Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Act like an adult? Or a drama queen?

"Don't let it get to you..."
"Stupid people shouldn't breed."

"You can't fix stupid."
"They just need to man-up..."

All easy to say to encourage a friend...not so easy to do when you're the one under attack. When faced with anonymous parent complaints, how does the reasonable teacher - an adult - respond? Should the principal have even brought this to the attention of said teacher? If the parent in question isn't willing to speak to the teacher, but, rather, runs tattling to the principal, how should the principal respond?

How does one act like an adult in this situation?

Some say the parent needs to put up or shut up - if you can't meet with the teacher to resolve the situation like reasonable adults, don't complain to the principal.

Some say the principal needs to inform the teacher so they don't get blind-sided by a raving parent later, after said parent has allowed themselves to be thoroughly riled up by the situation and by their child's accusations, imagined or otherwise.

Some say the principal should inform the parent that the conversation is over if they are unwilling to reason and identify themselves...and that the teacher, then, should not be bothered by the information - situation handled.

When a parent stands in the hall during parent-teacher conferences and complains to the principal about a teacher in front of other parents and teachers, and the other parents get in on it, angry-mob-style ("yeah, my kid says that, too"), what course of action should a principal take? Do they defend the teacher they know to the crowd of parents, none of whom appear to have ever met the teacher in question, let alone taken the time to get to know her or to give her the benefit of the doubt? Do they insist on taking the crowd to a room for a more private discussion? Do they inform the teacher of the semi-public incident? Reprimand, inform, or defend the teacher?

And how does a teacher go about trying to teach children when she has no idea which children - and these are 9- and 10-year-olds - are plotting the little skirmishes against her and why? Do the children truly feel wronged, threatened, disliked by the teacher or are the children upset because the teacher held them accountable for their own actions or ignored them when they thought they needed attention? When will a parent work themselves up into a big enough snit to come after the teacher? And how does the teacher in today's educational-parental-litigious-societal-PC climate deal with these people? How does the teacher reach out to rebuild bonds with children - who will someday become the leaders of society, reformers of education, role models for the next generation, and caretakers of the elderly - when she doesn't know who has the problem or what caused the student(s) to start tattling/complaining in the first place?

When the parent calls anonymously or gangs up - again, without giving names - with other parents against a teacher, is it any wonder their children also tattle on the teacher anonymously? Was that the beginning of the issue - did the child tattle on another student and the teacher didn't respond the way the child hoped? Did the child resent the loss of opportunity to gloat over the reprimand they felt the other child needed (a means of bullying by proxy)...and, in fact, was the tattler reprimanded for sticking his/her nose in where it doesn't belong?

If the child was acting up in class, the teacher would have a pretty good idea which parent complained, especially if there actually was an incident to recall. But if a parent hides behind anonymity, what does the child learn about responsibility for their own actions? They learn they can say whatever they want to get whatever they want (revenge, attention from their parents, entertainment of watching adults in combat, etc.) and hide behind their parents' anonymity. Never mind what's best for the child and what teaches the child how reasonable, responsible people behave in society, don't embarrass the parent by trying to tell them their child might actually be mistaken...wrong...lying...looking for attention... How many of us haven't known a child who thrived on watching their parents call the school out for some imagined slight on a regular basis? (Personal observation leads one to believe these are the people who have no control over anything in their own lives, so they try to exert control over something or someone else.)

Assuming the teacher is at fault and the child is completely honest, the parent refuses to identify themselves so the teacher cannot retaliate against the child. But by refusing to meet with the teacher and discuss things rationally, they have no idea if the teacher is the type who would retaliate...and they deny the teacher any opportunity to make amends, to discover if and how they are actually at fault, to improve their skills and become a more effective teacher, or to find a way to reach out to the child and continue to educate them, if, in fact, they have been able to provide them any education at all up to this point. Is this child lazy, needy, abused, learning disabled in some way? Is s/he a trouble-maker whose parents are enablers? Are these children who enjoy the conflict of playing adults against each other for their own gain? How can the teacher address the child's needs without know who the child is and what those needs are, be it discipline or individual assitance?

