Medusa_edited

I have a child who hates school.   He didn’t always hate school.    The kindergartener who upstaged all the other tyrannosaurus rexes loved school.   The first grader whose portrayal of Medusa delighted audiences at the end of the Greek mythology unit adored school.   His first years of learning were joyous and fun.  What happened to my youngest child?   What destroyed his love of learning?

Sending my first child to school was scary.   My daughter loved her California teachers, but after moving to Utah I learned that all teachers are not created equal.  In a perfect world all teachers would be amazing.  In a state where high schools often hire teachers on the basis of what sport needs a coach that year, you’d better do your homework.  I learned to talk to other parents, but we moved frequently and I had to figure out the politics of four school districts.  I rejoiced when my daughter was accepted to the 5th and 6th grade gifted program at Cherry Hill Elementary School.   For two years I got to relax; my daughter’s teacher was amazing.

Two years later, I cringed as the Honors English teacher chattered about her amazing adventures in Amway, even when I attempted to steer the parent-teacher conference back to my daughter’s progress in her class.  My daughter’s claim that her middle school English teacher was a train wreck no longer seemed like an exaggeration.  My daughter doesn’t suffer silently.  In high school, when her American History teacher, a basketball coach,  popped in a videotape every class period,  my daughter wondered if the state core actually required an eight week unit entitled “The Impact of Professional Sports on American  History.”  Finally, my daughter raised her hand and said, “This is totally stupid.”  I empathized with her complaints, but I kept my mouth shut.  I couldn’t afford to be a scary parent because I taught at that school and we live in a state where we just want everyone to be nice…

I grew up in Minnesota where all my elementary school teachers were nice.   I didn’t meet any scary teachers until I got to junior high.   How many of us suffered silently while scary math teachers made us feel stupid because they didn’t know how to teach math?   Maybe there are times when we need to speak up and stop worrying about being nice.    

  My youngest child completed kindergarten and first grade in a private school, where teachers valued his creativity, sense of humor, and love of learning; however,  I couldn’t afford the tuition.   I cried after his first public school teacher just whined about his handwriting  at parent-teacher conference; she had  nothing nice to say about him at all.  My son and I are both third children in the family birth order — peacemakers who suffer silently.  My son never whined about his second-grade teacher, but today, when I read him this paragraph, he recalls, “that teacher was an old, angry alien from outer space. Everyone in our class thought she was a scary alien.”  Now I wish I had been less nice and more of a scary parent—maybe if I had, my son would still love learning. Why did I feel so helpless? 

Before the end of the school year, I spoke to the kind and compassionate principal.  I confessed I was a pathetic single mother; therefore, my son lacked positive male role models. I suggested it would benefit society if my son could be assigned to the classroom of his best male teacher, Mr. R.   I knew about Mr. R because my oldest son was in his class.   Mr. R wrote on a status report that my oldest son was “an incredible human being.   As a student he shines in every single area.  I count myself truly blessed to have gotten the chance to teach and be around him.  I can honestly say there isn’t another student who shows me more respect.   Thanks for raising such a fine, intelligent, creative, kind person.”  

My youngest son loved his year in Mr. R’s classroom.  Once again he experienced that Tyrannosaurus-Medusa kind of joy.  Unfortunately, Mr. R was the last ray of sunshine in my son’s education, until he got to high school.  Why did it feel like we were at the mercy of a sick system that protects scary teachers unless they are criminals?   Shouldn’t it be a crime to crush the love of learning in our children?

 My youngest child seemed to be a scary teacher magnet. In sixth grade he was cursed with the angriest teacher in the school.  Other parents would shake their heads like we were discussing the lottery and say, “Oh yes, she’s been angry for at least a decade….sorry you got the worst teacher in the school…”   The school would send me threatening letters because my son missed so much school that year.   He would feign illness, to avoid exposure to a  toxic teacher who hated children. Why didn’t I request that my son be moved to a classroom with a healthy learning environment? I wish I had been a scary parent…

 I have now sat on both sides of the parent-teacher conference table.  Just as my oldest child started tenth grade, I got a job teaching high school. Teaching in my children’s high school was a tender mercy.  I  hand-picked their teachers, so my children often had the  best teachers in the school. I also  got the inside scoop on how my kids were performing in class.  My children and I could laugh about lame assemblies, eccentric teachers, and school politics.

