Thursday, March 7, 2013

Ready, Aim, Fire

When I was in 6th grade, I met the love of my life. His name was Mr. Eltiste and he was my math teacher. As luck would have it, math was my worst subject, but I endured it because Mr. Eltiste was my teacher. Not only was I weak in math, but I was also weak in the organization department. I lost my math book one day and was therefore unable to do my homework. In class, I told Mr. E (as we all liked to call him) that I had left my book at home and my homework was in my book. Because he loved me (at least, that's what I told myself in my mind), he told me to turn it in tomorrow. He believed my lie. Lucky me. Or not. Because later that day, someone found my math book and turned it in to Mr. E, thus exposing my lie. He tracked me down in the library and threw the book at me and yelled at me to never lie to him again. I was terrified. I had just avoided being hit with a flying book, I was yelled at in the library, and Mr. E probably didn't love me anymore. I went home that night and told my mother that Mr. E had thrown a book at me. When she asked why he would do such a thing, I told her about my little lie. She asked if the book actually hit me; I told her no. Her response: "Too bad."

First, a couple caveats. One, was he right to throw a book at me? Of course not. Two, should he have yelled at me in the library in front of other students? Pretty sure that's also a no. But it was the 1970's and education was different back then. I can also tell you that as a result of that incident, I never lied to Mr. Eltiste again and I worked my rear end off to get him to respect me again (okay, love me again). I was most scared of disappointing him again in the future. Had he not been so upset with me, I probably would have calculated it out in my mind that if I got away with a lie once, I could do it again. Instead, I learned a valuable lesson. I also learned that I wasn't getting any sympathy at home. Apparently, I did wrong first so Mr. E's anger was justified.

Flash forward to 2013. What the heck, you don't have to flash forward that far. You can even flash forward to the late 1990's, I suppose, but definitely flash forward to the past 5 years or so. I am sure had the same incident taken place, it would be newsworthy and the teacher would be fired and in the middle of a lawsuit. I'm not going to debate whether that is right, wrong, or other. Instead, I want to look at the reaction of my mother. Her first inclination was to take the side of the teacher, not her child. At least that's what I could see. If she thought he was a horrible teacher because of that incident, she sure never let on to me that she felt that way. She also didn't let me feel like my wrong doing could be excused somehow by what he did. She subtly let me know that I screwed up and deserved to be punished. My mother held me responsible for my actions. She also knew Mr. Eltiste well enough to know that he was a partner with her in my education. When did that change in education? When did some parents (yes, some, because many are so wonderful and some are....not) decide that teachers were no longer partners with them, wanting what's best for the child, and instead decide that teachers were the enemy? When did it become acceptable and preferable to be out to get a teacher for showing one ounce of human behavior? Yes, human behavior. Mr. Eltiste was mad he had been lied to. he lost his temper. Human beings have been known to do that. When did teachers have to start to candy coat everything they say and do? Why can't I tell a student that he is being rude when he talks back to me? Why can't I tell a student she is being lazy when she drops a wadded up piece of paper on the floor and refuses to throw it in the garbage, and that she's being arrogant when she tells me that's the janitor's job? Why can't I tell a student that it is disgusting to eat a Kleenex? (Yes, these are real stories here, folks.) Teachers DO get in trouble with parents and principals for saying these things to students. Parents think a teacher is lying when he calls home to talk about an issue with the child. Do parents really believe that teachers are pathological liars who have nothing better to do than sit around and make up stories about children? We teachers care about the kids we teach. We teachers want to be an assistant to the parents, and we want the parents to be assistants to us. After all, don't we all want what's best for the child's education? When did open season on teachers start? And why? I wish someone could explain it to me.

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