Friday, October 10, 2014

The Parent Chronicles Part 1: All the Rage You Can Muster

Everyone has fears:  the fear of flying, the fear of spiders, of heights, of snakes.  The fear of loneliness, the fear of loss, the fear of purpose, the fear of death.  If I were to ask you:  what was your FIRST fear, what would you say?  Psychologists have long believed that often times the first memory you ever create is often one founded in terror, be it something visually graphic like seeing a clown, being left alone in the dark, or walking in on your parents watching E! for the first time.  Mine?  Mine, I firmly believe, was seeing a giant spider in the bathroom and shrieking for help.  My fear and hatred for arachnids has stuck with me ever since.
Our fears aren't always synonymous, as our genetics and upbringing play a strong role, but there is a single entity that we have feared once in our lives in varying degrees:  parents.  Our biological being has allowed us to consider the hierarchy of life, and therefore, we must fear and respect those who are "above" us.  For a decade plus, that is your parents.  As a child, you grow up with an instilled fear for the ones that created you, first you fear losing them, then it becomes fear angering them, then it becomes letting them down.  Later in life, you again fear losing them, but by then you have a firmer grasp on the finality of life.
I've always feared my parents, but in a beneficial way. Growing up, I didn't want to disappoint them, and I still don't.  As life progresses, your desires and fear of disappointment becomes more self-sustaining, in that your fears are more existential, and less dependent on others.  You consider your purpose, your life in the grand scheme of the universe and wonder whether you're doing enough.  You get married, have kids, and you fear letting your wife and family down.  That fear has always been embedded in you.  It will never leave.  It isn't a weakness, it is the causation of our strength, the "fight or flight" mentality.  We owe our parents everything, not just for giving us life, but giving us the psyche to survive.

My fear of parents still lives on, but not of my own.  It is the fear of my students' parents that strikes terror in my every being.

Besides perhaps health professionals or a professional athlete, I cannot think of another profession in which your effectiveness relies so heavily on the production of other people.  You are given the task of building the minds of youth, students that you influence in the classroom on a daily basis, but for all you know, you could have parents that are undermining your every move and action.  To put it plainly, my "effectiveness" as a teacher rests solely on another, dictated by another person...who can be influenced by another person or persons.  In my experience, if you don't have the parents backing, you are pretty much shit out of luck.  An entire year's worth of knowledge could be flushed down the toilet because a parent doesn't like what you teach or how you teach.  Your "effectiveness" could plummet based on the test scores of a student who does a poor job on their state test scores (which I am quite fond of) because they "were having a bad day."  I once had a parent decide to take her daughter off her Ritalin suddenly.  Naturally, she chose testing week.  The only week the Department of Education seems to give a shit about.
Now, I've had some great parents in my initial years, and great support pretty consistently.  But every now and again you will have some that...well, just don't make any goddamn sense.

- I've been cornered by two parents after their respective sons were suspended the last day of school for spitting popcorn all over the floor and into the faces of some classmates.  But the kids didn't do anything wrong. They were "defending themselves."  One even "had to go to the eye doctor" because he "had a piece of popcorn hit him in the eye."

- I had a parent complain about literally every book choice I made for my reading block period:
"Coraline is too dark....Willy Wonka is dark and just flat out silly...Harry Potter is banned from our home; it glorifies witches....there is only one light, and that is through Jesus Christ,"  only to conclude his condescending email with "I thought the word "teach" meant to "enlighten?"
Little did he know that he was dead the moment he hit "Send."  I'm not just a teacher,  I'm also the son of a pastor.
I was raised on The Word, son.
I replied in the only way I knew possible:  to connect the allegories and messages of EVERY SINGLE BOOK he ridiculed to a story in the Bible.  Six years later, I still patiently wait for his response.