 At our high school, my youngest son completed all his math credits in  the classroom of Mrs. J,  an amazing math teacher who actually knew how to teach math.  My son still doesn’t love  school, but Mrs. J put some of the joy back in learning.   She also treated my son with kindness and respect.   Mrs. J valued my son’s creativity and sense of humor. My son still thinks that Mrs. J walks on water.  I no longer teach high school, but I hope there are elaborate mansions prepared in heaven for amazing teachers like Mrs. J and Mr. R.   

 Both sides of the parent-teacher conference table are stressful. There are  scary parents who intimidate and bully, but most parents just want their kids to be successful in school. Don’t be afraid to share your concerns with teachers. If necessary, don’t be afraid to share your concerns with administrators. I wish I had been more of an advocate for my youngest son.  Maybe if there were more courageous  parents we could  stop the insanity of scary teachers squashing the joy of learning in our children.

  1.  Which teachers have you liked and why?   How have teachers blessed your life or your children’s lives?
  2. Which teachers have you not liked?  What have you done to help make a bad situation better?  ( please don’t use real names)
  3. How do you feel about parent-teacher conferences–do you find them to be effective? 
September 18, 2009
September 20, 2009

56 Comments

  1. Carol

    September 19, 2009

    Our children had many teachers who taught well, inspired them to develop their talents, and fostered a love for learning. I was blessed to have many outstanding teachers as well and became a teacher myself. However, our children did have a few teachers who were incompetent and–in a couple of cases–cruel.

    Years ago I learned in a school law class at BYU that parents legally have the ultimate responsibility for and control of their children’s education. It’s a principle called “en loco parentis” (I hope I spelled that correctly.) When my husband and I found a teacher to be unacceptable, we demanded (in the nicest but firmest manner) that our child be removed IMMEDIATELY from the class. It worked.

    Of course, our children suffered with a number of mediocre
    teachers who weren’t well-suited to the profession. We didn’t make a fuss about those teachers and supplemented the curricula whenever possible.

  2. FoxyJ

    September 19, 2009

    Most of my scary teachers were in high school and junior high. I moved several times during elementary school and each time managed to get nice, competent, caring teachers. Looking back I can see that my seventh-grade English teacher was emotionally unstable and probably shouldn’t have been teaching (I think she was going through a divorce at the time). She never had good control of the class and would then lose it and scream at us when we were acting up. I had a social studies teacher in high school who would stare at my legs, make rude comments about me being Mormon, and tried to take us on a field trip that ended up having kids smoke pot on the bus and then have a food fight in the restaurant he took us to. He was young and inexperienced and just didn’t have good people skills or good classroom control. We also didn’t learn anything that year.

    I admit to also being a passive, peacemaker sort of person. I also tend to be optimistic about my kids’ education because I went to horrible public schools (literally–my high school had to close early one day due to a race/gang riot). But it is still scary to send my daughter off to school. She just started first grade and we’ve been very aprehensive because her teacher is a brand-new girl straight out of BYU who is almost ten years younger than me. My mom is a teacher and keeps reminding me that everyone has to have a first year teaching, but for me as a parent it’s scary to have my child in a class with a teacher who doesn’t have a lot of experience yet. My daughter loves school so far, and like Carol said, I’m willing to deal with mediocrity so we’ll see how this year goes.

  3. dalene

    September 19, 2009

    I have watched being an educator completely use up my husband in ways I cannot begin to describe, so I am not without experience or bias on this subject.

    There are “good” teachers and “bad” teachers in every state and in every school and in every grade. Just like there are good and bad parents. And there are teachers who are good for a particular child–good at meeting particular needs–that may not be so good for another child with different needs or a different personality.

    It’s important to be an informed and involved parent and to have a say in our children’s educations. But it’s also important not to make assumptions when we don’t have all the information (this applies to forming opinions about a particular teacher without personal experience as well as believing everything a child will tell us about his or her experience at school).

