Wednesday, October 10, 2007

A working relationship

I have to go back to yesterday's post and the comments there.

Anonymous says:

I'm a teacher who found your site through educational blog rings about a year ago. I read because I appreciate hearing the perspectives of a Board member, and, more importantly, those of a parent with a special needs child. At times, however, it also demonstrates a pattern of dealing with educational conflict that I find can often cause more harm than good.

This post certainly describes a teacher who made a bone-headed decision that put Neo in an uncomfortable and unfair position. I don't defend the teacher's actions one bit.

But I do wish you would reconsider your approach to situations such as this one. Certainly call the teacher. Certainly express your disapproval and concern. But please also ask her for any further information that you may not have (I'm not sure what it might be in this case, honestly, but should always be asked as a sign of good faith), and give her a chance to work through the matter with you personally before you call a VP. Not because I don't want her to "get in trouble," but because she is an adult, and she deserves for you to express your displeasure to her personally. It's a far more effective and professional first step to take. If it's not solved at that level, then I'd be the first one to call a VP at that point. But everyone makes a bone-headed mistake. Give this person time to make it right with you and Neo herself. That's what I would want for my own friends and family when they make mistakes, and I have no doubt you would want the same for yours.

Best of luck resolving this situation. I hope it is addressed successfully for all parties involved.

October 09, 2007 8:13 PM

To which I replied:

Suisan said...
Thanks, but I have to call the VP to find out who the sub WAS on that day.

And the VP is the only person at that school who is actively looking out for my kid, Board member status be damned. He was the one who set up the SST meeting for her at the start of the year, he's the one who checks up on her at lunch to make sure she's OK. I'm calling the VP.

In most situations, I'd email the teacher first, ask for her phone number, and talk to her. But, I'm sorry if you don't want to hear this, this situation pissed me off, and I am going straight to the VP with it. The teacher will simply have to deal with hurt feelings and be a professional in his/her job.

I'm pretty much done with teachers and staff refusing to accept criticism by saying, "But I have feelings too and you should have helped me lick my wounds." The VP is her supervisor, and that's who I would report a rude store clerk to, the manager. I wouldn't try to chase the clerk down and get her to express her side of the story.

Man. I wish teaching wasn't all about the emotions of the adults. Because the kids have emotions too, and the adults who complain about hurt feelings are at the very bottom of my list of worries.


And if you really think that EVERY conversation I have with EVERY teacher on EVERY topic is spelled out here, you are very mistaken. I send flowers to teachers, I give them hugs, and say great things about them in front of other parents. I nudge them towards getting better training, and I let them know what the larger public thinks of their efforts, good and bad. But I don't chronicle that here. Sorry if you thought I did.

Sometimes someone does something so boneheaded that they truly deserve to get their feelings hurt.

Signed, an angry parent and a frustrated to hell and back Board Member.

OK, here's the thing that sent me over the edge, just so you all don't think that I'm some sort of raving lunatic. Perhaps it will better explain why parents get so easily frustrated with teachers, since I'm going to assume that very few of you out there are Board Members who get complaints from parents about teachers, and who have had to navigate this particular quagmire.

My child's teacher is a professional.

My child's teacher sees my child for more hours of the day than I do.

My child's teacher is an employee of a professional organization.

As a parent who is concerned for her child's well being, I expect the teacher to act with the utmost professionalism at all times. Most of what Anonymous said about solving it at the one to one level makes some sense, but on the other hand, Anonymous said, "Give this person time to make it right with you and Neo herself. That's what I would want for my own friends and family when they make mistakes, and I have no doubt you would want the same for yours."

This is the attitude, this one right there in that sick purple color that drives me right over the edge. This teacher is not my friend, nor is she my family. Because you hang out with my kid does not make us friends, and I'm not taking her out to coffee to patch something up.

How exactly is the teacher going to work out a solution with ME? I'm not the one she pulled to the front of the class. Do I want her to come back into class, put more attention on my child, and explain that it was a mistake? No. Do I want her to apologize to my kid? Maybe, but Neo never wants to look in her face again. I want her to recognize from someone in authority that if she ever does that again, she could seriously jeopardize the integrity and reputation of the District, if not her own teaching abilities. It's racist. It's stupid. And I shouldn't have to explain this to her.