- I once emailed a parent because her son was out of his seat several times and kept breaking his pencil on purpose so he could poke his head out in the hall and become a black hole of attention. I simply stated my concern for his behavior.  Nothing more.  It's always good to get these types of behaviors addressed early.
Well,  after discussing the matter with her son, she replied "he was up out of his seat because he couldn't sharpen his pencil.  All you did was sit there.  He couldn't sharpen his pencil.  What kind of teacher just watches a child who cannot get his pencil sharpened?"  It went on for several paragraphs.
I wasn't combative, I just simply stated the facts for her:  "I saw Student do X,Y,Z.  I am concerned that he is wasting a lot of class time goofing around."
Another reply:  "I asked him, and he said he didn't do anything wrong.  He said you were picking on him.  He couldn't sharpen his pencil.  I can't believe you just sat there and did nothing.  If I need to contact the principal, I will, because I want the truth!"
Again, I wasn't combative.  I simply stated what I saw and reiterated that I want her child to be successful.  I then decided I would "beat her to the punch," and informed her that I was cc'ing the principal and assistant principal on the email to "keep them in the loop."  After I hit send, I went on a tirade of expletives that would make Denis Leary blush to my roommate/brother.  I don't remember what exactly I said, but I do remember saying "what kind of parent takes her child's word over an professional adult!?  I've lost.  There's no way I can end up OK in this scenario because the kid is just going to double down, and she will believe him no matter what I say."  I went to bed furious.
Well, a bit of good luck hit my email inbox the next morning.  Apparently, she must have told her son that I included the administrators on the email, and the kid spilled the beans.  It probably took me 10 minutes to read the entire email that was littered with at least 20 instances of "I'm so sorry" in some form or another.  How did I respond?  "I'm glad we can put this behind us!  I knew your son is a great kid, I just want to make sure he's successful!  I hope you all have a great weekend."  Right after I hit "Send," I'll be damned if I didn't get diabetes right then and there.
It felt good.
- One student I had was extremely defiant if you pressed her even just a little bit.  At that particular school, if a student acted up, you were to have them call home, right then and there, from the classroom phone.  As usual, she was verbally defiant, so I had her call home.  After some low key mumbling, the student told me that her mom wanted to talk to me.  I picked up the phone and proceeded to get a lecture about how this was a waste of her time, and she has work to do, and she's tired of hearing about what her daughter is doing, and how much of an inconvenience it was for her.  My reply?  "I don't mean any offense, but these phone calls are not supposed to be convenient..."  But before I could finish what I was saying I heard "WELL FUCK YOU!" followed by the deafening "CLICK."
An upstanding citizen...raising another generation of upstanding citizens.
- Perhaps one of my favorite tales involved a rather troublesome group of three girls.  They were best of friends; always together, and the drama ran deep.  Well, like most middle school girls, it took only a few months until someone said/did something, and isolated herself.  But rather than just shrug it off and move on with life, these girls did whatever in their power to annoy the living shit out of the others.  On a daily basis, there were snippy comments, tattling, and informing me that I needed to "get her" because she apparently did something or was looking at her.  I don't know.  I'm married and I still don't think I know what a girl is.
One morning I got a phone call from one of the girl's (let's call her Ali) father, who claimed that the other girls were bullying her.  All I wanted to say was "I've seen them interact.  This isn't bullying.  They're just being immature girls who had their feelings hurt and are now holding grudges."  But instead, I just said "no problem.  I'll keep an eye out for her in my class."  He informed me that I "had better" or else he would "come to the school and say a thing or two to those girls."  I said that wouldn't be necessary, as long as she was in my classroom, I'd keep an eye on her.
A few hours later I was at the front office making some copies when I received a page over the P.A. System:  "Mr. W, you have a call on line 2."
I strolled up to the front desk and before I could even ask who was on the line, the secretary said "I don't know what you did, but Mr. Ali's-Father is pretty pissed!  You want me to say you're busy?"
"No," I said, "this should be fun."
I went into the back conference room to take the call.  "Hello?" I greeted the caller.  What I heard next is probably just passing the Kuiper Belt as you read this, making its way off to some distant celestial-body-ridden galaxy; his verbiage to eventually convert into thermal energy, and gently warm the surface of some distant extraterrestrial planet:
His rant went on for maybe a minute, before I could retort.  When I did, I informed him that she wasn't in my class and, therefore, I couldn't really control what happened in the other classes.  Based on the schedule, she had likely slipped into the kitchen area adjacent to the gym during P.E., and made the phone call then (the phone was literally eight feet away from the baseline in the gym).  So she likely just waited for any reason to make the call.  Again, I knew this girl.  She was sneaky and conniving.  Was something probably said to her by the other girls?  Sure.  But she was far from innocent by any stretch of the imagination.
And with that, he hung up before what I assumed would be his massive cartoon hand, reaching through the receiver to deny the last molecules of oxygen from reaching my lungs.
I churned my little hobbit feet as much as they could muster and bounded up to the front desk and told the secretary that Mr. Ali's Father was coming and was going to confront the girls.  His chance would never arrive, however, as we decided to quickly gather Ali and her stuff, and sent her on her way when her dad arrived.

About a week later, the girls were best of friends again.
Ok, then.
In any venture in life, most of the people you encounter are decent people.  If nothing else, they are just there like other atomic matter and don't bother you. But you'll always have that 10% population that are just insane.  Teaching is no different.

No wait...yes it is.  It is VERY different.