By Charlotte Hilton Andersen, REDBOOK
Seven years as a teacher (and another seven working part-time in education) gives me a lot of empathy for teacher Ron Clark in his recent piece for the New York Times "What Teachers Really Want to Tell Parents." I have my own horror stories of overbearing, "helicopter", and downright insane parents. (My favorite: The parent who demanded that her daughter be excused from writing the end-of-term essay because she knew her daughter was a terrible writer and didn't want her grades to keep her from film school. When I refused, she dropped a letter on the table containing several hundred dollars and asked if there wasn't some way we could work this out. I handed it back, and she left the room with no further discussion.)
So while I agree with 90 percent of what Clark wrote, as a parent of several students something about his essay didn't sit right with me. It was this: "They are ready to fight and defend their child, and it is exhausting. One of my biggest pet peeves is when I tell a mom something her son did and she turns, looks at him and asks, "Is that true?" Well, of course it's true. I just told you. And please don't ask whether a classmate can confirm what happened or whether another teacher might have been present. It only demeans teachers and weakens the partnership between teacher and parent."
I swore I'd never be one of those "not my child!" parents, and yet last year found me in a conference with my second-grade son's teacher and principal uttering that exact phrase. My small-for-his-age, non-confrontational, never-been-in-trouble-a-day-in-his-life son was in trouble for fighting. The teacher, who admitted she hadn't seen what had happened, insisted he had "kicked a kindergartner." His brother who had been present said my son was attacked by an older bully and had merely defended himself. My son had a bloody nose and a scratched face, and yet he was the only child in trouble: I was the only parent called in. I'll admit it: My hackles rose and the mama bear in me came out. The teacher wouldn't allow my other son to say what he saw, and the principal took her word as the truth. My son was disciplined.
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For the first time, I found myself on the other side of the desk and I was overwhelmed with how impotent and angry I felt. It was especially poignant when my son hugged my knees and in tears exclaimed, "Thank you, Mommy, for believing me when nobody else did!" Was my son the bully or the bullied? I suppose I'll never know for sure, but I do know which story I believe more. And if we parents aren't "ready to fight and defend [our] child", then who will? They're just children, after all.
I'll admit to still being very torn on this issue. Has my love for my children made me blind to their faults? Or does my job as a parent inevitably sometimes put me in opposition to their educators?
Do you ever argue with your child's teacher? Take our poll!
-Never. This is their job and it's already hard enough, so just let them do it.
-Sometimes, depending on the situation, but I always try and stay nice.
-Often. I am the only advocate my children have.
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Reprinted with permission of Hearst Communications, Inc.