Maybe she could have told me over coffee that she was planning to use my daughter as a class example, and then I could have told her that it was a stupid idea, not to mention some sort of racial profiling. But she doesn't treat me as a friend, letting me poke around in her lesson plan, and I would be shocked if she did so. She has a job to do. In her job, she has a boss. Her boss evaluates her, keeps her on target, and corrects her when she's drifting off course. As I said in the comment, if I ran into a store clerk who said something odd, I wouldn't follow the store clerk and get her side. If a more professional person made an error, perhaps a lawyer or a nurse, I wouldn't necessarily take it up with them either, if they worked for a large company. I'd report what I experienced to that person's supervisor.

A doctor or a lawyer who is self-employed, well, that's an entirely different story. That's more like a marriage.

Teachers are perhaps the most emotional people I have ever encountered in a place of business. Sometimes it's great. Sometimes it is all so very inappropriate. As a rule, teachers do not like to think of themselves as employees in a large corporation. Teachers, as a rule, do not like that they get evaluated. They do not believe that principals, former teachers, should have the ability or the right to tell them that what they are doing in class is on-task or appropriate.

The back side of that is that it is very, very, very hard to dig a bad teacher out of the system. Not an abusive one, or an aggressive one, just a bleh, lazy one. The evaluations generally are not particularly honest or in-depth, because an honest evaluation is usually met with great lumpy tears and exclamations that feelings were hurt.

I am coming to the end of my term as a District leader. Soon I will just be an obnoxious parent. If you want to know why parents get their backs up, it is because of experiences like mine, where I have bent over backwards to make myself available to my children's teachers, asking them to call if they have any questions, setting up informal and formal meetings, and the teachers don't really WANT to be all that communicative. Then I'm supposed to give them the benefit of the doubt and not report a problem, a problem which could be repeated on other children can cause everybody a lot of angst, because I'm supposed to project onto the teacher how I would want my family to be treated.

My family understands that mistakes are made and that they answer to their employers. A good working relationship with their employers is a primary concern, not hurt feelings because someone caught you out making a mistake.

Damn, that touched a nerve.

Need Coffee


Marianne McA said...

I think you're right to report it, and right to go through the school.

The nerve twanging bit for me would be the idea that you don't need to hear the teacher's side of the story before deciding she's racist. Different with a rude sales assistant, because that's something you've experienced personally.

Suisan said...

Yes, I don't need to hear the teacher's side of it before thinking that she's a racist. Or at least she makes bizarre assumptions that children who have relatives who have lived in the Middle East must therefore be practicing Islam in the home. (Turns out that's how she picked the Saudi girl to join my daughter at the front of the class.)

There is Nothing, other than telling me that it didn't happen, which is going to "make this better" between me and the teacher. Between the student and the teacher, that's a deal for the VP to broker.

I don't respect stupidity, especially when it shows up in a classroom, the very environment where we are supposed to be sweeping it up out of dark corners and tossing it in the rubbish bins.

Anonymous said...

This is the original poster you responded to.

Either you have misread me, or I haven't stated my points clearly enough. Either way, the resentment you display is not in step with the intent of this exchange.

Here's the heart of it in my mind: unless there is clear and present danger, the first step to effectively resolving any conflict is speaking directly to the person involved. That IS what I do whether the person is a store clerk, a doctor, a teacher, or anything else. That's what I teach my students to do, for that matter. It's a mature, ethical, effective, and rational way to behave, though certainly difficult when emotions run high.

And just as you chose to explain why parents get so easily frustrated, allow me to explain why teachers get so easily frustrated. I can't tell you how many times I have seen a parent come in (or call, or email) extraordinarily upset about an issue, only to see it cleared up amicably after a five-minute conversation. I can't tell you how many times a warped version of a classroom conversation has come back to me (or a colleague) after a few rounds of whisper-down-the-lane, through the lens of someone's rough day, or after any other number of warping factors.

Will that be the case here? I have absolutely no idea. That's exactly the point. I don't have the information to say. You may, or you may not have that information. You won't know until you go ask for it.

You don't get what you need or want after that? Go talk to the VP. I would too. You still feel it's a serious matter after talking to the teacher (as I suspect you rightfully will)? Go talk to the VP. I would too. But to do so without going directly to the source first is seldom as effective as one might hope. If nothing else, you'll have a stronger, more informed argument to take to the VP at that point.

I'm putting this to rest from my end. I would hope you consider my postings in good faith. I don't know you and Neo and don't intend to paint you unfairly or inaccurately. But I can't help but thinking you are painting teachers unfairly when you make arguments like this, which certainly don't apply the vast majority of people I am so proud to work with.

