Friday, August 28, 2015

Battling with Teachers - Strike Hard or Surrender?

Ahhh the first day of school. It's that time of year again. Things are a bit different in our home this year. I've officially been out of the corporate working environment for one full year (hallelujah!). My youngest, and last child ever, is going to preschool (I only cried for a few hours). And my big girl, my 4th grader, finally has a new teacher.

Last year, my eldest baby girl wound up in the classroom of a very new, very inexperienced young woman. Now I consider myself a young mom...I was blessedly knocked up when I was 21 for crying out loud....so it's rare for me to walk into my kid's classroom and feel like the oldest person in the room. Last year, however, on Meet the Teacher day, I definitely found myself wondering if this woman had ever even heard of Bone Thugs n' Harmony. Prolly not. Her hip hop knowledge base likely began with Lil Wayne and Rhianna.

I knew right then and there things were going to be off.

And they were. Boy, were they ever.

Now my kid can be loud and boisterous when excited, but is also extremely introverted and terrified of authority. She is also, and this isn't proud mama talking, extraordinarily smart. She was reading at a 5th grade level in first grade, people. The kid is smarter than me. Which should be awesome, right? Teachers typically eat that stuff up, right?

Not this one. No, her 3rd grade teacher chose to focus on my kid's biggest weakness....her social ineptitude. My lovely firstborn struggles deeply with relating to and understanding other kids. Her teachers up until last year had been wonderful - coaching her through her interactions with other kids, helping her focus on her education and studies, redirecting her when she became bored in class. Her 2nd grade teacher actually referred her to a special advanced program for 3rd graders and beyond - it allows kids with above-average learning skills to join other like-minded kids in separate classes for math and language arts. It was a godsend. My kid came home spouting sonnets about her advanced classes. She was challenged and excelled. Her two advanced class teachers praised her regularly and provided me with positive feedback during parent teacher conferences. "She is wonderful, and very, very bright." I could've cried I was so happy.

Can't say the same, however, about the feedback from her 3rd grade homeroom teacher. I received phone calls about my kid "bullying" other children and refusing to listen in class. My angel baby received referral after referral after referral for behavioral issues. In the beginning, I attempted to work with my kid on her "problems." I didn't know the teacher and gave her the benefit of the doubt in those first few months. I thought she was honestly looking out for the well-being of my child and believed her when she said my kid was indeed being a bully.

But then I started to wonder. I'd ask my daughter to break down her interactions with her classmates and the teacher. I spoke to my kid's other teachers (she had 3, after all, and that's not including her art, music, and PE teacher). No one else encountered any problems with her behavior. And these "bully" instances? Well, the worst of them, the one that was escalated into a full-blown "she could be suspended for this type of behavior," consisted of my kid drawing a picture of an animal with it's tongue out and crazy hair and big teeth and a caption that said, "*insert student name* is crazy."

Now, I did coach her on how that could be interpreted as negative by the child she'd named. I told her she needed to be careful about what she said, did, or wrote about other children. But did I ground her? No. Did I think she needed anti-bully intervention? No. Did I think her homeroom teacher, who called me and talked in her serious voice to deliver what she considered outlandishly terrible news, overreact and step out of bounds? Absolutely, I thought so.

You see, as I continued to speak with my kid about what she'd done I learned she'd drawn the picture at the request of a group of kids who were drawing everyone in their classroom as animals. Also, in our house the word "crazy" is a good thing. I was voted Most Crazy in high school, as a matter of fact.

I get it. How could the teacher know that? Nobody knows what goes on behind closed doors...which is why I would've expected the teacher to, at the very least, ask. Use a little common sense. I was deeply pissed about the quick-draw accusations and not giving my kid a chance to explain. This teacher had blacklisted my kid as a bully and it was affecting my kid's ability to learn. She would come home crying, leave worried, and get "stomach aches" all the time. This, from a kid who loved school and learning and books and teachers. But could I blame her? During one of my phone conferences with this woman, the teacher explicitly told me she'd heard "other" teachers talking about my kid and they all agreed, my kid was a bully. She was "viewed as a bully throughout the faculty," and this teacher "just hated to see that happen to someone as bright as" my daughter. I was floored. Teachers were standing around the water cooler talking shit about my 8-year-old kid? Who's the bully here?

Eventually, communication with this teacher disintegrated into highly emotional screaming matches, with me doing most....ok all....of the screaming.

"Stop referring to my kid as a bully, lady!"

"She looks up to you and you say things like that about her? And you wonder why she doesn't listen?"

"Do your teacher buddies know you're telling parents what they say during their lunch break?"

"Maybe if her teacher didn't label her as a bad person, she wouldn't be acting like one!"

Oh I went nutters. I was not nice. I did not respect this lady. But I kept my kid in her class. And the school year ended with my kid saying for the first time in her life that she never wanted to go back to school. And I absolutely despised this teacher and wanted nothing more than to stomp in there and tell administration everything this stupid lady had told me. I wanted her fired. I wanted her head on a platter for me to send on over to whatever craptastic facility she graduated from so all the other jerks-in-training could see what happened when bad teachers did bad things.

But of course I did none of that. I smiled and got excited for the new school year and now it's upon us and my kid has a new teacher and we're both looking forward, hoping for the best.

Because I don't know what the right answer is. You see, people are people - imperfect and flawed. There are people who excel at their jobs, like my mom and dad in-law, both retired teachers who rocked the educational pathways of the youth placed in their care, and then there are people who suck at their jobs, like my kid's 3rd grade teacher, who knew neither what she was doing nor where her boundaries existed.


As parents we can go nuts, like I eventually did. I mean, I could've taken it to the next level, and the next, and possibly gotten her into some serious trouble with her boss. It's the mama claws. The urge to fight, to defend, to strike hard against anyone who in any way harms your kid.

