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.