Again, best of luck resolving the issue.

Beth said...

Speaking as someone who's worked both in education and in the big bad corporate world (as a manager, no less, making employees weep during annual evals and/or as I fire them with wild abandon), OF COURSE YOU HAVE TO TELL HER BOSS. Anything that even lightly smells like racism or sexism or general descriminism (pardon my evening cocktail) isn't just a misunderstanding. It's a potential lawsuit for the school system and they have the right to handle it properly. This shit (1) needs to be documented, and (2) must be addressed on an official level. A pot of tea and a chat doesn't cut it.

If the teacher were your coworker making a comment about you personally, confront it directly. Like an adult. Duh. But god only knows what other inappropriate things she's said or done in the past or may do in the future. A rightfully pissed off parent owes her exactly nothing. This is a professional relationship and she acted unprofessionally.

I mean really. Sheesh.

But anyway, Suisan, I'm at a sustained 8 for two straight days and the following dropped me to a 1 for a full twenty minutes, so I thought I'd share. A hilarious bit of email from my friend Snook:

"I think you should try out Please don't be offended that I have taken the liberty to create an ad for you:

"Unapologetic bluestocking seeking virile, smoldering, tortured noblemen with avowed inability to love. Must have own barouche. I enjoy forward thinking, witty reparte and the occasional brazen act. You enjoy gambling, cheroots and lucrative business deals. Am willing to relocate to luxurious manse near moors/highlands/cliffs of Dover. "


There. Smile a little.

Suisan said...

Anonymous, it's a SUBSTITUTE.

I can't talk to her directly. Don't have contact information. Hence, I go to the VP.

If it were a regular classroom teacher I would concurrently talk to BOTH the supervisor and the teacher. Yes, both, at the same time. Racism: bad. Meeting called for. End of story.


Snookie rocks.

Yay for 1's! Tell her for me that if she gets any replies to the ad she so kingly crafted that I want the younger misunderstood brother of said barouche-owner. It's a sequel, Babee.

Suisan said...


can't type, need a secretary.

Marianne McA said...

Okay. I think we just disagree.

But maybe not - if, in an ideal world, you'd talk to both the VP and the teacher, that seems to suggest that you would be prepared to let her have her say. I don't know.

I think it's not this incident that worries me - seems a fairly clear cut case. It's the underlying priciple that a parent can know what has happened in a classroom incident, and doesn't have to hear the teachers explanation before making up their mind.
And I know it's a ridiculously extreme example, but I am friendly with a girl who was beaten up by an irate mother over a classroom incident that I don't believe happened. Yet the mother *knew* it had, because we all trust our own children to tell us the truth.

Suisan said...

But you're assuming that I never talk to teachers over any misunderstanding.

That's not true.

I said earlier, I talk to them all the time.

I'm surprised that anyone who's been reading this blog for any length of time hasn't picked up on this. I'm constantly in some sort of meeting or another. And I don't chronicle those meetings here. There are too many, and most are repetitive.

And although things go well in the meeting, I find that two days later everything has gone back to where it was before the meeting, which requires another meeting. At that point I bring in a higher-up to make sure that everyone leaves the room understanding what they are supposed to do.

Truly, I think most teachers, especially at Neo's school, are easy to work with. But I still call the VP at the drop of a hat because he understands Neo and has a good understanding of her entire day and all seven of her teachers. I don't feel the least bit of shame for relying upon him.

But, what I don't believe is that my childrens' teachers are my friends. They are not. I don't believe that it is bad to talk to the principal or to the VP. With the elementary school, the principal is ALSO my go-to person because she understands my son and has learned who he is from year to year. The teacher meet him anew every year, and every year they make exactly the same mistakes.

The principal is able to come in and get this year's teacher talking to last year's teacher, etc. So I rely on her, and I feel no shame whatsoever for doing so.

It doesn't mean I hate teachers. I just think that they are PART of the system. Not the entire system itself.

Kate R said...


hey you have a picky eater too, right?

Marianne McA said...

I'm more than likely misunderstanding you, but if not, I just disagee.

I know you talk to teachers, I think you're right to take this to the VP, and I can't see that friendship comes into it.

For me, the parents' side of the professional relationship you talk about is that you give teachers, if not the benefit of the doubt, at least a chance to put their side.

