Sunday, February 15, 2009

NO party for YOU

Dear Jeffrey's Teacher:

I seem to have not received or misplaced the last "Fifth Grade Flash" which must have contained the information about the Valentine's Party. Jeffrey is allergic and I would like to bring in some soy-based ice cream so that he can participate. Except that I am unsure of the time for this, is it 2:00?

And now he is telling me that the student teacher has threatened to cancel the party altogether. When did party cancellation become a method of discipline? I was appalled by the handling of the Christmas party, and now Valentines looks to include tears also. Since they are in 5th grade these are the last of the class parties these children will ever have, I think they should be good memories not bad ones.

If Jeffrey's behavior has been a problem I would like to know about it immediately, and not when I show up in the classroom for a celebration. Please contact me if there is an issue with him.


Jeffrey's Mother

I waited until 1:45 for a reply, and then headed over to the school with the "Soy Dream." I ran into Patty and Kendrea on my way in.

"We were just talking about you!" (I seem to get greeted that way far too often.) Patty explained that one of the moms at the bus stop that morning had been describing her daughter's distress over the rumored cancellation of the classroom Valentines party, and they figured out that she was in the same class as Jeff. It happens that we had book club the same day as the fateful Christmas Party of Misery, and they got to experience my therapeutic rant on the subject, so were in the know...

Here's that story: I had gone to the school to deliver the chopped tomatoes that were my assigned contribution to the "International Holiday Feast" which is the school's attempt at a PC Christmas and is an anticipated tradition for the 5th grade. The classroom mommy minions were already there setting up in the hallway. When I presented my bag of tomatoes I was greeted with "Oh, you did bring those! We'll just put them here next to the bowl I brought in case we run out." Humph. I decided to go into the classroom and found that the teacher was not there, but a student teacher was. She was in the middle of a tirade. She berated the students repeatedly about their unacceptable behavior, and told them that they didn't deserve to be a part of the feast. They would have to wait until all of the other classes and helpers had gone through the line, and there probably wouldn't be anything left. I watched in horror as the children began to react. The girls started to cry. The boys started to glare accusingly at each other. I know several of these children very well, from DI or the neighborhood, and I adore them all. Reilley put her head down. Jeff sat there looking glum. I couldn't stand it. I told the kids that there would be plenty of food for them all and went home. I would rather get back to work on my computer than be a witness to that sorry scene.

So now the Valentines party was rumored to be cancelled. I went into the room, and again the regular teacher was nowhere to be seen, but that horrid Student Teacher was sneerily reading off spelling words as the children checked each others papers. She did not acknowledge me as I walked in, said hi to Jeff, and took a seat in the back of the room.

Eventually the classroom mommy minions came in, all abuzz about the tentative status of the party. Then the teacher showed up, hauling grocery bags with tubs of ice cream. She said that she decided to go out and buy some more. "Oh, you could have called on US to do that!" they gushed at her. She looked at me, and I pointed to the Soy Dream.

"I brought some special ice-cream for Jeffrey. Did you get my email?" I asked.

She batted her rather distracting eyelashes at me and said that Jeffrey would not be participating in the party. She explained that there had been some misbehavior incidents while she was out of the room and the Student Teacher was in charge. Rather than cancel the entire party (she shot a quick glance at the minions) she had decided to exclude the ones who had been "bad" as reported by the Student Teacher.

"Jeffrey was on the list." She apologized.

"Just what did he do that warrants this level of punishment, and why wasn't I informed?" I wanted to know.

She explained that there had been some kids up in the front of the room throwing erasers around, and Jeff was out of his seat at that time too. At that, I lifted one of my eyebrows, and she quickly went on to say that she had sent a note home about his behavior just last week. (It was his first and only one ever, and said he was spraying water around the room.) She was talking faster now. "So, as he's a repeat offender, I couldn't have him ruining the party for the kids that aren't bad." The minions nodded their heads in agreement.

I got up and looked for Jeffrey. He had already been ushered out of the room and was in the library with the dozen other boys who were supposed to be writing an essay about their bad behavior. I told Jeffrey that I was "Springing him outta this joint" and we were going home.

