Saturday, April 04, 2009

WAG #6: Overheard

She's back! (Don't get too excited... don't know how long it'll last.)

This weeks assignment: Another people-watching exercise this week! This time, let’s listen! Choose a stranger and do your best to overhear what they say, and then write it down. It can be on the phone, to someone else, or even them talking to themselves. What does their voice, word choice, or tone tell you about them? Feel free to write their exact words OR write it as you would for fictional dialogue. By now you guys know the rules aren’t what’s important, but the experience!

I'm kind of cheating. I hadn't read the assignment for this week (since I'd slacked off for two weeks, it was depressing to read others' stuff), but I overheard a good conversation this morning. After reading the assignment, I'm going to do my best from memory.

Today is parent conference day. Not for our students, but for our homeroom kids; we're discussing next year's schedule and blah-blah. Not the most fun way to spend your Saturday, but I'm getting paid. And, as you can see, there is a lot of free time.

The teacher next to me had a conference right after my first left. I was catching up on Twitter, but my ears perked up when I heard her say, "First, Student, I have a question for you. Why didn't you go to the office yesterday when I sent you?"

Wow. This was much more involved than I was planning on being with any of my students. (Honestly, half of them? I don't know their names.)

I didn't eavesdrop on the whole conversation, but the father's voice drifted from her table to mine several times. I liked the dad's voice -- it was firm, no-nonsense, tough.

"You call her Ms. Teacher, not 'her.' Her name is Ms. Teacher. She's not one of your friends, one of those girls you hang out with -- you don't talk about her that way. She's your teacher. You talk to her with respect."

I wish I could remember the other things he said. He laid down the law -- what the teacher says, goes. Period, end of story.

I liked hearing him talk to his son with respect, but a firm hand. The father was not going over the top, making grand, sweeping statements and announcing unreasonable expectations. This did not come across as a show for the benefit of the teacher -- the "I've neglected your discipline for years, but NOW we're going to make some serious changes, YOU HEAR ME?" chest-beating rant. He also wasn't boasting abuse: "Ms. Teacher is going to email me every week and let me know if you're behaving or not. And if you are not behaving, if she says you do one thing wrong in class, if you forget to say, 'Bless you' when she sneezes, you know what's going to happen, don't you? Yeah, you know. You're not going to be able to sit down for a week. Don't worry, Ms. Teacher, I'll make sure this never happens again."

He wasn't like that. I believed this dad. This wasn't a show, this was parenting.

But he still made me think of all the other times I've sat through a parent chewing his kid out just for my (the teacher's) benefit. The times when the parent has let me know that things are going to change, because he's going to beat the kid if he misbehaves again. And how much the parent values education, and how hard teachers work, and how teachers need to be respected... and then nothing changes. The kid acts the same way, gets the same grades, and the parent never follows up. Because the parent said all those things to look good, but he takes the kid's side at home. And, directly, indirectly, consciously, unconsciously, the parent teaches the kid that teachers do not need to be respected. That they are inconsequential. If the teacher doesn't do what we say, we just go over her head.

I don't know if you can tell, but I had a very unpleasant conversation with a very unpleasant mother before I wrote that paragraph. So the post I originally sat down to write, about the parent at the table next to me, kind of went away after the mother at my table had her say. This was several hours ago, and it's still with me. Every other conversation I have had today with a parent has been pleasant. The mother waiting to speak to me while the other woman chewed me out was very sweet to me. But none of those exchanges are going to stay with me; the unpleasant mother, and her unpleasant child, are what are going to stay with me.

I have an hour and 45 minutes before I can go home.

I hope I don't have any horrid typos in this post, because I'm not in the mood to reread (because I'll edit too much). So, there is it. Nekkid.


  1. Uhm yeah, I hear you. But making her get her way by keeping it with you isn't going to do you any good. Focus on the nice mother and the decent father. And hope that a good example.... [I hate how expressions never translate literally]. Setting a good example comes close. Let's hope more parents follow their example.

