Thursday, May 21, 2009

That Well-Worn Path to the Woodshed

“Will you please call me about this?”


I received this brief invitation in an e-mail this afternoon. It was signed by my son’s principal, and it referenced an earlier e-mail I had sent to his English teacher. It seems my son, a seventh grader who apparently has no ambitions for advancement, had failed to turn in a poetry packet which was due a couple of weeks ago. I will never understand a kid who completes all of the reading and class work for a two-week-long project and then simply forgets to hand it to the teacher. For most of us, the ‘putting it on the desk’ part of the transaction would be easy; it’s getting all that Haiku and iambic pentameter stuff sorted out that’s the real stumper.

However, as irksome as it is to have a child who spends most of the day wandering the quad asking himself, “What the heck am I doing here?”, I was particularly frosted that according to the school web site, my son was receiving a ‘B’ in English. It wasn’t the ‘B’ that annoyed me, it was the fact that he had been told that due to his having lost the poetry packet he was now failing the class.

It’s a fair leap from ‘B’ to ‘F’, and had Jake not shown the kind of guts and auditory data retention almost unheard of in a seventh grader and both remembered and told me about his change of fortune, we likely would not have heard about the failing grade until we received the engraved invitation to summer school. “RSVP. Hateful scowl optional.”

So I e-mailed the teacher, asking her why there was no mention of this discrepancy on her grade sheet. I was civil, and I didn’t insist she accept the late assignment. I merely questioned her failure to fulfill the minimum obligation owed to the parents of her students, namely, updating the grades on the web site.

She responded by not responding at all. Instead, she forwarded the message to her principal, with the request that the principal “advise as to how she might handle the situation.” I don’t know what she expected would happen were she to simply reply to my e-mail or, in lieu of that, sign on to the system and fill in the missing grades, but clearly she was treating the problem in much the same way an airport lackey deals with a suspicious, unclaimed suitcase menacing the terminal’s food court: She turned it over to someone with more zeros on their paycheck.

So now I’m faced with a dilemma: Do I call the principal and go over all of this nonsense with her, knowing as I do that this particular administrator has more faces than a “Where’s Waldo” poster and therefore can’t be expected to be straight with any of the parties involved? Or do I do what comes naturally when summoned to the seat of authority, namely, hide in my closet until it all blows over?

You see, that’s the real problem. Believe it or not, I’m kind of a chicken when it comes to certain authority figures. Anyone reading this who knows me is probably blowing diet Coke through their noses at the suggestion that I could be intimidated by a middle-aged woman sporting a string of Emitations pearls and sensible shoes, but it’s true. The slightest possibility that I’m going to be scolded by someone sitting on the drawer side of the desk triggers within me deep-seated fight or flight instincts. National Geographic could do an entire issue on folks like me. There I’d be on the front cover, sobbing into my checkbook while the bank manager (at his big desk, of course) lectures me on the importance of keeping my account balanced and demands I return the toaster.

I’m one of nature’s rule keepers, and there is nothing I dread more than the thought of getting caught doing something unlawful. The gravity of the crime is irrelevant; I would feel as ashamed eating a grape I hadn’t paid for as I would looting corporate retirement funds. I’ve got a one-size-fits-all guilt gland, and it covers pretty much every infraction from gossip to genocide.

There was a time when I might have pondered the reasons for such an overactive compulsion to be on the side of the angels, but not any more. I’m an oldest child, and I’ve read enough “I’ll Be Okay Once I Pay $12.95 For This Self-Help Book” self-help books to know that oldest children tend to define their worth by what they do, not necessarily by who they are, or something like that. So it’s not uncommon for ‘oldests’ to become teachers, ministers, and third world despots. Our work doesn't just speak for itself, it maps our DNA. Dobee Ergo Ibee, that’s our motto.

It doesn’t help that I have the most stuck-up, highly strung karma on the psychic plane. I’m telling you, I never get away with anything. I no sooner start bad-mouthing an older boy who’s been picking on my son than someone in the room reveals that the kid was found years earlier wandering in the desert outside Panacha, Nevada, with nothing but the shirt on his back and a sock monkey he called “mama.”

