice that my friend’s child is struggling but doing well enough so she doesn't really need extra assistance?  Stick to making academics come alive -- this kind of advice is not on par with that of a doctor or lawyer as the author wants to assert.  If you can’t inspire and challenge then you are only babysitting.  

Some parents don’t listen.  That’s a given.  Some parents are also dealing with things deeper than you realize.  But are you listening to them?  Are you finding out their circumstances?   Are you finding out about your future students and their life circumstances before the school year starts and then caring beyond summer break?  If not, then don’t judge the parents and group them all into the same “disinterested” column.

The article sings the same song that I’ve always loathed:  The teacher is all powerful and all knowing.  Its tone is swimming in arrogance and obvious insecurity.  For instance, don’t question the student when the teacher brings up behavior problems.   Trust it.  Don’t ask for supporting witnesses to an incident. Trust them.  Drink all the kool-aid, don’t ask questions, let go of your brain and any form of due process.  Don’t demean the “relationship” you have with the teacher by looking your child in the eye and asking your child to confess or deny what has been alleged.  In that moment, teacher, it is not about you.  It is about parent and child and the years of relationship they have coming together to shape and mend and forge a new path.  That is a sacred space between parent and child.  The teacher doesn’t exist in that moment. 

“And if you really want to help your children be successful, stop making excuses for them.”  Fair enough. I live in this wisdom too.  But then the article goes sideways again, though it is still in the same vein of the teacher being in control … even of summer.  Summer reading assignments?   You mean other than the summer reading programs that my kids devour at two librarys?   The reading aloud we do with them through Narnia and Middle Earth?  Other than the NFL fact books, the nature guides, the inspirational biographies, the middle grade series’ and the constant swarm of picture books for my youngest one?  You mean to control our summer reading, family time and fun?  I think not.  My oldest son had to read Animal Farm over the summer.  I was okay with that because I wanted to re-read it too.  But summer is the time of imagination and growth, not assignments that are detached from life.

I have to quote this section because it saddens me to the core:

His mother chimed in and told me that it had been a horrible summer for them because of family issues they'd been through in July. I said I was so sorry, but I couldn't help but point out that the assignments were given in May. She quickly added that she was allowing her child some "fun time" during the summer before getting back to work in July and that it wasn't his fault the work wasn't complete.

Can you feel my pain?

Didn’t you listen?  It had been a horrible summer for their family.  Regardless of when your assignment was given, summer is not your time.  Summer is family time.  And if she has plans for her family your assignment will and should come second -- every time.  Keep your disappointment to yourself and show some real compassion.  Was it horrible due to their own poor choices?  Was it tragedy?   Was it relational discord?  It doesn’t matter because you are not her judge and human compassion is always appropriate.  The cold and condescending approach is completely unprofessional.  Good for that mom for doing what her child needed her to do; give him the space to grow and discover and learn the lessons of life.  No, I cannot feel your self-centered pain.

Without a doubt some parents do make excuses for everything.  But if it’s more than one or two parents in your entire classroom you might need to be the one to sit back and get a new picture of what’s really going on.  Your expectations may need to change.  You may need to customize.  Try new inspiration.  Search your own soul and dig deeper so you can teach out of who you really are, not who your district says you need to be.  You teach and all you can do is give good opportunity for learning to take place.  You don’t control.  There’s a difference.

I agree with some of what is said in the next section.  It is okay for my child to get in trouble sometimes because he hopefully can learn from that if the situation is handled correctly.  He also doesn’t have to make all A’s and I certainly don’t want his grades handed to him.  I’d love for him to get a scholarship one day and he needs to do it on his own merit, but more importantly I’d love him to continue to carry with him the love of learning.  Grades and learning are two different things. 

The parents who threaten to call a lawyer are few and far between.  They should not define your entire teaching career.  If these circumstances play into your insecurities, I’m sorry.  I fail to reach people sometimes too.  It’s just how it is.  But you can get through it.  There are so many more students asking for your time and energy.  If I blamed every person I serve for the faults of one or two, I’d be jaded and burnt out too. 

“I feel sorry for teachers and administrators these days whose hands are completely tied.”  So do I, but I think the hand-tying comes from overly fearful administration and school districts and not from parents as this article is stating.  I also feel sorry for teachers who can’t stand up for what is right and speak what needs to be said.  But it saddens me that this article states they are only concerned about losing their jobs rather than losing contact and influence with students.  One viewpoint treats my child as a commodity.  The other actually cares. 

So it's no wonder that the next statement strikes me as completely patronizing:  “We know you love your children.  We do too.”  Don't equate my love for my children with your general enjoyment or tolerance of them.  They are not both love.  Love sticks around for more than 4.5 years or 1050 hours.  It never fails.

1 comment:

  1. August 9, 2012

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