This week I dealt with a student who was sellin' stories to me and her mother. It took tears and tough love, but she finally told the truth and is (fingers crossed) back on track.
I wouldn't describe myself as a particularly tough teacher. I'm the "nice one" who only yells when she gets "super mad". If I sent a kid to the office on a referral, the deans would say, "Ms. L wrote you up? You must've done something really bad."
I'm a big believer in teaching from the heart, but I learned along the way that compassion comes in many forms. I started thinking about when I learned that lesson . . .
When I was a brand new teacher, I was on a team with a very seasoned teacher. The kids were scared of her and constantly complained that she was "soooooo old." That year, I was just 23, and it was definitely an interesting contrast for the kids to come from her class, half-asleep after a lecture, into mine, where I let them lay on the floor during silent reading.
Even though we had very different teaching styles, I was happy to be teaming with Wilma. She was tough. She was smart. And, she was right. Nine times out of ten, when she made a decision or assessment about one of our kids, it was right.
One of my favorite things to do was go to a parent conference with Wilma. She was in total control. The parents (who were sometimes her former students!!!) listened and agreed. They asked for her advice. They nodded and told their kids, "Now you listen to your teacher."
And me? Well, I just sat and absorbed. I knew I looked like the students and most parents didn't want to hear my two cents. So I would echo her wisdom and sometimes throw in some information about their reading levels.
I'll never forget one conference with the parents of James*. James was always in trouble, and I knew he had his parents fooled. When I called home, they would say, "It's so shocking, he doesn't act that way at home." (Well, duh. He saves it for school!) So, when I got the note that they'd requested a conference, I knew we were in for a treat.
The conference began normally, with just a brief discussion of grades. Then the conversation quickly turned to behavior issues. James started saying, "That's not true!" and "Mom, I didn't do that!"
His mother looked at Wilma and said, "Well, James said he didn't do it. What do you say to that?"
Wilma, without blinking an eye, replied, "Ma'am, your son is lying."
I braced myself for a fight. I feared the worst - a screaming parent and a student who knew they'd just gained total control.
But, his mom didn't move. She just kept looking at Wilma. Finally, (after what felt like hours of tortured silence, but was probably more like ten seconds) she glanced over at James, and then back to Wilma.
"Thank you. I think I needed someone to remind me."
I wish I could tell you that after the conference, his behavior turned around and he made straight A's. But we teachers know those kind of tales are few and far between. I can tell you, however, that I was forever changed that day.
Coddling a parent can be just as damaging as coddling a child. Hard as it can be sometimes, if a parent needs to hear bad news, we, as teachers, should tell them.
Next week when I check back up on my story-selling student, I will think of Wilma, and the tough love she showed us all.
Lindsay of 241 teachers