Back home, after serving Jeff some of that soy ice cream, we sat down at the kitchen table. I did some more work on my computer, and he got out some paper to write his essay. I tried to help him by suggesting themes such as "Punishment Injustice" and "Shared Responsibility" but he insisted that he already knew exactly what he had to write, or else the teacher would just make him write it again. And then he proceeded to lay out the saddest set of words about how "bad" he and his behavior are, and how he should have known better. Happy Valentine's Day.

This whole incident really bothers me, and it goes beyond my concerns about the teacher leaving the room, the career choices of the child-hating student teacher, the repeat of the clearly ineffective discipline technique of party-cancelling, and the smugness of the mommy minions. It has to do with labeling any children as "good" and "bad."

This isn't just me believing that my sweet Jeffrey is a perfect angel. Of course I adore him, and he is generally a compliant and well-behaved child. But he's got a silly side to him, and enjoys interacting with other kids, and likes to move around a lot. Those traits don't make him "bad" and they are typical of 10 year old boys.

I still remember when Timmy was about this age, and his teachers expressing to me what a perfect student he is. Timmy is shy and quiet, almost to the point of having the ability to make himself disappear. "If only I could have a whole classroom of Timmies, that would be ideal!" She said. But Timmy wasn't perfect. He was convenient. And that shouldn't make him any more or less deserving of a teacher's attention, (or class parties) than a kid more like his brother. Sometimes I worry about Tim more than Jeff, because I know what it takes to get along in the world and sitting quietly by doesn't always get you anywhere.

I happen to think that it is the teacher's responsibility to manage the behavior in their classrooms, and there's just something wrong about singling out some of them and labeling them as BAD and making sure everyone knows it. Because eventually they might start to believe that about themselves. And to identify with the category of behavior they are placed in. This could even be why some kids just end up "lost" and then begin their slide down the slippery slope into a troubled world of gangs, drugs, crime.....smoking cigarettes. I hope it's not too late for my little Jeff.


Heather Leigh said...

honestly, i'm STILL in shock that this happened in audrey's class room. and i had never heard of the christmas party incident...see what i miss by not coming to book club?!? geesh. you should coordinate a rogue end of school party - kind of like a senior skip day - and NOT invite the student teacher. ONLY invited the BAD kids. i'll bet THAT would be a RIOT!

Lori said...

Wow! Can I totally relate with you on this type of teacher or what! Help! They are multiplying by the millions! Students everywhere are doomed.

Seriously though, can I say the words totally ridiculous? For throwing erasers? I can think of other ways, less dramatic, to correct eraser throwing. I have experienced incidents where I feel like some teachers create their own drama so they don't have to deal with certain classroom responsibilities (a.k.a. kids)

I had it out with my son's teacher when he was in 7th grade. She was going to give him 2 days detention because he "tossed" (her words) a pencil to a classmate who asked to borrow it. Her explanation for this? "It could have poked another kids eye out!" I was like, okay, but you didn't say he threw it like a dart. She then told me that wasn't the point. I was like, okay, well its a good thing I made it through school with both eyes in tact because I recall many of things (pencils, gum, spit wads, etc.) flying by me when I was in school. Obviously, I ended up going to the principal and things ended up working out to where "the charges" were dropped and my son didn't end up doing detention. (My mother still says I should have been a lawyer). But its all about classroom management skills. Some teachers have it, some don't.

Oh, and the "mommy minions"? All I can say is that they are such a sad bunch. I certainly applaud them for being involved with their kids as I also volunteered many days while my boys were growing up. But come oldest is going to be 22 and it disturbs me that the high school click behavior is still going on with adults in this world. It makes me think of John Lennon's song "Imagine".

I once cooked instant mashed potatoes over the stove with someone's grandma for the kids classroom Thanksgiving feast. She had never volunteered before and I could tell she was a bit nervous about being there. Though I volunteered alot, I never lowered myself to minion status (and of course I got the minion treatment for it). This grandma obviously sensed it because it took her no time to latch on to me for guidance. I am so glad I was nice to her and I felt so blessed to have shared that moment with her because she passed away later that school year due to cancer. Imagine if I had treated her in such a way as the minions and made this precious experience an awful one for her.

