The Way Teachers Ought To Be Treated

by Vivian Maguire
Originally Published: 
A red apple and an orange pencil on top of a stack of three books on a wooden surface and a sage gre...

I am an overprotective mom. (My husband would roll his eyes at that understatement.) I am the only mom at the park who is actually on the jungle gym with her children—my arms outstretched and ready to catch them should they fall. I still taste their food for temperature like I’m a poison tester for the President. I bundle them them up in multiple layers in winter, when a thick sweater would probably suffice. And it goes without saying, that I don’t just linger on the first day of school, but every day at school. My girls are already playing and talking to their friends while I am still hugging them and giving them last kisses goodbye. I pound at the window outside for one final wave, which sometimes does not get their attention, but always makes their teacher jump with fright.

But, one day, something happened that probably should have made me go into overprotective, “I don’t think so” mode. My five-year-old daughter (four at the time), came home in a poor mood and told me that she had gotten into trouble that day—she’s too young to start lying about that yet. I was about to ask her what happened when my daughter held up both of her hands, palms down, and there they were. Her teacher had drawn a sad face on the back of each of my daughter’s hands in dark blue ink. I asked her how long she had had to wear those. “All day,” she sniffled.

All day, my daughter had worn those miserable little stamps on her hands, like she was stuck at the world’s most depressing night club, and couldn’t leave. As a teacher, I had never heard of such a disciplinary tactic—of course, I teach high school. But even so, the idea of actually writing something on one of my students was ludicrous. I knew that if I ever did such a thing, I would be written up, or worse, fired. So I texted her teacher, to see what her explanation was.

I kept my tone neutral, “Ms. A, I was just wondering why Amelie has two sad faces on her hands.” She texted back, “That is something we were just trying out, that way the child, and the other children, know that they have been misbehaving.” Hmm, no, I don’t like it. Something about the idea of branding a kid as “naughty” for all to see made me uneasy. But again, I remained civil. “Ms. A, in the future, could you leave me a little note, or send me a text when she misbehaves? That way, her father and I can talk to her when she gets home.”

After that, her teacher and I worked out a system where she would leave me a note to let me know when my daughter misbehaved at school, and I would then take privileges away from my daughter. It didn’t take long for my daughter to figure out that she would have to be good at school too, if she wanted to watch her TV show in the evening.

I considered the problem to be solved. But, when I shared the story with other teachers and even the school nurse, they literally gasped. “I would have told the principal!” The school nurse exclaimed, “But, then again, I’m overprotective,” she said. “Well, I am too,” I thought, but I had a good reason not to run to administration or scold her teacher. Actually, I had two good reasons.

The first reason I didn’t go to the principal, is because I’ve done that before. Three years previous, when my eldest was an infant in daycare, I walked in and was horrified to see her caregiver wiping my daughter back-to-front and not front-to-back. I immediately went to her and began to explain proper diaper changing procedures—my tone was huffy and demanding. I then went straight to the day care director and gave her the same talk; the director assured me that my daughter’s teacher would receive more training immediately. I thought that going to the director would solve the problem, but actually I had created a different sort of problem for myself.

The teacher, who was actually really great with my daughter, behaved very differently towards me after I went to her administrator. She became incredibly formal and professional, handing over sheets of documentation on each of my daughters feedings, of her diaper changes, and of her naps. Gone were the stories about the funny things my daughter had done and said. I had lost the open communication that I had previously had with the teacher. And when I thought about it, I was not surprised.

As a teacher, I have dealt with parents that treat me with trust and respect, and parents who are accusatory and confrontational. You can guess which parents I have better communication with.

Typically, when I call home, my students’ parents are very supportive—they want to know what they can do to help their child. However, on a few occasions, the parents I have called are defensive or angry—they want to know why I am after their child. One parent began to call my classroom almost daily to yell at me for putting her son in detention. She told me that her son was not disruptive, he was just loud like his mother. When I informed the Assistant Principal about the calls, I was told to never speak to that particular parent again, and to direct all of her calls to administration. That parent might have wanted to make her point, but she missed out on something very important, something I would have helped her with, figuring out why her son could not focus in class.

Unfortunately, she is not the only parent that I have had to refer to administration. I have had parents angry with me for counting their children tardy when they were only “a little late”. I have had parents demand full credit for their child’s late work when truthfully, I feel like I am being generous by only taking a few points off. Ultimately, these parents are tying my hands when it comes to helping their children. What’s worse, is that they are tying their children’s hands as well. How will their children ever be successful, if they are never held responsible for their actions?

The second reason I did not run to the principal, is because I believe that we have to teach our children that they might not always agree with the rules, or the way people enforce them, but we have to learn to work with others so that we can still reach our goals. We should enable our children to be problem solvers, rather than protesters. Many of our children will one day have a difficult boss or a co-worker, and they need to learn how to address those problems professionally. Filing grievances and complaints consistently will only serve to make an employee seem problematic.

Truthfully, yelling at anyone, be it a teacher, a restaurant server, or a bank teller, might make some people feel better, but it doesn’t solve anything. Being combative doesn’t make people look strong, it makes them look difficult—and no one wants to deal with them.

That brings me back to the situation with my own child. I didn’t like her teacher’s form of punishment, but, I had to look at the bigger issue. My child was not behaving and not listening in class. My real issue was how to solve that problem. If I yelled at the teacher or stormed into her principal’s office to try to get her into trouble, what would I have accomplished? Perhaps the teacher would have faced consequences for, let’s face it, not too much of a transgression. My daughter was not physically harmed or called atrocious names; her teacher made a poor decision.

For me, as a parent and a teacher, the most important issue is always how to help the child. Going after the teacher would not help my child learn how to listen and learn in class. It would break the communication between the teacher and myself, and I could lose important information about my child daily.

I’m happy with the way I dealt with that particular situation. I asked the teacher kindly for written feedback on my child and I received it. My daughter learned to treat her teacher with respect and started improving in school.

As parents, we cannot fight every battle for our children, we have to let them take responsibility for their actions and learn from their mistakes. We can still teach our children to speak up for themselves, but also tell them that when they do, they must speak kindly if they want to be heard.

Related post: What I Want to Tell My Son’s Sixth Grade Teachers

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