Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Supporting the teacher or the child, or both?

Note: I'm neither a parent nor a teacher, so I'm in way over my head in regard to this matter.

I recently engaged in discourse with an online friend regarding when to support the teacher or school and when to support one's child in a conflict between the two.  My friend's stance is that you always support your child. In a way, I suppose you should support your child. The best way to support your child, however, is not necessarily always to take every word as literal that came out of his or her mouth.  The important thing is to do what is in the best interest of your child, which doesn't necessarily mean taking his or her side in every instance.

Teachers and school  professionals operate under a code of ethics that doesn't allow them to publicly discuss any negative aspects of interactions with students. if we could have Scott Peterson's or Casey Anthony's***  former teachers interviewed by someone along the lines of Heidi Hatch, Megyn Kelly, or even my not-favorite tV personality Nancy Grace, I suspect the teachers could tell stories that would  paint pictures of just how these two individuals gradually became the people they are today. I doubt  they were born that way. Rather, my suspicion is that every time a teacher or administrator voiced a complaint about Scott Peterson or Casey Anthony to their parents, the parents would have been extremely quick to believe the child's side of the story and to blame a teacher, another child, or anyone but their children.

I marginally  know  a woman who was a principal at an elementary school. Her story hit the news, but I'm not sure it went national, so I'll omit the name the city.  A child who was either a fifth- or sixth-grader came to school with crayola-red hair extensions in her hair.  This was in opposition to the school district's dress code, which did not allow either dye jobs or extensions in colors that were not natural hair colors. A child could have blonde extensions, for example, regardless of his or her natural color, but turquoise extensions or dye jobs would have been considered a violation. We could debate all day the efficacy of a school having such a policy in its dress code, but the bottom line is that it was part of the dress code, and if a principal had not enforced it, the principal would not have been doing her job.  

When the principal first noted the dress code violation, she quietly explained to the child why her hair was in violation of the dress code and reminded her that it was in the handbook that had been sent home at the beginning of the year, and in the office was a form the child's parents had signed indicated they had received and read the handbook. The principal typed a note to the girl's parents and asked the girl to give it to them.Whether or not they ever saw the note will remain one of life's great mysteries. In partial defense of the parents on one small count, probably 70% of parents just sign the form without ever reading the handbook, though I'm not saying this makes anything right, and it gives parents no leg on which to stand when they later claim they had no idea that non-natural colored hair extensions were a violation of district policy.

It was a Thursday when the principal initially noticed the hair extensions. She told the child that the extension needed to be gone or at least turned into a natural hair color by Monday.  The principal never made contact with the child on the following Monday because it was an especially hectic day, but the next day, which would have been Tuesday, as the child's class was entering the library from an inside hall, the principal noticed that the crayola-red extensions were still in the girl's hair. She one time lightly stroked the child's hair (BIG MISTAKE!  as harmless as the principal's intent was, a school employee is better off never initiating any physical contact with a child unless it is necessary for safety reasons) as she reminded the girl that the extensions weren't supposed to be there any longer, and said that if the child came to school with them the next day, she would be suspended and her parents would be called to pick the girl up. 

The girl went home and told her parents that the teacher pulled her hair.  The parents reported the incident to someone in the district office, who felt obligated to inform the police. The principal was charged with something to the effect of assault with intent to cause corporal injury upon a minor. (I can't tell you the exact charge.) Making things worse was that the child's teacher, who was not yet tenured, had recently been informed that she would not be invited back the following year and would not receive tenure with the district. Such decisions in most district, including this one, are usually made by the teacher's direct job supervisor, which in this case would have been the principal. This teacher had an ax to grind with the principal, and supported the child's allegations.  The principal was charged, mug-shotted, finger-printed, and the works.

