Thursday, September 8, 2011

In Defense of Teachers

My last "education" post was a little rough on the public school system -- the  system, mind you -- so I want to state here that my sympathies are solidly with the beleaguered teacher in the classroom. I know there are the slugs and the incompetents, the ones in it for the retirement, the ones who give easy grades, the ones in New York City's "rubber rooms."  But I'm convinced the majority of teachers out there (in all types of schools) are in the classroom for two reasons:  either they love teaching or they love kids. Or both.
I read this article today -- What Teachers Really Want to Tell Parents.  It's a good, honest, straight-talking essay about the struggles teachers face with parents. We teachers know that the kids can be a pain, and your administrator may be a real pain, but it's the parents who make you want to quit your job. Think about it: kids are supposed to be difficult to train. That's why they need training. And one's boss is supposed to be tedious and hard-to-please; we expect that. But for a total stranger to come stomping into your workplace, begin screaming at you, and threaten to ruin your life, just because her precious darling got a bad grade, or was caught being dishonest, or was reprimanded in class (take your pick of kid misbehavior) -- at the end of a day of dealing with 87 high schoolers, there is no pay or retirement that makes such abuse worth it.

And yes, that scenario has happened to me. More than once.
Best quotes from the article? #1, from a quitting principal, "Look, if I get an offer to lead a school system of orphans, I will be all over it, but I just can't deal with parents anymore; they are killing us."

#2, "We are educated professionals who work with kids every day and often see your child in a different light than you do. If we give you advice, don't fight it. Take it, and digest it in the same way you would consider advice from a doctor or lawyer." Oh, AMEN!! I've had parents treat me like I was a rank beginner, a 14 year old babysitter, an idiot who knew nothing about teaching, kids, or literature. All I could think of was how thankful I was that the unteachable parent wasn't in my classroom, along with his kid.

#3, "One of my biggest pet peeves is when I tell a mom something her son did and she turns, looks at him and asks, "Is that true?" Well, of course it's true. I just told you." Oh ugh! I've seen this happen to a friend. The parent simply could not accept that her (deceptive, sneaky) teen son could possibly lie. Her brilliant deduction? An adult woman is lying about his behavior for no reason, and to no advantage to herself. Sure.
Contemporary math teachers are more hip than this.
I love the whole scenario about the summer reading assignments. I've experienced that also. Sigh. What part of the barnyard did that mom think I was born in?

#4, "If you don't want your child to end up 25 and jobless, sitting on your couch eating potato chips, then stop making excuses for why they aren't succeeding." Yes. Yes and yes.
#5, "The truth is, a lot of times it's the bad teachers who give the easiest grades, because they know by giving good grades everyone will leave them alone." Uh huh. The teachers everybody loves, the easy ones, the sweet ones. But they don't always do what they should be doing:  teaching. They are palling around, gabbing, being great friends with your kid. But in case you didn't notice, your kid doesn't need more friends (he has 798 on facebook). He needs a couple of great teachers who will challenge him to stretch himself academically, and maybe even stretch his character.

#6, "Finally, deal with negative situations in a professional manner." Please don't treat my classroom, which is my professional space, like it's your bedroom at home, a place to hash out unpleasant personal oddities in your family.

I have four children.  I've also been on the "parent" end of the situation. My kids have had incompetent teachers, unfair teachers, mean teachers, lazy teachers. I usually sigh and tell my child that it will only last a semester, or a year. Sometimes it's a bigger deal. But unless the problem comes seeking me out, I try to encourage my kids to talk with the teacher and work it out.

One year, my son had a teacher who (I think) truly hated him. But I knew that my son could also be extremely difficult, rude, and disrespectful in the classroom, especially to teachers he views as incompetent. He has no respect for them. We tried to discourage this attitude (he's getting better), but it's tough for a bright teenager to respect a dense adult. While he was gone one class period, volunteering at a school production, she gave a test. He didn't know he'd missed it, and by the time he found out, he wasn't about to ask her. Their relationship was too damaged. He let it pass. It dropped his course average from somewhere in the upper 90s, to a 79.

I let it pass. Later, when discussing the school with a friend's daughter (who is now about 24), she guessed immediately who the teacher was, and declared that she has always been a horrible teacher, none of the kids respect her, she struggles every year as they insult and deride her. She's been that way for many years. Her class is a waste. Perhaps my son's experience wasn't so unusual after all. Should parents complain? Perhaps. Does she deserve to be teaching? No. Is she damaging young people? Definitely.

But the character lesson to my son may be valuable. Because some kids face their own weaknesses when they go to school, and they fail the character test. But others face a teacher's weakness, or a friend's weakness, and those character tests are important too. Kids face enough struggles as it is; parents and teachers don't need to add to their burden by bringing their own pettiness to the situation.

Another advantage for homeschooling?  Absolutely no teacher/parent troubles. After 10 years of classroom teaching, I'm thankful for that every day.

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