For example, my sister (bad example, because she is an idiot) came into the house a couple of weeks ago incandescent with rage, because her child, who has had huge, lengthy problems with school refusal, had been pulled out of class for an unscheduled meeting with her caseworker - child hates talking to people - and had subsequently left school.

Turned out from the schools pov, the child had been out of class already, in sickbay, and her father had already been asked to take her home. The caseworker, in school for another reason, had stopped and said hello.

Now conceivably, the child's version may be mostly true, or both versions may be true for the different individuals involved: - a conversation that seemed like a friendly chat to the caseworker, might have seemed like a long and public interrogation to an over-anxious teenager.

But, seems to me, while my sister is perfectly entitled to raise the issue, she has to listen to the school's version before she judges what happened. And then, I think, she's entitled to say she believes her child's version over their version. (Though in point of fact, she accepted the school's account.)

But you seem to be saying that she's entitled to judge the actions of the caseworker just from the information her child has given her, that it's not incumbent on her to hear the caseworker's side.
And if that's what you're saying, I disagree. And if that's not what you're saying, I've misunderstood you, and I'm sorry.

Read anything good recently?

Suisan said...

Marianne said:

For example, my sister (bad example, because she is an idiot) came into the house a couple of weeks ago incandescent with rage, because her child....

Turned out from the schools pov, the child had ....

So at some point she got the school's POV. Which means that at some point someone in the school asked the case manager what happened.

Is the problem that parents are not supposed to express incandescent anger *until* they have spoken to the teacher? Is that where we are across purposes?

I guess I've been beaten over the head too many times to stop saying, "OW. That hurts" every time it happens.

I do calm down before I talk to staff; I'm not generally a complete idiot. But I reserve my right to tell people how very angry the story in question made me. And I reserve my right to, in some cases, put a buffer between my rage and the teacher by involving the supervisors.

I have been smiled at once too often by teachers who tried to tell me that every single thing my child said was misunderstood, only to learn later that the child was correct and the adults was covering their collective arse.

And no, I don't think every teacher is like that.

Once lost, trust is a very hard thing to recover. And, truly and honestly, it's up to the party that broke the trust to win it back. Not up to the other party to keep blindly trusting. Good intentions only go so far.

Neo said...

Hello all, this is Neo.

Just some side notes:

I know what happened that day. I did not exaggerate.

Mom actually being a lot calmer than most parents are. I know a few that would of been screaming at the principal within the hour.

Marianne: Thank you for all of the posts, but I doubt you'll be able to change Mom's mind. Just a thought.

That's all for now, you can comment on my blog if you want some more feedback from me later.

Neo said...

Here, wait, the link isn't working. Click on this one.

Suisan said...

I'm always mildly alarmed when she shows up here, acting all smart like that.

And I think she knows her Mom. It takes a Lo-o-o-o-ong time to change my mind.

Doug said...

This reminded me of the time in 1st Grade when my teacher called me up to the front of the class and asked me to explain Hanukkah. I wrote about this in my Hanukkah Lobster post years ago -- I don't know if you read me back then. Yeah, I made up a story that involved a magical lobster because I DIDN'T KNOW SQUAT. Very embarrassing. And how did she even know I was Jewish? (Oh. I had a big mouth back then. I probably told her.) But still. It was humiliating enough that I insisted my parents send me to Hebrew school. Yeah, I'm responsible for my own Bar Mitzvah.

FWIW, I'm with you on this. With a substitute, it would never occur to me, not for an instant, to have a calm, logical discussion with the sub. No, I would be threatening the school with the local newspaper if they so much as hinted that this sub would ever work in their school again.

Marianne McA said...

Neo - yeah, I really don't think you exaggerated. That's what I meant when I said that it wasn't this incident that worries me, more the general principle behind it.
I'm never sure about reading your blog, because my daughters are 12, 14 and 16, and I don't look at their on-line life unless they ask me too - it would feel a bit like reading their mail. I sort of feel they need to be able to say things about me or their home life, without me looking over their shoulder & feeling hurt. And by extension, I don't look at their friends stuff either. Somehow that makes me feel uneasy about reading your blog, as if I'm a creepy old person, not granting you your privacy.
That being ageist?

Marianne McA said...

Suisan - I think you're missing what I'm uneasy about, and I feel I'm missing your point.

Sure you don't want to talk about books?

Point of the story about my sister, is that - in exactly the way you trust Neo, she trusts her child.
Difference being, she's an idiot.

However, if one is an idiot, one might not realise it. (No rude comments...)

So, I question your position.