Fortunately for the principal, security cameras were in place. Charges were dropped, and district action against the principal was suspended. (They did recommend to the principal that, for her own protection, she would be advised to have no physical contact whatsoever with students.) Furthermore, the district, in my opinion, did the right thing and formally disciplined the student for the false allegation. Also, there is a clause in the master teacher contract that a teacher may be fired for making false statements in direct connection to his or her job. The teacher was fired immediately. Unfortunately for the principal, these things never really go away. Charges are dropped, but the accused is never formally cleared. The accusation was above the fold on the front page of the newspaper in bold print. The resolution was a 1.5 inch article buried between a furniture store ad and an equally small article about the renewal of fishing licenses on page 4 of the "Local NEWS" section. The principal's mug shot is still on file at the police station.

I'll contrast this with another situation involving a close family friend. The girl was in the eighth grade. She was playing two roles in a school play.  Because of the dual role situation, she was changing from one costume to another when props for the pirates (her secondary role) were being handed out. When she went to the prop closet to get her pirate sword during  a dress rehearsal, no one was there to hand it to her. She quickly stepped in and grabbed the last remaining cardboard sword from the place where it hung on the back wall of the closet containing the props.

At that point, a teacher who was the designated stage manager for the play appeared. The teacher demanded to know what the student was doing in the prop closet. The student, as she tells it, tried to explain that no one was there and she needed her sword so that she could get onto the stage befor the curtain opened.  The teacher allegedly told the student, "If you want to be in the prop closet, you can stay in there!"  At this point, according to both parties, the teacher pushed the wooden stage backdrop in front of the door and across the back of the stage and anchored it into place with whatever hardward was used to anchor the backdrop so that it wouldn't fall on any of the actors during the scene.

The girl was effectively locked in the closet for fifteen minutes. Once  the scene ended, the backdrop was moved and the door was opened. The other the student prop managers and the pirates needing to put their cardboard swords away discovered the girl sitting on the floor of the prop room sobbing hysterically.  A student immediately summoned a teacher, who asked what was wrong. "Ms. *********  told me I have to stay in here," the girl blurted out barely understandably. The teacher pulled the girl up by both arms and physically removed her from the prop room. She asked questions of the girl as to what happened, then approached the teacher who had blocked the door, locking  the girl in the closet. 

The teacher who had blocked the girl into the closet tried to make excuses by saying that the backdrop had to be moved at that precise instant or the entire show would have been ruined.  This was just a dress rehearsal, and not even the final dress rehearsal;  two more would take place before the opening night, and furthermore, it was a freaking middle school play, not a Broadway production.  The teacher who had blocked the girl in admitted that she had never even once asked the girl to leave the closet, and furthermore, stood in her way as the girl tried to make an exit.  The teacher who removed the hysterical eighth-grader from the closet told the other teacher she would have to report the incident to the principal.

The girl said nothing to her parents because they were teachers and she was so accustomed to them almost always saying that the teacher was right that she thought she might be in trouble if she mentioned the incident. One of the parents heard sketchy details about the incident the next day at school because one of his fellow teachers had a child who was also in the play. He came home that evening and told his wife. It was time by then for play practice to end, and the mother went to give her daughter a ride home. As soon as her daughter stepped into the car, the mother said to her, "Emily [name changed to protect both the innocent and the guilty],  Jeff [NCTPBTIATG] told his mother that you were locked in a closet last night. What happened?"

"Mom, it was Ms. *********," the girl blurted out. She quickly told her version of the story. As soon as they reached home, the mother asked the girl to repeat the account to the father. 

The father had taught Ms. *********'s daughter a few years earlier, and Ms. ********** had been very quick to call him to complain whenever her daughter's feelings had been hurt at school. On at least one instance, either the daughter lied to her mother or the mother lied to the teacher when making the complaint to the teacher. In any event, the father thought this latest action merited a call to Ms. ********. This happened in a small rural/metropolitan area with two towns less than ten miles apart, and teachers usually either know each other's numbers or can get them easily. 

