Friday, August 15, 2008

A barbershop encounter

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I spent a full day in my classroom getting prepared for the incoming student rush that will happen on 8/25.  However, it was preceded by the annual "cut the shag off my head" event at the local barbershop.  I probably shave off about five pounds of hair off of my melon by this time of year, and at the same time cool my internal body temperature by about five degrees.  That's a relief since the really hot temps have made their appearance in the valley, around 107.  The barbershop I go to is run by two older gentlemen who do a nice, quick job on cutting the hair while engaging in delightful conversation about nothing in particular.  It's delightful and quick, no 30 minute Super Cuts hassle where the girl knows nothing about what you really want.

While in the chair, my barber asked me how the prep for school was going, at which time I told him that I was already full into preparation.  The school budget came up (as it usually does in this town), as did the need for teachers to get more money for their own classrooms.  That's about when a gentleman came in and took a seat in the chair next to me and starting chatting with the other barber.  I was silent (I don't talk much in the chair, just relax) and listened the conversation, which turned to the man's child.

"Getting ready for the school year?", asked the barber.

"Oh, you know, not much of a issue here", said the parent, "My kid is pretty much home-schooled."

My ears perked up immediately.  I made no overt gesture that I was interested in the conversation, but I listened in anyway.

"Yeah, my kid is on Independent Study, which is the only reason that he's in school at all, because of the sports."

I've seen this many times at our school.  Kids that drop out of the academic part of the school because of one reason or another, but manage to still love the school enough to go to all the Homecoming Events and play in two sports.  It's a joke.

"You know", says the parent, "there are some good teachers at (blah) high school, but it's just not for my kid.  Ok teachers, not much education."

At that point he went silent.  Now both barbers knew that I was a high school teacher, and I had the feeling like they were waiting for me to partake in the conversation.  They didn't wait long.

"So, what do you see as the problem with public high schools", I turned to him and asked.

"A lot of things.  My kid gets more freedom to do what he wants and he goes to Mendocino College to take some classes.  Plus, a lot of those high school teachers lie."

"They lie?", I asked.

"Yeah, you know, I'm pretty conservative and most school teachers lie about what's right.  Most teachers are liberals anyway and teach that way."

I didn't say any more and just sat there waiting for my cut to finish.  I think I shook my head one time, but I wasn't really angry.  I was more sad with a myriad of things that the parent stood for.  Public education wasn't good enough, except for the sports.  Teachers somehow have this mass political agenda and outright lie to the students.  Part of me wanted to stand up and challenge him to put his kid in my class.  I wanted to tell him, "I promise that he'll learn something and have one of the best educational experiences of his life", but I got the feeling that the gentleman would be the kind of guy that would pull the kid from my class if things got too tough.  In the end, I paid my money and left without comment, the barbers probably wondering about the thoughts swirling in my freshly mowed head. 

New teachers are going to find that society likes to have it both ways; they want you to teach their kid, but they want you to do it on their terms, and using whatever information and methods they deem as appropriate.  The problem is that a teacher can't work with 150 different sets of terms, and the information and methods that parents want studied are often ineffective or flat out wrong.  It's going to sound rebellious, and don't take it that way, but ignore the garbage and do what you do best.  Remember, most of society hasn't a clue about what teaching is really about.  Parents are more concerned about the influence, control, and welfare of their own children, and they could give a damn about the 149 others in the class.  You don't have that luxury.  You have to give a damn about all of them, even the ones who don't have the parents that care about anything.  So ignore this type of criticism from mainstream society and stick to the fundamentals of teaching; work hard, focus on the kids, and be passionate and thankful that you have a job that matters. 

The way I look at it, the man in the barbershop made a serious error in not allowing that kid into my realm of the public school system.  Oh well, guess I'm going to have to do with the 149 others.  I'm up for it. 

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