    Btw, isn't this no-editing-month anyway?

    Have a good rest-of-the-weekend!

    PS. Don't forget to fill that prescription.

  2. Because I so often feel the need to play Devil's Advocate, I will say this in defence of those parents-- most of the time they're probably not spouting that stuff JUST to show off to you, nor are they probably then deciding to take the kid's side when they're at home. At least not consciously. What's more likely happening is that those parents have every intention to teach their kids right, and to get them to respect their teachers and school in general... they just don't have the time/energy/motivation, for whatever reasons, to actually fight that battle day-in and day-out when at home. (I see this already, when I decide I will NOT let Donovan walk around holding sharp things b/c he'll poke his eye out, but then realize that fighting that battle would involve lots of work on my part and lots of tears and fits on his, and so now he often walks around holding wooden clothespins and our keys with the pointy side up, because apparently he wants to look like a pirate and wear an eye patch by the time he's 5.)

    It doesn't help that the values they're trying to teach their children by the time they get to you (high school) are too late in coming, they needed to have been taught from early elementary and continued through, and by now it's too late as teens are more motivated by their friends than parents anyway and so the parent's control over the teen's actions is much smaller than it was when s/he was younger.

    Not trying to excuse their behavior or the bad example they set for their kids, just trying to give a little perspective on what might be going on and how it might not be malicious... at least not actively. ; )

  3. Marcy, I see what you mean. And I need to remember that I'm not a parent, and I don't know what it's like.

    But I think what bothers me is the show -- when you tell yourself you're not going to let D walk around with sharp objects, you don't make a big point of proclaiming it, telling people how it's going to be, and swearing that you will never, ever, let him do that again -- and that if he tries, there will be serious consequences. (It also bugs me that I, the teacher, need to email the parent if Johnny fails to turn in an assignment. Why can't the parent check Johnny's grades online, and see for himself if Johnny's turning in his work? I'm not going to know if Johnny turned in the assignment until I sit down to grade it, and as soon as I grade it I'll enter the grades in the gradebook, which automatically posts them online for the parent to see. Why is it my responsibility to keep up with someone else's kid? I didn't choose to birth him. I have 174 students -- how many children does each parent have? If you're going to do your job, parent, then do your job. Don't make me tell you when to do it.)

    Either way, though, in 9 weeks I won't have to mess with this again. I just need to let it roll off my back until then.

    *inhales deeply*exhales deeply*repeats*

  4. See, this just reminds me why parent-teacher days are so hard! I always feel like I'm being sized up and judged more than my son's school work! LOL

  5. @Nixy: True, both parents and teachers enter these things with their defenses up, ready to be challenged and criticized. A bad situation all around.

    Then again, I got an email today from my department chair informing me of what a parent had said about me -- put words in my mouth, misrepresented what I said, and flat-out lied. And this was from a parent with whom I thought I'd had a pleasant meeting.

  6. As a former high school teacher I feel for you. By coincidence, my WAG also takes place in a school.

  7. As you were describing the things he wasn't saying I thought to myself, yeah, but I bet she's heard all that stuff before from other parents or she wouldn't be telling us what he wasn't saying. (How's that for a run-on sentence?) Then sure enough - bam! There it is. I feel for you.

    Our parent teacher conferences have always been so amenable. But I know not all go that way. The teachers usually tell us it's the kids whose parents that don't show up that they really need to talk to.

    You say in nine weeks you won't have to deal with this anymore. Are you leaving the teaching profession, or just looking forward to summer vacation? Best of luck, either way.

  8. I think this post is thought provoking. I have many family members who are teachers who tell me the horror stories. And yet when my kids were in highschool- it felt as if the teachers all said the same thing to me- you have an genius kid here- why can't you make him get better grades? LOL

    It's tough when said kid has decided "you can't make him."

    I finally accepted that he is who he is and no finger pointing would change that.

    Thanks for sharing!