When the girl's father reached Ms. ********* by phone, she didn't outwardly deny having done that of which she was accused, but blamed the child for being in the prop closet and offered the same lame excuse that the backdrop had to be moved at that precise instant or the "show" [dress rehearsal] would have been ruined. Ms. ********* repeatedly tried to get the father to tell her what child had ratted her out. She mentioned several names of students whose parents he taught with, none of whom was the correct child. He repeatedly told her, "I'm NOT telling you who told!" She was far more concerned with who told on her than with any other aspect of the situation. The father finally  exclaimed, "I don't care if a  stupid middle school production is ruined or not; you do NOT Tlock a child in a closet for fifteen minutes. There is no excuse for your actions!" The call ended on that note. Ms. ********* was very quick to tell the play director the next day that Emily's father had referred to the play as "stupid." The play director was still unaware of the situation. She eventually was told.

Emily's parents decided to avoid further disruption of the play until its conclusion, as time was not of the essence and Emily was unharmed. (Emily was, in fact,  the celebrity du jour and thrived on the attention. She even received several fan letters from sixth- and seventh-graders.) Other parents called both the principal and the district office to report the incident, and all were either politely told that their concerns were duly noted or, in one instance, that it was none of this mother's business because Emily was not her child.  The mother argued with the principal, saying that her own child might be the next cast member locked in the closet.

After the production concluded, the mother talked to the teacher who had pulled Emily from the closet and asked her to explain the situation as best she could according to what she had observed.  She said that the first thing she saw was Emily crying in the closet and saying that Ms. ********* had told her she must stay there. She then recounted the other students' versions of the incident. She said she went to the principal the next day to report the incident.  The mother then spoke to the director of the play, who was only able to report what others had told her second-hand, but was surprised she hadn't heard from the family earlier. The mother then  called the school counselor, as the principal was known to be not terribly approachable on given days. The counselor reported that she had been called by parents about the incident. She had referred them either to the district office or to the school principal.  She told the mother it didn't matter what kind of mood the principal was in. it was his job to deal with the situation, and she should call him immediately because he was giving out the escuse, "If the Kaisers  are concerned, they'll call me."

The mother called the principal. The principal's initial response was that he didn't understand how anyone could be locked in a closet that did not lock.  The mother explained about the backdrop being anchored into place, effectively blocking the door, and told the principal she was surprised he hadn't even bothered investigating the incident even that far.  The principal said he would now investigate. The mother was too conciliatory, but told the principal, "I'm going to trust you to do your job and I'm not going to tell you how to do it, but I will remind you of something you already know, which is that you are a mandated reported of child abuse, as is every employee on staff, Anyone who has direct knowledge of this incident and fails to report it is putting his or her credentials on the line. Keep that in mind."

In the end, little was done, and the incident was swept under the carpet, but the child was told by her parents to stay as far away from Ms. ********* as possible, and to report it to them if Ms. ********* approached her, as they had told the principal that they demanded that Ms. *********  was to have no further ontact of any kind with their daughter unless there was a serious safety concern, as in if the child was choking. Emily  was allowed to make the decisionas to whether or not to press formal charges. Considerations were that any formal charges against Ms. ********* would impact not just her  but her entire family. Emily liked liked the woman's husband, and the idea that Ms. *********'s daughter and Emily would have to go through the remainder of eighth grade and high school together convinced her it would be best to let it go as long as the parents were assured the incident was noted in Ms. *********'s personnel file. Emily's father also told the principal, "If anything else of this nature ever happens to Emily while she's at your school, your credential is on the line. It may be too late for you to report this incident without repercussions, but I can report it any time and your credentials are at risk."  He also said he could not guarantee that any other member of the family would not report the incident. (Emily has a large extended family of educators.) This was bold on his part, as principals are rotated from schools periodically, and the man could have become his or his wife's boss at any time.

These are two extreme examples. Most situations fall somewhere in between.  A teacher once contacted my mother because I was refusing to anwer questions to which  I knew the answers in a physics class. The problem for me was that I was a freshman and the other students were junions and seniors. They were giving me a hard time for being Miss Konw-it-All, so I stopped answering questions. My mom worked out a solution with the teacher that he would direct one question per class session to me, which I would answer to the best of my ability.  Additionally, I would volunteer to answer one question per class session by raising my hand. Beyond that, I was not to be asked questions because it was placing me in a bad postion with my classmates.