The retaliation excuse is a cop out, a means to remain anonymous, providing the complainant the opportunity to cause disruption and aggravation without being held accountable. But then, parents are not held accountable anymore. When a child misbehaves, it's the fault of the school for not correcting that behavior. When the school corrects bad behavior, they are at fault for picking on the child...or even for picking on the parent. When the child refuses to apply themselves and their test scores suffer, the parents blame the school for not educating the child and the state sanctions the school for not educating the student, but who monitors parental involvement in the child's success or failure or holds them accountable? When the child cannot concentrate in school and learn, the school must adjust methods and means to accomodate the child, but are the parents held accountable for allowing their children to stay up late, eat junk food, not do homework (because the parent doesn't want to have to help them and probably can't figure it out)? After all, it's the teacher's fault for assigning so much homework.

It's easy to complain about things that don't go the way we'd like, especially if we have no idea what it takes behind the scenes to accomplish the actual task at hand. Case in point: here sits the author typing away her own frustration at being denied her opportunity to defend herself and make things right between herself, her students, and their parents. Here the author could insert a rant longer than this one about the overburdening of teachers with state and federal mandates, unrealistic curricular goals, data processing required to prove student achievement (read as: "prove teacher competence")...but what good does it do? Does this quiet little blog reach anyone who could make a difference - or care to try - or am I preaching to the choir?

When the child can't perform simple math and the teacher gives them homework, the child needs to learn to accomplish the math and gain the needed skill. An unpopular but very real truth is that no skill improves without repetition and practice. Some people need more practice and some less. Some work at a faster pace and some slower. The days of reading and writing and 'rithmetic are long gone and teachers are required to teach a plethora of subjects, concepts, and skills - so much that there are not enough hours in the school day to provide the necessary practice to reinforce the concepts for the student to internalize them. Teachers need community support - parental support - in order to help children succeed, achieve, and grow into the next generation of society.

When adults no longer know how to behave like reasonable adults, can no longer allow themselves to be seen in a bad light by admitting their children might be fallible and the teacher might not be the ogre depicted, how can education continue to be effective? And what hope is there for society when the adults refuse to grow up and be responsible, continually blaming others for their own problems and mistakes rather than "manning up" and admitting their own? What hope is there for a nation of juveniles? What will it take to hold adults responsible for being role models for children - for acting like adults?

Human nature makes us all resent being called to account for our mistakes. I know I'm loud in the classroom sometimes - not always in jest - and some children are very sensitive to that. I know I need to be more aware of that tendency when I'm under stress. I also know I've been a slightly hard-of-hearing loud person with a big voice for several decades, so I have little hope I'll ever break the habit completely. But I have learned to take my principal's gentle reminders with humility and acceptance and to try not to feel resentful. Adam blamed Eve for giving him the apple - like she shoved it in his mouth and made him chew - and Eve blamed the serpent. Parents blame teachers for their methods rather than admitting they've dropped the ball somewhere in their own child's upbringing.

Likewise, human nature resents being denied the opportunity to defend oneself against accusations.

When legislation and litigation, low pay combined with the continual piling-on of responsibility without adequate support, drives all the teachers - old, new, good, mediochre, and bad - out of the profession, will the parents finally take responsibility for their children's education and behavior? Will the government finally admit they don't know everything about everything and very little about education and child rearing?

I keep coming back to the same conclusion. I don't know how people get through life without God. Thank God for the parents, colleagues, and past students who randomly remind me they appreciate my high standards and my demand they do better than "good enough." Thank God for the parents who, following the mish-mash in the hall, came to me with their own concerns for their son and discussed it with me calmly, rationally, and worked with me to build a new relationship and to start an ongoing communication to help him succeed.

Apparently I have a much more volitile temper than I was aware...(that's sarcasm there, not anger, btw). ...and I don't know if I can put up with the politics long enough to make it to retirement in this career.

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