But then there's the flip side. Reality isn't nice. Real-life can be a bitch. I know I've worked for people that didn't like me. I've worked for people who weren't fair, or nice, or even knowledgeable. And I worked there anyways, often because I needed the money. That's adulthood in corporate America right there. It's not fun, but it's real. And the sooner I can teach my kid to understand her self-worth and abilities are in no way dependent on what another person says, does, or thinks, the better.

So part of me is glad I chose a middle ground. I struck hard and gave that teacher hell near the end....but I also surrendered my kid to a real-life learning experience. And now that she's experienced it, this mama's dang sure it won't be happening again ;) Here's to a new school year! And thank you to the teachers who view their kids with new eyes each morning. You are a shining majority that reins supreme over the few bad apples every profession is forced to claim.

What about you guys? How do you feel about fighting teachers? Ever had a bad teacher yourself? They seem to stick with you, don't they? I'd love to hear about it in the comments down below and as always, thank you so much for reading :)

Jen

8 comments:

  1. I was a shy introverted kid. If a teacher would have called me a bully it would have put me over the top. I hope things work out better this year. Can you request she be put in the more advanced classes? That may help.

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    1. Hey Savvy - I know! I was the same way when I was younger and I couldn't even imagine how terrible I would've felt to be called names by my teacher. And totally, she is in the advanced classes, they do a kind of blend where she has her homeroom teacher, advanced English, and then advanced math in three separate classes. Last year those two advanced classes were her only saving grace! Thank gosh for good teachers like the two specials instructors they appoint over the advanced classes!

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  2. You know what my favorite answer to the education problem is. :) I was similar to your daughter academically--I read books like "Little Women" and "Tom Sawyer" and "Anne of Green Gables" when I was 5 and 6...it was a very long time before I realized how weird that was. I'm so grateful that I was allowed to learn to my skill level and interests and abilities--even in college, I would get frustrated by how much class time was wasted on inane questions and information that could be so easily learned if everyone else would spend a few minutes reading the textbook. College was good for me, because being able to deal with the seemingly slower mental processes of the rest of the world graciously is a needed social skill, and, strangely enough, I've found in myself a talent for patient teaching and being able to identify how different students need to learn. Teaching is so much fun for me (something that I find very surprising, as it's not a career I ever envisioned being a part of)...but learning with people is not fun.

    The quality of lack of quality in a teacher makes such a difference. I had some amazing professors in college, brilliant people with interesting personalities who cared about their students...and I had some who simply enjoyed the power of being able to manipulate people and make their students fear them due to the threat of lower grades. I'm sure the same variety is present in 1st-12th schools. My own mom has a bit of the mama bear about her. I think I mentioned the story before on my blog--my brother has 50% hearing loss, he can hear...but not with a lot of clarity. His school said he could have a guaranteed front row seat in order to hear without background noise from other students, and he could tape record all lectures in order to play them back. Freshman year of college, one of the profs wouldn't let him take the measures he needed in order to hear and comprehend the lectures (the biggest thing was that he didn't allow recording of lectures), even though my brother brought him the letter of permission from the college, even though it was the college's official policy. Yeah, you can expect that something like that gets the WHOLE family riled up, not just mama bear. My grandpa went in and introduced himself as Isaac's lawyer (true, since he does all the legal work for our family as well as the rest of his clients)...end of the story was that the prof was taken off of that class and a new prof took it up a couple weeks in. Maybe that was a little harsh, but you don't want your own littles treated unjustly, you know?

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    1. Rach I love your story and it gives me so much hope that my big girl will find her place in this world. It sounds like you and her would've been two peas in a pod had you been school-aged at the same time and I love that an element of school that seemed to be a barrier (slow-paced, time-wasted classes) became a motivating factor behind your career choice. Almost like the negative accentuated your positive traits and made it possible for you to realize them. Pretty rad and inspiring!!

      I also love your story about your brother's professor (which I mustive missed on your blog because I read your comment through the email comment notification while I was on my phone in the store and literally gasped!). I truly do believe you are always going to find that one person who ruins it for everybody, be it a teacher or a peer or a stranger on the street. It's harder when that happens in a classroom environment because the very nature of attending class is to learn - and if you can't learn common sense (like allowing someone with hearing loss to actually get something out of a class) then I absolutely think the class might not be even worth your time. It's a lot to expect from people who are by nature imperfect but when you sit down and think about it, there is a higher standard to these positions, standards that most teachers reach with ease and willingness, and I think when those standards aren't met it absolutely warrants replacement!

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  3. WOW sounds like an awful experience. You couldn't move to a different teacher? We are lucky to have had awesome teachers so far. This year I'm not so sure but sounds like yours had major issues. Have you had her tested for gifted? Maybe she is bored? Cheers to a new school year!

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    1. I could've moved her, but by the time I realized she was a bit of a dingbat we were already more than halfway through the school year and I didn't want my kid to think it was ok to give up because someone was acting like a jerk. Eh...it's a decision I still struggle with!! Luckily this year's teacher is looking to be much better!

      There are private places that can test for gifted abilities and stuff but we've only done the standardized tests available through the school. She rocks them every time, which is awesome, but yes, it means she is super bored in her homeroom class. Luckily she has those advanced language arts and math classes to fall back on! They are seriously her saving grace!

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  4. Oh man. That would be tough. So far we've been lucky and have had good teachers. If something like this came out, I'd try to communicate politely--but if I felt there weren't proper changes, I'd probably request a teacher change.

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    1. Sound advice for sure. I struggled with my decision to leave her in the class and now that it's said and done, I try and move past it....but mark my words, if this happens again, that's it. No more waiting for administration to figure out they hired a bad apple. I'm definitely not going to let her have another bad teacher while in elementary school.

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