It’s early in the school year, but before too long I expect to see Concerned Parent at my classroom door. Don’t know yet which version I’ll get – the Stormtrooper, with eyes blazing and nostrils flaring, the Frowner, with furrowed brow and downturned mouth, or – my favorite – the Chuckler, who already knows what I’m going to say.
Regardless of who shows up, the question for me will begin the same way: “Did you really tell the kids. . .?” Over the years the end of this question has been:
- “. . .they couldn’t use wide-ruled paper?”
- “. . .it’s okay to swear in class?”
- “. . .they should have 10 pages of notes from each of 10 sources?”
- “. . .you believe kids should get paid to go to school?”
The answers to all of the above (and many more, the details of which I can’t remember) was and still is “No.” It’s just that what I said in class is sometimes misinterpreted by half-listening students or deliberately mis-repeated by more manipulative ones.
It works in reverse, too. Once I had a young lady tell the class that her mother had encouraged her to sleep with as many men as possible before she got married so she would know what she liked. When I contacted Mom (to let her know my response), she was shocked and vehemently denied ever saying such a thing. She had encouraged her daughter to date many men, but that was all.
Once in awhile a parent will tell me that a student feels I don’t like him or her. This surprises me, because I work hard to stay connected with all my kiddos, making sure that even if I’ve had to get after them for something, they know I still like them. This is usually done with an inside joke, a hand on a shoulder, or a request to run an errand for me – some little thing so they know it’s the behavior I object to, not the student. I do warn parents, however, that complaining about a teacher’s dislike often precedes a phone call about a behavior issue. It’s an effective deflection technique: “It’s not that I misbehaved, Mom; she’s just picking on me because she doesn’t like me!”
When I’ve had the chance to explain myself to parents, and to tell them what I’ve actually said, most of them become the Chuckler. They learn what I’ve learned from many years of dealing with young teens: Believe only half of what they say they’ve heard, and be sure to check out the other half. In fact, it’s an agreement I should make with parents at back-to-school conferences in August.
And I promise it’s what I’ll do with anything allegedly said at home.