Well I got my progress reports back today, and for the first time in a while they were filled with ominous sticky notes. This is of course due in part to my being at a new school with a new admin, but I was nonetheless pretty surprised because I thought I had mastered the art of pussyfooting around what I really think by using lots of fluffy language and “is encouraged to” statements. The thing is, sometimes a kid isn’t just “encouraged” to stop disrupting the learning of every other single person in the room. He’s obligated. For the sake of the other twenty or so tax-paying parents who would like their child to learn something this year and who would probably be outright pissed if they knew just how badly one child was usurping all of the teacher’s attention for reasons entirely unrelated to academics.
I tried to gently convey this through statements like, “Student needs to become more respectful of the learning environment by refraining from making inappropriate comments (I would have liked to have specified e.g., SMOKE WEED EVERY DAY and MY MILKSHAKE BRINGS ALL THE BOYS TO THE YARD) and ensure that his comments contribute to the topic of discussion.” I guess saying that he needs to do it was too forthright. I was instructed to rephrase it as, “We will continue to support Student in his efforts to become more focused on class discussion topics.” Which statement is going to let a parent understand the severity of their child’s lack of social etiquette? The second one sounds like feedback that could be applied to me as an adult. Sometimes even I could use a little support staying on topic – couldn’t we all? But we’re not talking about minor digressions, here. We’re talking about a student who often shouts out entirely disrespectful things. Wouldn’t you want to know if that’s what your child does while you’re not around? How does the second comment even begin to convey that to you? The first one I wrote barely did as it was, but at least it was slightly more direct.
I completely agree with wanting to focus on the positive and to find the best in every student, and I’ve even been criticized by my colleagues for being too forgiving of a child’s idiosyncrasies and too tolerant of his or her misgivings. But even being the softy that I am, after about ten years on the front lines I can definitely conclude that sometimes in order to find the best in him or herself, a child needs some straight-up, harsh-but-fair truth. And so do the parents because, really, they haven’t the faintest clue what their child is like in an independent environment with twenty-five of his or her peers. A kid can become a completely different person when he or she has a captive audience. When do parents ever get to experience such a phenomenon other than when they join for the occasional field trip, during which the child of course exhibits his or her most angelic behaviour? So I really don’t think it’s fair to word things as, “We will continue to support…” because it puts the onus back on us, and we’re already f**king drowning in onus. If a child fails, it’s our fault. If a child doesn’t like school, that’s our fault. If a child isn’t developing socially, that’s our cue. All while teaching math. While teaching art. While teaching phys ed. While teaching social studies. While teaching language. While teaching health. While teaching science. While teaching music. While teaching drama. While teaching dance, for god’s sake. I’m not trying to complain about the job I willingly signed up for, I’m just trying to point out that it takes a village, and yet when it comes to pointing fingers, they somehow all end up directed at the teacher.
I’m glad that I’ve started using Seesaw to create digital portfolios because I’ve already documented some students doing some telling things that hopefully the parents will notice without me having to be the ever-nagging teacher. This picture I posted where everyone is working on a math problem but your kid is busy sawing his desk with a ruler? I’m just going to leave that in your child’s profile, no caption needed. This photo of your child’s paper upon which only “DAB LIFE” is written? For that I will add the caption, “Working on some rich problem solving!” and let you make of it what you will. (On a side note, when I arrived at school this Monday morning, I was greeted by a less than polite email from one of my student’s fathers which declared that, so distracted was I by such “third party online pursuits [as Seesaw] that nobody has time for” that I forgot to send his son’s science project home, resulting in tears and anguish. Really, guy? I don’t even teach your kid science. So who’s distracted? Also, tell me again about how nobody has time to receive real-time updates about their child’s progress in the palm of their hand? The only person who really doesn’t have time for it is me.
I suppose what frustrates me the most is that I really am, always, trying to bring out the best in a child. I’m just so tired of being told how to do it by people who haven’t been on the front lines in a while, people who have migrated into the idyllic land of theory-over-practice. It must be really kumbaya up in the echelons of admin. In theory, I would also like to write only positive comments in a child’s report card. That would feel really nice. In theory, I would also like to let a kid do whatever the merry hell he or she pleases all day long, especially because I’m so dog-tried of trying to get him or her to just pick up a pencil. Sometimes the most stressful part of my day is getting twenty-five children to put one paper in a duo-tang. I don’t think that I will ever understand why this is such a painful struggle. Maybe it’s because I’m not allowed to tell the students they have to do it, I’m supposed to support the students in putting their papers away. This apparently involves more than me directly and explicitly instructing them to do so. I have to pry their all of their duo-tang prongs open myself and cheer them on and offer them a body break and maybe a snack and then award them a participation medal when they finally f**king do it. UGH!
…As you can see, today I’m PWD.