Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Sep 01 2011

OTOS Parents

Over the last two years, I could count on my fingers the number of times a parent initiated contact with me. Parents would show for conferences, and they’d indulge my phone calls home, but otherwise they were more than willing to leave me to my own devices. For better or for worse, I was in charge of school things and they were in charge of home things.

This year, we actually have a bunch of parents who are On Top Of Shit. They read the newsletter, they badger the office with questions, they check their kids’ homework every night. They are empowered and feel entitled to participate in the day-to-day functioning of the school. It’s definitely not all, or even most, of the parents, but it’s enough to regularly stun me. Two examples from today alone, one good and one bad:

A girl was absent on Friday and Monday. She got the work she missed and brought it home, but couldn’t figure out how to do it. She asked her mother, who sat down to help her. The girl insisted that Mom was doing something differently than we did in class, so Mom decided to write me an email. “My daughter is confused on how to do the work. I want to help her, but she says you’re doing it a different way. Could you please send home an example with her so that we can be on the same page when I help her?”

Wait! Stop the presses! YOU want to teach your daughter the lessons she missed? The fact that she was absent doesn’t mean she’s going to permanently lose out on all that new information? All you need me to do is write you an example so that you can do my job for me in the evenings?? If my classroom were full of kids with parents like you, I wouldn’t even worry about what I did all day. I’d just send you my notes and have you do it one-on-one later. Jackpot.

But of course, there’s also the flip side to the Involved Parent…

I caught a girl in the hallway blatantly breaking a clear school rule. I called her over, and asked, “Do you know why I called you over?” She admitted to what she’d been doing. I asked, “Why were you doing that?” and she explained, with no evidence of an excuse. I said, “Do you know the consequence for what you did?” and she responded, “Detention.” I said, “Okay, I’m glad we’re clear. You have detention tomorrow.” End of conversation. Not another word from her.

As far as I know, this is pretty much a textbook case of how to administer a consequence. You let the kid admit what they did and recognize the consequence themselves. I used a completely conversational tone and was nearly whispering so her classmates wouldn’t hear. So, tell me why I deserved an email from her mother this evening, addressed to my administration and CC’d to me:

“My daughter says she got detention, but she didn’t do anything to deserve it. Her classmate was doing something wrong and there is a misunderstanding here. I imagine she did something but it’s not what you think she did.” Please note that I’m paraphrasing here to keep some privacy. The actual email included the question “How can she protect herself?” and the word “victim”.

I’m sorry, but are you calling me a liar? Are you insinuating that I don’t know how to do my job? Or are you just convinced I’m too blind to tell which kid is misbehaving? The job I get paid to do actually involves managing large groups of children, and I’ve long since learned that being seen as Unfair is the kiss of death. I can be tough, but I’ll NEVER give a consequence if I’m not sure it’s deserved. I STOOD AND WATCHED YOUR DAUGHTER MISBEHAVE UNTIL I WAS POSITIVE SHE WAS DOING IT BEFORE I EVEN WALKED OVER. This is the first consequence I’ve ever given this girl, so it’s not even like I have a history of being too harsh with her. Are you seriously going to believe an 11-year-old (frightened of getting in trouble with you) over her teacher?

Now I have to meet with my admin to Discuss The Situation, when really I’d rather be using that time to DO MY JOB.

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