March is a hard month.
Another round of report cards and parent conferences coming up. The realization that the school year is a mere 3 1/2 months away from completion and you still have 6 months of curriculum left. There’s already talk about job placements and course loads for the following year. Part of me wants to sigh very heavily….
And to make it worse, some of us are getting run down and this makes our thick teaching skin a little thinner.
Recently a colleague of mine in another school confessed that she has a particular parent that has been trying to get her child transferred out of my friend’s classroom because this parent feels her child has a “bad teacher”. It has resulted in numerous phone calls, e-mails, and meetings with administration.
To her it’s disheartening. And when she says to me, “Am I a bad teacher?”, the friend part of me wants to say, “Of course not!” But the teacher in me remembers my own story and says, “You need to consider the source.”
Not this year, but in another year with different kids and a different set of parents, I was contacted by Parent A who was concerned about what she’d heard Parent B saying about me within the community. Conversations often take place in the skating arenas of small towns where teachers are tried, convicted without even having been present for the conversation.
Parent B had a child in my classroom. According to her, I was also a “bad teacher”. And here was my list of transgressions:
1. I didn’t assign homework. This means I was failing to get my Grade 8 students ready for high school. I should be giving out at least 1 – 2 hours of homework a night.
2. I wasn’t strict enough in class. I needed to crack down on rules and maintain hard discipline in my classroom. I was too “lax” with the rules and should have a zero tolerance policy within my classroom.
3. I spent too much time on projects when the kids should be writing notes and learning how to decipher a textbook. That’s what would be happening to them in high school and I should be getting them ready now.
4. I wasn’t testing enough. I only ever did projects in Social Studies and Language Arts and my tests in Math and Science were too few. I should be running weekly quizzes and tests and why were my kids not writing spelling tests anymore?
5. I was focusing too much on “entertaining” my students when I needed to be doing drill and practice.
And as a result……parent B believed I was not doing a good job of teaching any of the skills I should be teaching and had no problem telling the rest of the community that. I should also mention this was after parent conferences when Parent B requested I stop doing so many projects and start giving more “high school like tests”. Parent B didn’t like my answer. Parent A was upset because she also had a child in my class and her child felt I was a good teacher.
My response……not a thing. I didn’t call up Parent B, I didn’t ask my administrator to shut Parent B down. Why? Because in all honesty, I thought that Parent B’s definition of what constituted a “good teacher” was a bit archaic. We often find ourselves teaching children of parents that seems to think drill and kill practices, piling on testing, and boards full or notes are good teaching because that’s the way THEY were taught. And look how they turned out?
I think it’s also important to consider that of the many professions out there most of us would agree that we could never fly a plane just because we’ve been a passenger on a jet, or perform surgery just because we were in a hospital once, or cater a dinner to hundreds just because we make supper for our family every night. And yet…..many parents feel qualified to judge the way we teach because after all, everyone has been to school.
I don’t think I’m a bad teacher. I think I was judged by archaic standards that I no longer believe hold true. And at the end of the day, while I regret that parent thinks (and likely still tells everyone) what a bad teacher I am, I know I’m doing what’s best for my kids. And I will continue to think and act accordingly. If this makes me a bad teacher? So be it….. I won’t give in on what I believe are good teaching practices so that parent will like me. Teaching isn’t a popularity contest. Over the years I’ve had parents phone me and tell me what a wonderful year their child has had and what a good teacher they think I am. Other quite obviously believe I’m awful and June couldn’t come fast enough. Oh well. My mother always said, You can’t please everyone!
It’s getting harder to maintain that thick skin though. Where before I was being tried in hockey arenas and only ever found out about it if another parent stepped forward, today’s teachers are finding themselves targeted on Facebook through status comments. This often allows for that “Band Wagon” effect too since we tend to be friends with people who are like us.
Another teacher recently told me this story: One parent posts an update to the effect of “Just got through talking to my child’s teacher and I’m considering homeschooling.” And it blows up when one friend responds with, “Maybe you should remind her it’s your tax dollars paying her salary!” And another says, “Teacher’s think they know our kids better then we do!” And yet another….”You should phone and complain. That will show her….”
You need a thick skin. And just as creatures evolve over time, so too does the teaching profession. Remember that you are doing what’s best for your students and that it’s your relationship with them that really counts. Often engaging a parent in a confrontation over what they said about you in the hockey arena could wind up in forcing that child to take sides, which no one wants.
Stay strong, fight the good fight. In the end this will make you a “good” teacher.