I dutifully returned the call of a parent concerned about her fourteen year old son’s progress in Year 8 English. The previous week, parents had received their child's ‘interim’ reports. Every six weeks, in addition to parent teacher interviews and formal reporting, our school prepares these reports for close to a thousand students.
After telling me she was concerned about her son’s unsatisfactory progress, the call proceeded thus:
Her: My son is only getting Ns in your class.
Me: What are you implying?
At this stage of my career, I’m sick of parents ringing up and thinking they can malign my teaching competence in this way. It’s something I have never done when addressing the teachers of my own kids. It’s simply rude. It’s even more rude given my status within my school and my excellent reputation - no false modesty. But I suppose she’s not to know me from a bar of soap.
Now of course I understand just about the entire psychology of parental investment in their children. Yes, it’s probably an unfathomable body of work, but I’m getting a bit long in the tooth and I know what I know, based on protracted, sometimes excruciating years of experience as a moderately intelligent teacher, and parent of a couple of occasionally ‘ne’er do well’ children to boot. I know how terrible it feels when you know you’ve put in so much as a parent and your kids won’t come to the party and satisfy your parental needs with 'braggable' ENTER scores and virtuosity in the performing arts or rocket science.
I take umbrage at the implication that it is my teaching that is making her boy fail.
This mother assured me that she wasn’t implying anything; she just couldn’t understand why her son was passing in every other teachers’ classes and failing in mine. Again, the castigations.
She wanted more from me, more than the blood I’m already giving.
She was demanding time that I don’t have to spare, given the fact that I’m just about always in the classroom, either teaching, or counselling and consoling year 12 students, or dealing with the occasional recalcitrant who needs a bit of a talking to at the end of a lesson, away from an audience. If I’m not in the classroom, or guarding the yard, I’m in a bleeding hour long meeting after school three afternoons a week. Or on the phone taking shit from caustic parents. I suppose she and her ne’er do well son could catch me for a spot of private tuition after I’ve done my weekly five hours of assessment and correction in bed on a Sunday morning.
The conversation became quite terse:
Her: Well, if you haven’t got the capacity to assist my son…
Me: I beg your pardon. Have you any idea how rude you sound?
But ultimately, despite twenty minutes on the phone, generally biting my tongue and being my political best, I was unable to ameliorate the situation.
And unfortunately, after I hung up the phone I burst into tears of frustration at the unfairness of it all, in front of two of my colleagues, one of whom is only twenty four, a new teacher in the area I coordinate and just embarking on her career. I felt pathetic.
Next day, the parent has followed through with a facetious open email, which borders on harassment, to the school office, which was then forwarded to me and the head of the junior school.
Fortunately, the junior school and year 8 coordinators are well apprised of my abilities as a teacher and have assured me I will not have to communicate with this parent again.
The irony is that it doesn’t matter how many successes I have, it’s these incidents that have the power to overwhelm me; hence the need to vent on a blog that is rarely read, to put it out there to float around unnoticed in the ether forever. But it has more chance of surviving than my volumes of self-absorbed journals, which my daughter, a writer herself, has assured me she will compost as soon as I’m in the nursing home, if not before.
Time for a chardonnay.