When I was in kindergarten, I typically finished my assigned work very quickly and began to use the remaining time to distract other students. Advancing me to the next grade wasn't a viable option, as my brother and I were the two youngest kids in the class, and I was extremely timy for my age. My parents told me I was NOT  EVER to bother anyone else in the class. Then  my mom helped my teacher come up with a plan for how I could use my time productively when my assigned work was finished.

I had my highly negative experience with Mrs. Moore, my initial fifth grade teacher, which I've already shared, who essntially psychologically abused me. When my parents learned the truth of that situation, they remved me from her class.

It's really  a "to every thing there is a season" sort of thing.  More often than not it's probably a good idea to support the teacher; furthermore, for the most part, if a fully-informed parent supports a teacher, he or she is also indirectly supporting his or her child. Most teachers are far too busy to make up false allegations against a child. When my mom taught, she said the very last thing she ever wanted to do was to contact a parent regarding the parent's child's behavior or lack of productivity, though sometimes it was necessary.

Teachers aren't perfect, however, {some less so than others]  and parents must keep channels of communication open with their children and must step in if  a child -- even one who is not their own if the parent learns of it through his or her own child -- has been or is being mistreated.  A parent must take whatever action is necessary to rescue his or her child from an abusive situation.

Most of the time, however,  it isn't simply a case of a child being "bad" or a teacher being incompetent.  More often than not a child is doing something he or she should not be doing. Rather than simply punishing the child, though consequences for clear misbehavior at school are not unreasonable and are in fact probably a good idea, it is good to work toward a ssolution. A child who is disturbing a class or otherwise acting out is getting something from that behavior. It's wise to figure out what positive consequence he or she is deriving from the behacior and remove that as a variable, and to alter the circumstances and eradicate behavior in order to set the child up for success.  Parents must kep in mind, though, that their child is only one in a classroom full of children. An entire routine cannot always be changed to accommodate one child. Sometimes it is the child who has to be taught to adapt and to fit into the routine. 

Children must be taught that their bodies are not to be violated and that they should not be humiliated or treated unkindly on a regular basis.  Teachers are human; the most patient teacher on earth will occasionally snap at a child, as will a parent.  A child should tell a parent if any possible form of abuse is the case, and the parent should immediately investigate the situation, possibly even before seding the chid back to school, but the parent should not form any conclusions until hearing the other side of the story.  It is wise to keepin mind that if a child consistently has problems with whatever teacher to whose class he or she has been assigned, chances are that the problem is not the teacher. The vast majority of teachers are competent, hard-working, and conscientious. (Chances are that every student will come across at least one bad apple by the time he graduates from high school, though.) Children  should be told  to do as the teacher tells them to do. Someone has to be in charge in the classroom or else the situation is chaotic, creating an unsafe environment in which no one learns what they should learn. Probably more important than anything, however, is for parents and teachers to work together to ensure success for each child.


  1. I'm glad I don't have to deal with teachers, schools, or any of the weirdness going on in schools today.

  2. It's always a tough call for parents. I've found myself on both my child's side and on the teacher's side and honestly am not completely sure I was correct in every occasion.

  3. When I made that statement about always siding with your child instead of the teacher, I was thinking exclusively of me and you. Please make sure to read my responses on the previous post including a woman who had a nervous breakdown at age 17 but is now loved by tens of millions of people.

    My statement only applies to good parents who bring up good children. If a parent tortures a child then it would be normal or natural for that child to torture other people.

    I had an issue in elementary school (none in middle school, high school or college) where I talked during auditorium and was scolded for it. I deserved that but did not do it anymore. Then I went to try out for glee club and that teacher did not let me try out since I had talked during auditorium.

    She had another teacher as a friend and I got her in 5th grade and the teacher tried to make my life miserable. But my mother backed me up, not her. Then she made sure that for 6th grade I would get the auditorium teacher so she could make my life miserable. By not allowing me to try out for glee club may have prevented me from being a professional singer.