If everyone is making faces while the teacher is writing on the board, I’ll be the one with my eyes crossed and my thumbs in my ears when she turns around. It’s always been like that. I have to be careful not to wave down highway patrolmen and inform them that I was just doing 80 in a 60 mile zone, and if they know what’s good for society they’ll throw the book at me.

So it figures I would have a child who keeps getting me called down to the principal’s office. And it’s no different than when I was the student, the teacher reading the note she’s just been handed and announcing, “DeNae, Mr. Newton would like to see you. Take your books. You won’t be coming back.”

As I collect my binders for the long walk to the big house I imagine campers, years later, roasting marshmallows and telling the story of the girl who back-sassed the janitor, was sent to the office, and was never….heard from….again.

The moment I saw who the e-mail was from, that cold, hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach returned. I didn’t even need to read it, I knew exactly what it was. It might as well have been pink and hand-delivered by an office aid. That big tattle-tale English teacher. What gets into some people? Here she was the one who didn’t keep the rule (“Teachers will update their grades on ParentLink every Friday afternoon so parents can get a jump on grounding their offspring for the weekend”), my kid was the one who required GPS to locate the teacher’s inbox, and I was the one being summoned to the woodshed! How the heck is that fair?

And yet, in my heart of hearts, it makes perfect sense. I sent one message calling someone on their inappropriate behavior, and in keeping with the natural order of the universe I am being taken to task for it. The Unabomber managed to get away with more mail-related sins than I do. It’s just the way it is.

Of course, it’s possible that the principal wishes to apologize in person for the obvious breakdown of discipline that has taken place at the middle school, and is only asking that I contact her to schedule a time for the ceremony. She’ll call the student body together in the school cafetorium, publicly beg my forgiveness, and ask that I continue to shine as a beacon of compliance and unwavering obedience to the policies and procedures of the Clark County School District. The English teacher will be summoned to the podium and forced to testify as to her incompetence, and I will be allowed to pull her hair. Medals will be distributed. Tears will be shed. I’ll be a hero and an icon to uptight rule-keepers everywhere.

But just in case my karma has anything to say about it, I’ll cut a switch on my way to the school. I’d hate to show up to the woodshed empty handed.


Steph @ Diapers and Divinity said...

I think when they have that school assembly in your honor, you should sing "No boundaries" while confetti falls from the ceiling.

As a first-child rule keeper myself, I know that role also comes with a slight dose of confidence. I don't think you'll need a switch. Reach into you past a dust off that janitor-humbling sass and you'll do fine. :)

TheQueen@TerrorsInTiaras said...

Ack!!! I think your son and my daughter have the same teacher, and clearly the same problem in finding the inbox of said ridiculous teacher. And, me being an oldest child, it makes NO SENSE to me how you would feel comfortable doing a hard assignment and simply not turning it in--Didn't you think that there would be some problem with that?
Well, I hope that you do become famous at your school and fix this problem. Then, I'll just do what you did and fix mine. Either that, or I'll hide in the closet with you.

Brittany Ann said...

Teachers are ridiculous, they don't like to have the authority challenged. I bet, however, that the principal is a reasonable person. I hope it works out okay, I'll keep my fingers crossed.

veronica said...

The teacher is chicken. But good luck with the principal.
You can do it!
And when it's all over, I hope you'll put the assembly on Youtube. I'd hate to miss it.

NOBODY said...

I agree, that teacher is a chicken!

It reminds me of when I say, "Why is there a puddle of glue in the middle of my living room?" and stare menacingly at the known culprit and he answers, "Well SHE just ate her boogers!"

The teacher dropped the ball.

I am a second to youngest of 9, so if there's a rule to be broken or a loophole to be found, I will find it. But I do have that same fear of authority. I find that when I prepare myself for several directions the conversation can take, I do much better. Also, go armed with a couple of power-play buzz words, and be sure to use the phrase, "i'm puzzled as to why..." and do the whole furrowed brow, like you really are puzzled. That's one of my personal favorites.

Your description of your son made me laugh out loud. My oldest is six, and even just one short year ago, I would have thought you are exaggerating. :)

NatureGirl said...

