Friday, October 30, 2009

On Being THAT Parent

I’m a teacher, so by default, I am an expert at all the ins and outs of humanity and it’s various factions. On a daily basis, I get a good sampling of the population, the kids who are our “future,” and the parents who are raising (or ignoring) them. It’s fascinating. Sometimes it makes you want to bang your head into a wall, moan things like, “Why me, why me?” or just simply rant and rave on my blog. Other days I can witness great little intellects budding, unexpected compassion, or forward thinking… but not often. Those kids get snagged away from me and placed in the gifted programs the minute their secret is out.

If you are a frequent reader, you know that I went into teaching to Save the World. Yep – in all my glory. I was going to single-handedly drag lives out of the gutters, shock and awe my students with monologues ala “The Dead Poets’ Society,” and generally become the coolest teacher on Earth, cranking out little junior high geniuses left and right. And then those little geniuses would be joining Doctors Without Borders and would be dropping aid packages into Haiti, and maybe even eradicate elephant and big cat poaching… and send me letters of how I inspired them, of course.

Anyways, when you’re in the teaching programs, they warn you that more than half of all teachers burn out in the first five years. What?! After a 25 thousand dollar loan has accumulated? You’d have to be crazy to do such a thing! With student loans to pay, those great summer vacations, and all that awesome genius-grooming to be done…..
But they were totally right. It’s actually pretty darn tough. And you know why? - The Parents.

That’s right. It only takes one or two parents a semester to make you wonder what the heck you are doing. I’ll never forget my first big (WTF!?) moment. It was my first year of teaching at a high school out in the boonies. I was 22 and most of my students were 17. We had a high dropout rate, little parent support, and some major issues going on with fighting, gangs, and racial tension. Good stuff. Who would’ve thought that stuff happens in the boonies? Anyways, don’t go into teaching high school unless you have a major backbone and nerves of steel. I remember having one dude throw a bag of chips across the room. When I asked him to pick it up and not do that again, he stood up, puffed his chest into my face and said, “F—k You.” Well, now. No one taught me what to do in THIS situation. So I sent him to the office, and emailed them that I wanted a behavior contract before he could come back. (this hadn’t been his first offense. Just the worst.) So the office tracked down my errant little puppy dog with our in-school police officer (because of course he hadn’t gone to the office) and we set up a meeting with his grandpa/guardian. When grandpa showed up, I was instantly uncomfortable. I walked into the meeting and saw that the vice principal, the student, and the grandpa were all on one side of this huge table. I was alone on the other side. I know it’s just furniture arrangement, but it seemed to set a major vibe to the meeting. When I was outlining the behavior and how it made me feel physically threatened, as well as disrupted the learning for my whole classroom, grandpa started in on me. He was swearing, telling me I was full of it, imagining things, that I had no reason to be afraid – I’m just a “stupid female.” Super guy to have a meeting with. The vice principal just sat there without saying a thing. Well, since I was feeling pretty much barraged and defenseless and shocked completely out of my idealistic bubble, I excused myself a mere fraction of a second before I burst into tears. There was NO WAY I was going to cry in front of that guy. Once I started, I couldn’t stop the flood. I bawled my eyes out for the rest of my prep period before going back to my class. I guess the vice principal took care of the rest of our productive and polite little meeting. Well, to cap off that story, my little angel student always insisted I was his favorite teacher, as did most of my little hoodlums, but this one was arrested for armed assault a few weeks later and finished out the year in juvey. NOW who’s imagining things, huh grandpa?

Anyhow, it’s usually not that dramatic. Most obnoxious parents arrive in the form of clueless emails after miscommunication from their kiddos. Such as “Junior said you never gave him the requirements for the big project that’s due tomorrow…” when reality is that you’ve been working on it in class for 2 weeks and have had multiple individual conferences and had parents sign the rubric before the work even began… Or “My son says you defined the word ‘Buddhism,’ and since you said the word in a public institution I want you punished, fired, tarred and feathered for mentioning a religion that I’m violently opposed to” even though the truth of the matter is that we’re studying East Asia and the characters in our novel are Buddhist and not a single student knows what the heck the word means, let alone that it’s a religion until I give a simple, unbiased definition and brief history…
Or, my favorite: “My daughter says you don’t like her, and that’s why she was given a detention,” when in fact, little Sally was drawing the F word on a desk in permanent marker and then stole a cell phone from her neighbor during passing period….And don’t even get me started about the parents that think there is nothing WRONG with that.
What happens is this – Even if you know you’re a STINKING AWESOME teacher, you start to feel caught up in the little things and freak out about the fact that random members of the community might not like you just because their kiddo got an F on an open-book test about the Friggin Continents and Oceans. And then they might tell their friends.. and then whole pockets of the community might think you’re a nazi when you’re really all about saving the world and spend tons of time being “Super Teacher” and they just don’t know because they see the world (or just the school) through the eyes and interpretations of their 13 YEAR OLD kid.

Wow. And now you all think I’m an angry teacher. Perhaps bitter, even. Nope. Just telling it like it is maybe once every couple of months. So, moral of the story – be nice to teachers. They’re people too. And chances are, they became teachers to save the world, just like I did. Chances are, these are the people who have endless staff meetings about recognizing and ending bullying, about meeting the needs of all of our unique learners, closing gender and economic gaps, inspiring life-long-learning, preparing your kiddos for the future, teaching tolerance, etc, etc, etc. All this on top of latitude and longitude.
So when it comes to our collective future, we teachers have your backs. Do you have ours?


Lacey said...

I'm glad you're a teacher, it sounds like a perfect calling! I would never have the nerves for that, haha.

Happy Halloween!

Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

This post is amazing and awesome. There are stories like that for all us teachers.

What I find sad is that 95% of mystudents have hard working parents who expect their kids to do the right thing. And these parents have no idea how the 5% freaks run the show withtheir bullying and threats of lawsuits.

Last year I had a mom verbally abuse me and threaten me physically in a meeting while my VP sat there stunned. I said, "excuse me, this meeting isn't very productive and I don't allow ANYONE to talk to me like that." Then I walked out. The VP is a nice guy and later apologized for not stepping up. Meanwhile, the mom is still crazy, the girl is a handful as a senior, and two teachers after me put TRO's on the mom....

Yeah, not what we signed up for.

Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

Hope you don't mind... I liked this so much I featured you in the side bar features at my place.

MommyAmy said...

Yup! I started out as an Ed. major and switched to Communications because I couldn't take it. Teachers are awesome!! And seriously underpaid for what they do.

foxy said...

I don't know how you do it. I'd never be strong enough for that. It definitely takes a special person to take on that job... and with such sincere motivation to 'save the world'. Cheers to you today, sista!

p.s. YES - i totally stole the idea for that baby hat from the photo of your nephew! I googled the description and actually found the pattern. So, please tell your mom thanks for such a great idea! :)

Beth said...

Well said! I especially like the ending. Maybe because I work in education, but I don't think you sound angry or bitter in the least. Just honest.

Glad to have foung your blog!