    When it comes to you and I, our parents love us but the teachers do not love us. But as you were pointing out with examples, some parents do not love themselves and do not love their children and that destroys everything. Again please read what I said in my last post since it was not me disagreeing with you but me trying to help you feel better about your spiritual crises.

  4. I was not a teacher except I did help a coach with her gymnastics team of little girls. Also I taught gymnastics at a summer camp and we all got along nicely. One time a female camper there around 15 liked me. So she got on the trampoline while it was closed. I was the only trampoline teacher at that camp and I was muscular with a nice tan.

    I told her that she is not allowed on it while it is closed and there is no spotter. So she told me that she is not getting off and if I want her off, then I have to get her off. So I got on it and wrestled with her for about 15 minutes and then she got off. My superior saw it and asked me about it. So I told him what happened and he decided that I handled it the best way.

    Then a girl's group had a scavenger hunt where they are assigned to get different things on a list. What is wrong with that? So a bunch of girls came into the room that I was in, and they tried to pull my pants off. They had put my pants on the list. So I told them that they could have my pants with me in them and I walked back with them so they could get credit.

  5. So let me make this perfectly clear. I withdraw my initial statement-- "My friend's stance is that you always support your child." You have thought this out more thoroughly than I have. I am surprised by how much you know at age 20 and how much experience you have had. Thank you for calling me your friend.

    You demonstrate why having 2 parents can be better than having one parent. Instead of thanking you for the above, I will say something better than "Thank you." ►What would I do without you!◄ It is very nice for me to talk to someone that is smarter than myself and also very nice. I really appreciate you and your genius.

  6. My only issues with teachers have always seemed to be a teacher not listening to me when I tried to explain whatever grievance they had with me. I always had a reasonable explanation and my mom was pretty good about stepping in to help explain (I was a good kid and never really did anything wrong in school).

    My biggest issues that my mom fought teachers over where the teachers lack of understanding of medical issues. I have hypermobility syndrome (often described as the same as ehlers -danlos hypermobility type but without strong genetic connections and my skin isn't super stretchy) but I wasn't diagnosed until I was 21. So I was this weird kid with a bunch of seemingly unrelated medical issues. My biggest problems with teachers occurred after surgeries. I had my tonsils out in 5th grade after having strep every three weeks for over a year. I missed a week of school and was pretty sick so didn't get much of the work teachers had sent home done. When I went back to school I literally came home every day after school, did homework, ate dinner, did more work and then went to bed. On the second or third day back my English teacher pulled me aside and told me she was upset I hadn't finished my work yet. She wrote a note to my mom and I went home pretty upset because I lived in fear of getting in trouble. (This was the same teacher who got mad at me for requesting too many index cards to log my reading. As in my English teacher was upset that I was reading too much. So I was already nervous about her). My mom went ballistic and wrote the nastiest note I had seen up to that point to the teacher about how I had been recovering from surgery where I had complications that required an overnight in the hospital for a normally outpatient procedure and literally all I was doing was work. I ignored all my other classes that night and finished the English work. I don't remember the Teacher's reaction to the note but I do remember that the next day she gave out a worksheet that I had completed already as part of my take home packet and she had forgotten that the rest of the class hadn't gotten to it yet. So now I was ahead.

    After knee surgey in high school I had a crazy gym teacher and knew he was going to give me a bad grade for not being physically able to do as much (I haven't been able to run since high school and I have injuries that appear out of no where so people used to think I was faking. The first time I dislocated a rib my dad yelled at me to be quiet because my family was that used to me screaming out for no reason and thought I was being dramatic). Anyway, I told my surgeon and he wrote me a note saying I couldn't participate in gym that year at all (knowing I would be in pt). My gym teacher decided he knew more than my orthopedic surgeon and argued it all the way up to the superintendent without my knowledge. My mom was livid and basically implied they were in violation of the ADA.

    Well, a novel later and I will say that I think that if you know your kid and they are in general honest and don't cause trouble it makes sense to support your kid. I loved knowing that my mom would go yell at anybody she needed to when I was in school if I was being treated unfairly. Also my mom is a teacher lol.