It was actually orange juice not Coke, but the idea is the same. I find it best in these situations to remember who works for whom--if you know what I mean!

brudcrew said...

As a former teacher, I can say that by this time of the year, the less parents you have to talk to the better! It's just a slow body drag to that first week in June. Having said that...I never realized that despite my teaching experience, as a parent, teachers and principals make me really nervous! How strange is that?

SO said...

I am rolling my eyes at the teacher sending it forward to the principal instead of replying to you. Sheesh.

I have had to learn to get over my fear of people in "power" so that I can be an advocate for my child.

Really. How are you supposed to help your child and support the teacher if you have NO clue that he is failing??

To be honest I would be pissed that the teacher didn't email me back. And I would let the teacher know this.

Oh and I have found that whenever I send an email off to a teacher I send a cc to the principal with it and let the teacher know that as well so that the principal knows what is going on.

I have also found that sometimes you have to keep really, really good records of any and all communications that you have with a specific teacher or principal so that you have a "paper trail" as it were to show that you have done all that you can before moving on to the "higher ups" as it were.

Good luck. I hate dealing with stuff like this.

Sarah said...

Maybe the answer is just to let them read this post and see how it goes. I too am the one that gets caught every time when I do make the stupid mistake of doing something stupid, and it is usually me using the switch on my own backside, no one ever has to do it for me. There is enough self punishment that it never is necessary for anyone else to do it for me.

Janet said...

my children have been blessed with good teachers. Except one. I was ready to go head to head with her, but fortunately, it didn't come to that.

I've always been a pleaser myself, but I have found that I can summon the hutzpah to stick up for my kiddos. It's getting easier as the teachers and principles are all my age and, sadly, becoming younger than me.

Lisa said... are living my parallel life...for my 7th grader, it's the math teacher. I dread seeing her emails in my box. At our school, there are no "firm guidelines" on when the teachers are to have the grades and missing assignments in.

I've also been told at parent teacher conference (another nightmare...5 teachers sitting in a semi-circle facing you in the hot seat), after grounding my daughter for the weekend following a glance at the report, that "you shouldn't use the progress reports to judge where your child stands because it's not always accurate." My question, what's the point?

Oh, and I, too, am the oldest child. Thanks for explaining that relationship to my "need to please."

Lara said...

Sounds to me like the teacher is scared of you. Or maybe parents in general. Maybe she has a worse case of dealing with confrontation than you do! You must use this information to your advantage!

Good luck. My younger brother was like that. he'd do all the work, but never turned it in. My mother had no idea what to do with him, short of going to the school and turning it in for him. It's just such a strange problem to have!

Debbie said...

Gather some posse and meet the teacher after school by the flag pole.

Kristina P. said...

Debbie, I think it's under the bleachers now.

DeNae, do you want me to send some of my clients to jump her? They totally would.

Melanie J said...

Yeah, I don't have this problem. I flat out told my kid's teacher this year that he wasn't doing all the spelling homework she assigned because I couldn't take it anymore. As a former English teacher, I have no problem having those kinds of conversations. You're totally within your rights to have emailed her. Just be pleasant when you talk to the principal and all will be well.

Melissa said...

"a sock monkey he called 'mama'"
I am still snorting and peeing a little!
You are hysterical, and a kindred spirit.

Now sac up and go directly to the teachers classroom and kick her in the shins!

Brooke said...

I'll see your spazzed karma and raise you one. I am so freaked out by confrontation that I make Ghandi look like a cage fighter.

EXCEPT when it comes to my kids. If I'm totally sure in my heart of hearts that my kid is getting the shaft, then the MAMA BEAR in me comes out and boy howdy, you better get outta my way.

But when that moment passes, I'm back to a quivering blob hiding in the closet. I've often wished that I could harness that Mama Bear at will, but so far, I haven't figured out how.

Beka said...

I've no doubt that you've clearly been wronged and the whole situation was not handled well. My mom is a teacher though, and so in her defense, it's the end of the year, and there's a lot to get done, and the posting of grades probably slipped through to the bottom of the list. (Actually, the poem packets are probably at the teach's home right now, gracing her kitchen table, threatening to fall over because of the sheer volume of them and facing gracing them makes a noose look good. All she really knows is that your son's isn't there. That's why the grades haven't been posted.)

