Saturday, May 10, 2008

The proper way to address a teacher

The time has come for parents to start calling and e-mailing teachers with the sudden realization that their child has spent the year lying about their grade. It is also the time where teachers that deal with Seniors are now put in the situation of put-up-or-shut-up in terms of grades and graduation. Were my standards all talk, or does the diploma really mean something?

I would say that a good 70% of all parent contact is actually fairly cordial; often parents are unhappy, but more with the effort of the student. Many parents understand that the child is not putting forth the full effort and feel more frustrated about that than a teacher's grading. However, it's the 30% that end up taking up all the time and effort and eroding my patience. Today I'm here to brief parents about the correct way to address teachers, at least this teacher. Now, you might find this to be arrogant, but I think that many parents see the teacher as an obstacle in the way of the kid's success, and I'm just here to tell you that it isn't true. So here are a couple of tips:

1) I really want what is best for your kid. So you ask, "Is not graduating high school what is best for my kid"? If the child did not earn the diploma, yes it is. Trust me, they don't want to learn this lesson when it could cost them their job, their credit, or some other thing that is immensely valuable. I understand that some kids are not used to being told "no", but that isn't how the real world works. You have to work to earn something.

2) Address me as a professional. No matter what the media portrays me as, no matter what you have seen in movies, no matter what preconceptions you might have, I am a professional. What that means is that I'm taking this job very seriously, and you shouldn't think for a second that I'm not aware of the consequences of decisions. While you think that I should let up "because we are talking about kids here," I don't agree, the state government doesn't agree, the federal government doesn't agree, and society won't agree when I allow substandard students to pass my class.

3) Don't vent. Two years ago an administrator told me that you never ever walk out of a meeting with a parent. He then took me and two other teachers into a room with two parents and a child and allowed them to hammer on us (yelling and the whole deal) for 90 minutes. I will never allow that to happen again. If you call me and get in my face, I'll simply say, "we're done here." If you e-mail me with "I refuse", "I insist", or "I demand", then I'll write back with a simple "here's the situation" and be done. I don't have the time nor will I waste energy on you venting on me; I have other students to teach.

4) Understand that some problems will not have the solution that you want. In the end, the student needs to want to pass high school more than the teacher or their parents want them to. If that isn't present, I can't come a solution that results in graduation.

5) You need to understand that I am my own worst critic and therefore consider myself right almost all of the time. Yes, that sounds so, so bad. However, I think that I am a pretty good teacher and that I know what I am expecting out of my classroom. Add to that the confidence I get from past students that have come back time and again to call my class "tough, but fair". Also add to that the fact that I just spent nine months with your kid. Now top it off with the realization that I have a half dozen safety nets there for the student, and that I give students tremendous benefit of the doubt throughout the year. Like I say at the beginning of the year, "You need to work to get an A, and you need to work to get an F."

Now, I might seem petulant and stubborn, but understand that I relate the above to my classroom, not the outside world. Of course I take other variables into consideration (counselors, IEPs, reading levels, on and on...), and they are always involved in the end result. But if my boss comes to be and says, "This student is failing and won't graduate without your class. How confident are you that your choice is correct?" I'll say 100%. I'll have reviewed it over and over, looked at every possible reasoning, and I'll come to that conclusion. Sorry. The F was earned.

Parents need to understand that I really like many kids that fail my class. It sucks to have a kid work so hard until April and then collapse. It's wrenching to watch a kid participate so the 3 out of 5 days that he/she shows up in class. Do you think that I want to see kids in pain? I took this job because I care about kids!

In the end, remember that the people that are dealing with your kids really do care. Treating them like the problem will not make the problem go away, it will just make the end of the year more miserable for everyone involved. Also remember that the time to work on a kid's work habits and academic skills is not March of their Senior year, it's in Kindergarten.
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