You say - I think -

Parent X can hear a story from Baby X, that suggests Baby's teacher is racist.
Parent X can then say 'that teacher is racist' because they don't need to hear the teacher's side before making that judgement.

I'm saying that Baby X may be mistaken, or lying, or Parent X may have missed crucial information. Therefore Parent X needs to hear the teacher's side, before she can know teacher is racist.

I'm not saying Neo is mistaken, or that you have missed crucial information.
What I'm saying, in a confused and overly lengthy way, is that the principle that you ask for the teacher's side is important, because the parents that are idiots are as sure they've heard all the relevant facts as you are.

I'm saying the sales assistant analogy is faulty.

And fine, perhaps we disagree.

Neo's probably right that I'm not going to change your mind, and I don't think you'd be able to change mine.

Sometimes I hate discussing things this way, because you're trying to communicate in telegraphese, and probably being hugely unclear.


CindyS said...

If I may step in for just one minute (no throwing things ;))

I understand what Marianne is saying but it doesn't work in this situation.

We have all met that crazy parent who believes their devil child is all innocence and smiles. The kind that will say 'my child only hit that kid because he said something mean' not taking into consideration that hitting is not a way to resolve anything. Yes, there are parents who fly off the handle and believe every word that comes from their child's mouth and there are those children who know it and manipulate it.

In those cases, sure you wish they would just talk to a teacher but those are the kind of people who aren't ever going to change. Those are the people who believe their child is innocent of all charges even though their DNA was found at the scene and there is a video of the crime.

This case is not that.

Neo (from what Suisan has said about her and the way she intelligently responds on her mother's blog) does not strike me as a young girl who will cry wolf. If anything (and Neo can correct me) I think she is much more quiet and possibly even shy (I was like that as a kid).

Intelligent parents know their children and I believe that Suisan knows her children well.

Knowing that, I know that she is doing absolutely the right thing (even though it doesn't matter what I think).

Now, my nephew comes home with a story and you better believe he gets interrogated because we know he has the ability to try and manipulate a situation to suit him.

I know as a young adult I didn't like being painted with the same brush as those who acted out, who smoked or drank at an early age.

I was my own person and I believe that you have to look at these kind of things case to case.

I think it also becomes quite clear to any principal/boss who are the squeaky wheels and who should really be getting the oil.

Okay, too much thinking for me at this early hour.

Hugs to Neo and Mom.


Suisan said...

I haven't read any books because I've been too busy writing reports on the state of Special Education in the State of California, being beaten up in the newspapers, and attending meetings about my children.

Look, I don't know WHERE we got to the point that I don't check in with teachers. It had something to do with Anonymous telling me to treat them like friends and family.

Here's how I ended the first post:

So now I have to call the teacher, and this one's a sub, so she's going to be hard to track down, and call the VP, etc., etc., etc.

Where in that does it say that I'm not going to talk to the teacher?

Everyone assumed that I'm only going to whip up the VP into some sort of righteous fury and sic him on the poor misunderstood teacher. I think that's more of a slam on the VP, a fine and caring person who hands out hugs with abandon, than it is a slam on me for jumping to conclusions.

As soon as I get some time to read, I'll talk again about books.

Wanna hear more about my travails with Saul in the Spec Ed system? Because that one never ends. Sigh.

Marianne McA said...

LOL. Yes, please, anything else: but only if you want to talk about it.

My (other) sister's autistic child has just gone up to Big School, at a school for children with moderate difficulties, and she's having none of it. Goes happily, but then insists on spending her time in the playground. My sister is at her wit's end, because if she doesn't do there, the only alternative is the school with severely learning disabled children - which she feels would be inappropriate and upsetting for the child.

Travails is the word.

Neo said...

Wow! That was quick! In 20 hours eight people commented! Nice work Mom!

To Mom: I live with you, I know how long it takes for me to change your mind.

To Doug: Magical Lobster? I want the Lobster! That Lobster sounds awesomes!

To Marianne: It's fine if you read my blog! That's why I put it up! Sometimes it's nice to vent in public, since I can't do it in school. And I'm glad to see that we aren't arguing any more :)

To Cindys: I guess I'm shy... I don't really think of it that way. I just don't like to draw too much attention to myself, because then there's usually from adults:

'Oh, how wonderful! Who taught you?'

'Where did you trace that from?'

And from kids:

'You think you're so smart don't you?'

'Cool! Teach me how to do that!'

Not fun -_-