Then again, it is the end of the year and if this one packet will have such an outcome, maybe you should know about it.

Rest assured, your kid isn't the only one who will mysteriously fail this class as a direct result of his own actions concerning poetry!

I had to take my kid into the principal's office last month so that he could confess his crime! Ahhh, the memories.

Good luck!

brudcrew said...

BTW, thanks for the kind comment on my blog! That you would encourage me to write more, is a real compliment. I think I would if I had more control of my brain cells.

Karen said...

If it were me, I would email the principal:

Dear Principal So-and-So,

I don't really know what there is to talk about. My kid didn't turn in an assignment and the teacher says he's failing. ParentLink says he has a B. I just need to know which is right so I that I know how to plan the summer. Take care!

Jessica said...

That a teacher is "tough" enough to teach 7th graders, but isn't "tough" enough to talk to you says a lot.

Good luck, remember the year is almost over and you won't have to deal with them for 3 months.

Shantel said...

We are kindred spirits! I often say what I think - LOUDLY - and usually end up keeting bit in the butt for it.
You know what? Just do it. I have learned that much from fighting with the school district over my kids. They are here to support families not the other way around, and you have every right to ask any question you want. You pay taxes, and therefore their paychecks!
The Lord needs people like you and I DeNae. He just needs us to lose out fear of people. We are in the ranks with Enoch and Joseph Smith - both who had to go through really drastic things to lose their fear of man so they could be used for the Lords work. My husband says I am a Bull in an emotional China Shop - and there is purpose in that. We get things done. This is a gift. Dont hide. Break some things!

DeNae said...

Before I inadvertently hurt any feelings, particularly those of my sister, Kim, who is a teacher extraordinaire, it must be clearly understood that this is not an indictment of any teacher, including Jake's English teacher. He's the ding-dong who didn't turn in the assignment!

It's mostly a commentary on what a big lily livered baby I am when it comes to any confrontation where the authority figure isn't me.

That's all. You may continue commenting...

AS Amber said...

Ok, I'm kinda glad you just made that disclaimer. The only reason being that Avery informed me last night at 8:00 that she needed to turn in FIVE homework packets tomorrow (today) or she wouldn't be allowed to do the big "water activity" that the rest of the school was doing. Really? Number one: Avery, you only have TWO packets at home to turn in. And two: what is she gonna do when everyone else is outside? And three: why don't I know she's missing all these assignments? And four: Why is she missing them in the first place???
I talked to her teacher this morning & we got it worked out. I didn't make her let Avery participate, but she said she'd let her if she promised to turn in 5 pages of homework. Whatever.
Why do our kids wait to the very last possible moment to tell us this kind of news?
I kinda had to chuckle a little because I was reminded of something you said to me when I failed a quarter of soph english: You realize itals your native tongue, right?
And as if I hadn't gone on long enough on this comment...I'm really surprised that you're such a chicken! I'm about as mellow as they come but I almost LIVE for this kind of stuff! Does that have anything to do with me being the youngest???
Love ya! And I LOVE that naughty Jake!

Motherboard said...

Not only do I have the 1st child syndrome of "Must be assimilated and comply to all rules" I am a self narker.

Guilt is my middle name. I sort of hate my middle name.

myimaginaryblog said...

I'm debating whether to tell a short version of this story here or a long one on my blog. I'll go with the short version (and *maybe* a long blog version later.)

Last week I got an email from Ike's teacher (6th grade) that since Ike had refused to even work on an assignment for the "NOVA" program, he was the only student who would not be graduating.

I composed a long, as-diplomatic-as-possible response, saying, among other things, that while it was of course at her discretion, that seemed to be a harsh consequence for one unfinished assignment.

She emailed me back that it was just the "NOVA" program (anti-drug thing) that he wouldn't be graduating from, which had no effect on his grades in her class. I felt foolish, but I read her first email to my husband and he said he'd have thought the same thing I did.

It was an exhausting day.

myimaginaryblog said...