Mommy minions should not judge other parents (or kids for that matter). Instead, especially being in a leader position (as in homeroom mom), they should make an effort to make all other parents feel welcomed whether they volunteer everyday or once a year.

Sorry for the long post!

Anonymous said...

Hopefully, what comes out of this are all the "bad" kids distinguishing between unacceptable, horsing around behavior in school as being "bad" and not themselves. No doubt left alone and advised to study or complete something at their desks quietly. 10 year olds shouldn't be expected to behave 100% of the time at home alone with a bunch of friends ready to clown around so why should the school have teachers leaving them alone?
You need to calm down about this. Possibly send Larry to the school to discuss it with the principal?
I'll buy you sweatshirts to wear to school meetings with the lettering "I KICK TEACHER ASS".
Aunt Chris

LYNN said...

I think Jeffrey was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Your sweet angel is still there! I know, I have one just like him...and he either has the world fooled and he's laughing on the inside, or he's just what we all think he is...the sweet little boy.
I would have a little chat time with the principal...after that meeting, the teacher will either be against Jeff, which she already is, or hold him in high esteem... like they should.

In all seriousness, you need your comments on record, otherwise they will pass that student teacher and she will become a horrible teacher that others will suffer. If she can't handle 5th grades, just think what would happen if she had kindergartners. They have the ability to write a "bad" report on her so she doesn't finish her degree. You can also request that a "behavioral" therapist sit in to observe the kids, where he is actually observing the student teacher...since the teacher is never there.

Anonymous said...

I say take your story to the principal. If that person doesn't respond I would make an appointment with the school superintendent. Schools are highly political entities and don't want bad exposure. They need to know you are going to cause them pain.
Mary Beth

~Amy said...

One time, a few years ago, Carson said to Heather's Mom "Liam was a bad boy" after he witnessed something that Liam had done wrong. What Heather's Mom said to Carson has stuck with me ever since. She said "Liam is not a bad BOY he just made a bad CHOICE" It has influenced how I think about bad behavior ever since.

I really think the teacher calling out Jeffery's "problems" in front of a bunch of other mother's is totally out of line. Being in the medical field I am programmed to think EVERYTHING is a HIPPA violation (I once got really mad @ Joel's co-worker for telling Joel that he delivered a package for me from was addressed to ME...he can't tell Joel about something that was addressed to ME, can he? Ummm ever heard of HIPPA?!) point is...the teacher should had recognized that what ever was going on with Jeff needed to be talked about in private...not blinsiding you in front of a bunch of other mothers.

I hope Tina pipes in...she is a 5th grade teacher...and for the record knows Audrey...we all went to Clarkston...

~Amy said...

PS: I should clarify...Tina is not a personal friend of Audrey we all just went to the same school. She was a year or 2 ahead of us. :)

Mindy said...

Thank you for the insightful comments. It is so helpful to learn other perspectives in these situations.

I didn't mention it in the post but I did run into the Principal in the hallway after the Christmas party. I told her my opinion of the student teacher, and she acted interested and thanked me for the information. I think I'll follow up with the Valentines story now too.

As for "Audrey," I think that she is probably a good teacher, but for some reason her actions lately have been questionable, such as:

-Not responding to my email, either before or after the party.

-Acting on the Student Teacher's assessment of the kid's behavior.

-Cowing to the minions resulting in a divisiveness that is unnecessary.

-Not having enough ice cream for the party even though 1/3 of the class had been eliminated from the total. Wasn't she paying attention to the everday math estimation module?

-The HIPPA violation as pointed out by Amy. Good point! (That doesn't happen to apply to parents blogging about teachers, does it?)

Maybe she's out of sorts due to pain medication or something. (Benefit of the doubt)

PS to Amy: now we all need to know what was in the QVC box.

~Amy said...

I'm sure it was some scrapbooking item that I was trying to hide!!

~Amy said...

But I tried to cover it up by saying "what if that was a gift for YOU and he just ruined it by telling you?!" and then I played the HIPPA card!

Rebecca Binno Savage said...

Guess I shouldn't buy my nephews candy cigarettes any more!

And that First Communion picture had me cracking up!

Aunt Kathy said...

Poor Saint Valentine is turning over in his grave.