Saturday, October 16, 2010

Why Teachers Leave Our Profession: Parents

“Why did my daughter get in trouble for needing to go to the bathroom?” asked the angry voice on the other side of the phone.  We had no salutation, no small talk, no wishes for a pleasant start to one another’s day.  We had my self-identification, then her accusation-question.

“Do you believe that your daughter got in trouble for needing to go to the bathroom?” I replied.

“That is what she told me!” she shouted.  Coming through the line, I could imagine hearing her own stories from the first eighteen years of her life.  I knew from her daughter that mom was a former student at the very continuation high school now attended by her daughter, the topic of our conversation.  I could feel the weight of her experiences with public schools.  They were not places of learning.  They were not places of curiosity, or investigation.  For her, they had been places where conformity and obedience were the values of the institution.  For her, they had been places were punishments and rewards were used to cajole and force children into compliance.  For her, they were places where nails that stuck out were hammered down.  I could hear her frustration, anger and fear.  Her daughter was now the latest victim of that same system.  Teachers and principals were now unfairly picking on her daughter.  For crying our loud, she had only needed to go to the bathroom.

“I believe that is what she told you.” I replied, the smile on my face reflected in my tone.  “That wasn’t my question.  My questions was, ‘Do you believe your daughter when she tells you that she got into trouble for needing to go to the bathroom?’.”  This question caused a long pause and the parent reflected on her question, her daughter’s claim, and the lack of logic therein.

“Well, what is your side of the story?” she asked.

“Your daughter came into class ten minutes late, chatting with a friend of hers who is not enrolled in my class.” I began.  “It took me another five minutes to get the friend out of class and heading back to her own.  As soon as the friend left, your daughter shouted, ‘I need to go to the bathroom!’  Frankly, I didn’t believe her, but hey, coincidence happens, so I said, ‘Wait five minutes for your friend to find her way back to her class, then you can go to the bathroom.’  You daughter then stormed out of class, slamming the door behind her.  This is why she is in trouble.”

“She didn’t tell me any of that.”

“I believe you when you say she didn’t.”

Parents love their children.  They will protect them with all of the ferocity of a mama bear protects her cub.  This is the right and natural order of things.  Teachers who do not already know this, will learn it soon.

Children lie.  Frankly, we all do, but children want to have fun and, when caught, they would like to avoid trouble.  Getting away with a lie is a wonderful way to avoid trouble.  Teachers and parents who don't know this, need to learn it.  Like yesterday!

I’ve been really blessed with all of the wonderful parents whom I am in contact with at Skyline High School.  I think our Advisory system is a contributing factor in that.  Instead of feeling responsible for all one-hundred and thirty children I teach in a day, I, their English, biology, and math teachers all share the one-hundred-thirty and we each take responsibility to mentor about thirty-five of them.  Since I only have thirty-five families to call and talk to, I have the time to actually build relationships with my children’s’ parents before there is trouble.

But I have heard stories…  The story above, where mom believed her daughter’s story is not unusual.  Our school has plenty of children who are experiencing their own personal wars against conformity, butting heads with teachers and administration.  Many of these children have parents who butted heads with teachers and vice principals in their own days.   I’ve heard plenty of stories of parents who readily believe any lie their children tell them; who think that teachers are “out to get” their children, just like they were “out to get” them a generation ago.

I have heard stories of parents badgering and bullying teachers until a grade was changed or a consequence for behavior dropped.  I heard of parents, grown adults, charging into classrooms looking to fight the 14 year old child who was bullying their baby.

I seen parents come to school high, to defend their child’s use of marijuana. 

Perhaps the saddest, were the parents who made their child re-enroll in school every four months or so, to stave off the cancellation of their SSI check.  After three or four days of attendance, the child would disappear and the parents would be unresponsive to our efforts to contact them.  We wouldn’t see them for four months or so, when the SSI was threatened again.

Let me be crystal clear about this:  90% of the parents I have had contact with over the past 14 years are WONDERFUL!  They are looking out for their child and realize that the teachers are too.

But that 10%...  they can drive me crazy, and at the end of the day, when I’m telling stories, it’s the 10% who seem to take up all my time.

Tune in tomorrow, when our intrepid teacher takes on his own colleagues.....