P.S. that reminds me of another blog post I haven't yet written: I saw in "BYU Today" that some BYU researcher is studying all the negative effects from parents' spending much more time with their oldest kids than their younger ones, and I thought, "Doesn't he realize the younger ones are the ones getting the better deal?!"

honeypiehorse said...

You might be over thinking this a tad. The teacher punted on a basic courtesy, i.e., communicating with parents before failing a child that was previously doing fine. I'm surprised she forwarded her screw up to the principal, frankly. And the principal probably mainly wants to discuss the failing grade with you and next steps.

Debbie said...

I don't blame you for needing some clarification on this or for dreading talking to the principal. And in my opinion, that teacher was just a coward on so many levels.
I have given birth to your child's twin, apparently. I feel you pain on a very personal level.

DeNae said...

Nu-uh, honeypiehorse, she's TOTALLY out to get me. They all are...

Mom said...

Ditto, my last week consisted of Mitch "shunned" in his room-twice. My husband showing up unanounced at his school three days in a row to go over their "losing his papers" every darn day. Turns out his "starters"(which is writing one paragraph in the first five minutes of class)had been lost by the bewildered teacher 40 times. He was even failing guitar, which if it were based on volume and "jamming" at jet-engine decibles (while locked in his room), he'd ace the class. I had a face-to-face with Mitch's 5th grade teacher-ogre where I yelled, "How can you look like a kindly Mother Goose behave like Eva Braun"? She was actually scared of me...huh, it seemed to work out better that way

Qait said...

a sock monkey he called mama!!! HAHHAHAHHA! Oh I love your posts! I'm sorry that you're suffering right now, but it sure made a funny blog today!
When I'm intimidated by other people, I try to intimidate them. For better or worse...

Shauna said...

Hope you have a super weekend!
♥ HUGS ♥

Shawn said...

Middle school, right? Detest it!

All the teachers overdo it, and think that they are just getting the kids "ready" for high school. Arrrgghhh!

I had a child that did the same thing---and the teacher was a moron just like yours is.... He went from a B plus to failing. Huh?

Ended up giving him a C minus, when he turned it in---B-atch!

Lesia said...

As a dedicated educator, I have to say that many of these comments have gotten my panties in a bunch. Yes, I am a parent too. My daughter has had teachers that do not meet the mark. However, I am trying to understand the sheer volume of agression shared on DeNae's wonderful blog. It seems that somewhere along the line, teachers have become the enemy. Don't for one minute think that your children don't mimick your exsmple when dealing with their teachers. Let's try to remember that most teachers are nurturers. We dedicate our lives to children and creating environments that help empower them to become happy, healthy members of our society. We spend our money in the classrooms to make the environment pleasing and enjoyable. Since you pay my salary,(as stated in one comment) I must say that I am disappointed that you think so little of your child that you look for "bargain basement" teachers. Hmm, I just wonder why many of you are not educators? Is it because you don't want to spend your day with 20-30 children that have been shown through their parents' behavior that they are spending the day with the enemy?
Yes, the teacher should have email DeNae directly. But I really do not know what was said in the email. For that matter, would you want to walk in her shoes for a day or even one class period?
With much love,
The Enemy that spends the day with your children
(Sorry DeNae. I couldn't stop myself as I wrote out my check for immense student loans to pay for an education in order to provide best practice of instuction for students!)

Lesia said... I am over myself. I hate to be called to the principal's office, too. of course, that would be my boss! Sorry about the long diatribe!

Jen said...

Ok…kind of late posting but had to add this….your teacher/principle should be glad your wonderful child’s parent is not SHANE (who is DeNae’s brother)...he would of course have to call the teacher/principle and remind them that they are no different in the case of holding up their part of the deal…and then in a sweet, nice tone, let him know that they are an “A” hole, and then precede to remind them that he is not one of his students, but an adult and expects to be treated as such. Then would ask this said principle if he’s made himself clear several times until this said principle gives in to the pressure and say’s yes. Ya, they should consider themselves lucky they have sweet you to deal with!

Lisa Loo said...

This reminds me of my adventure with the "bat lady". Soul sisters are we. When do we leave on our Alaska cruise?