Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Mama Bear Checks in

Thank you all for your helpful and supportive comments and emails last week in response to this post. I am taking a moment during this week's blog hiatus to fill you in after today's parent-teacher conference.

So, we walked in this morning and I immediately grabbed Baxter's teacher by the shoulders. Talking as loudly as she does, I demanded, "Why do you have such a big freaking mouth?? Please think before you speak in the future, and DO NOT talk about your students to other parents!!"

Okay, okay, that was only one of my middle-of-the-night fantasies.

Instead, we participated in the conference like reasonable human beings. I was very pleased with Baxter's progress in the 1st quarter and it was clear that his teacher sees the same strengths and challenges that we see. Despite the fact that he's so young, he is at or above grade level in all areas and has earned a "Good Citizenship" award for being an all-around good guy, as he has every quarter at this school. We pointedly asked about his behavior and attention and were told that everything is fine. I stand by my opinion that she is, in fact, an excellent teacher.

After this glowing report, I - as calmly as I could - explained that I had been quite worried about what she was going to tell us today, given what she was saying last week to another parent during the Halloween celebration. I helped her to recall that the younger children in her class are making it "very difficult for [her] to teach" and "stare at [her] with open mouths when given directions". Ahem.

I watched as her understanding of this mistake unfolded, and she managed to apologize as profusely as we (and our child) deserved. To her credit, as soon as she saw this through our eyes she understood what was problematic about it and was properly mortified. I pointed out that next week, when the other mother's child comes home and says, "It was Baxter's birthday! And Mom - he just turned seven today!", the other mother will immediately connect my son with the image of a child who is struggling to get by in 2nd grade and is detracting from her own daughter's education by making things so very difficult for the teacher. All of which is untrue and unfair to my child. Furthermore, I pointed out that this conversation had taken place not with the principal or another teacher, but with another parent, and that this was inappropriate. I politely but strongly recommended to her that she have another conversation with that other parent and correct herself. She agreed to do so.

We left the room, congratulating ourselves. After all, we were done, right?

Sadly, not really. Although I am certainly relieved to have gotten this off my chest, I am not entirely satisfied. As I see it, there was a whole lot more that needed to be discussed but couldn't possibly be covered since we'd already gone over our alloted 10 minutes and another family was waiting. (Yes: only ten minutes. Another insult of modern education in Illinois and California!)

For one thing, I feel very uncomfortable with the fact that I played the card of Baxter's actual high performance in this scenario, as if that mattered. The truth is, that actually has nothing to do with it. I knew it would help her to understand our point of view as quickly as possible, but let's say that he did have trouble processing information or paying attention in class. I spend many hours a week with perfectly lovely and delightful children who have those very challenges, and I am a strong advocate for them in these types of situations. If my child were having those difficulties, I'd be even more upset about it because of the deep breach in confidentiality and privacy, not to mention discrimination. The point I wanted to make was that her words were a complete and utter insult to any children in her class who might be struggling with anything - that's part of teaching and she needs to be able to deal with whatever skill range she is given. Sure, it's a hard job - so teachers need to talk to other teachers and their principal about how to do it. Not other parents.

Secondly, I would like to have spent a good chunk of time making it clear that we don't all share her educational values. That is, that although she stated (to the mother of an older second grader) that she would prefer her child be "the oldest and smartest" in his class, these two characteristics are not on our top ten list of things important to us for our kids' education. It's not all about "smart" in my book, and for God's sake, someone has to be the youngest. Might as well be my kid. Who cares?! That's a post for another day.

But in the end, I'd say there's a teacher out there who is feeling acutely embarrassed about her behavior. I for one think that is most appropriate, and am happy to have at least part of this burden off my shoulders.


Becky said...

Well, what's to say, if not "snaps!"

Sounds like you handled yourself very well. I hope to be as articulate and thought out when approaching similar issues with Anya's education.

I really appreciate your point that the teacher's comments were inapproriate regardless of B's ability/achievements. But don't be hard on yourself. Given the time constraints, you had to set the record straight for B, not every other kid out there.

kristen said...

I will only say, thank god for parents like you. Parents, who not only are worried and concerned that their own children get a fair turn, but that all children get a fair turn.

You did good, Jordan.

Lori at Spinning Yellow said...

Yes, many snaps to you, Jordan! Very well done. This is a large issue and you could only tackle so much in the time given.

Don't teachers have to take courses in tolerance and ethics?

Shan said...

Good for you, Jordan! I'm impressed you were so articulate and unintimidated. I think it's difficult to say what needs to be said in a calm, well-thought-out manner, especially under time constraints. (And: ten minutes?! I wonder what we get here in elementary school. For J's preschool conference, I had half an hour! For preschool! Of course, that's not public school! Probably by first grade it will be ten minutes here too.)

Anyway, yes: snaps!

Anonymous said...

Jordan -

As a lurker and a former teacher and a present teacher educator, I think that what you did was just fine. The fact that you referred back to an actual incident and allowed her to respond was really commendable, and that is evidenced by her contrite response and lack of defensive posturing. You got your point across about Baxter, and you very well might have gotten a larger point across as well.

Although I totally understand that your *real* objections are to her philosophy of teaching, or at least what she expressed about her philosophy of teaching in the part of the conversation that you overheard, I'm not sure if you, Baxter, or other students would have been well-served by you bringing that up in your conference. I just don't think that a conference about your little guy would have been the right venue for you to express such serious and fundamental concerns. In short, you would have either put her on the defensive, pissed her off, made her hate you, or all of the above.

What is a proper venue for this type of thing? Well...that's a toughie. My first impulse is, her boss' office. But that might be going a little overboard, given her measured response. You didn't relate everything you heard from her in your blog post, but you might not want to totally eliminate the possibility that it might have been a frustrated, tired, regrettable slip rather than an indication of a real belief system. Perhaps a wait-and-see attitude is best, accompanied by a little bit of innocent sleuthing among other parents about this teacher.

Susan said...

Hey Jordan. Thank you. This is, unsurprisingly, a hot button issue for me. I worry that there will always be one child, whether younger, with special needs, whatever, that throws a teacher's rhythm out of whack. And I hope that they have enough self-knowledge to try to meet all kids where they are. But I know they don't. I've been there, and I've had that kid. So don't beat yourself up about the other kids. You did the right thing for Baxter, and I hope you planted a seed in her mind about how she views the range of kids she has. That serves everyone.