    I’ve found the best way to do that is to volunteer in my child’s classroom and see for myself.

    I live in Utah and my children have had a few mediocre teachers and a few bad ones I actually requested not to have teach my younger children. But they have also had some wonderful and amazing teachers who have changed the course of my children’s lives for good in ways that have been answers to prayers.

    My personal philosophy is to try to find a balance between stepping in and letting life happen. Kids can learn important lessons from having to deal with a difficult teacher. Perhaps those lessons will serve them well in the future when they have to deal with a difficult mission companion or a difficult boss or co-worker.

  4. corktree

    September 19, 2009

    This post gives me courage for the years ahead of me and my children’s education. I feel armed with the assurance that knowledge truly is power and that I need to be the one who is most accountable for what and how my children learn. Thank you for these topics and for helping to prepare us younger mothers for the years ahead with ideas and accurate expectaions.

    I’ve yet to deal with “scary” teachers, just incompetent, but by these descriptions my mother was most assuredly “scary” to many of my teachers from grade school on. But I’m grateful for the opportunities she fought to provide me and I know that I was exponentially happier with the changes that were made. By the time I got to high school, I don’t think I complained as much about destructive teaching practices because I feared her involvement, but I’m sure my education suffered because of it. I hope that I can find the right balance of being active in my own children’s school lives.

  5. Trish

    September 19, 2009

    I realized by Thanksgiving of last year that my fifth grader was slowly dying on the vine. In just three short months he’d gone from loving school and everything about it to crying in the mornings before school and begging me to let him stay home each day. His teacher was unpleasant, defensive, overly critical, and, based on what was coming home for homework, just phoning it in.
    I couldn’t stand by and let his love for learning die. Here in Texas, 6th graders go to middle school, and I couldn’t see sending him into that kind of madness the following year without first staging some kind of intervention.
    So I pulled him out of school and homeschooled him. Honestly, I wasn’t very good at it. I wouldn’t call our experience particularly successful. I admit to being a wanna-be overachiever who pushed perhaps a bit too hard, since I was worried about him falling behind. I wore both of us out, but by the time we finished up, surprisingly, he was back. His heart was full of peace. We’d spent hours upon hours talking, catching up, getting to know each other. He was reading for pleasure again. He understood his math. He was writing expressive compositions and working on complex science experiments. But more than anything, he was ready to go back to school.
    He just started 6th grade and while I wouldn’t say he “loves” it, he’s doing really well. He has great teachers and supportive friends. So far, so good.
    Homeschool may not be the best solution for all parents, but I plan on doing again if my younger children ever have similar challenges. It’s hard, but it’s inifinitely easier than sitting back watching my child suffer at the hands of an incompetent or inexperienced teacher.

  6. Lori Pierce

    September 19, 2009

    Getting inside the school on a regular basis really helps. Here in Mississippi a lot of people (especially white people) are scared of the public schools. I don’t understand that. When we moved here and were contemplating school districts and public/private school one of my former schoolteacher brothers made the comment that it’s really about the teacher and you can get a great teacher in a bad district and you can get a poor teacher in a great district.

    I have three children, now in grades 5, 3, and 1. Even before my oldest entered Kindergarten, I met the principal of his school and she introduced me to parents involved in the PTA. I ended up tutoring French students and was in the school every single day for two years. Since then I have made it a point of volunteering in each classroom at least two hours a month and cultivating a good relationship with the teachers and principals. My children have changed schools and moved up and I have now dealt with 4 schools.

    Initially, I made teacher requests and those have always been honored. Once I got to know the principal and I knew she knew my children, I stayed out of the teacher selection process. And, I have always gotten some of the best teachers available for my children.

    If there were a problem, I wouldn’t hesitate to go to the principal or the superintendent, if need be. And, I know they would do whatever would be necessary. I truly consider the school district to be my partner in educating my children and I know they value my support as a parent.

    I hear stories of children who have scary teachers and I had a few I didn’t like growing up. I’m sure eventually I’ll find myself in that situation and I certainly am not afraid to be the scary parent.

  7. Kathryn P.

    September 19, 2009

    I love all your comments because, as Corktree pointed out, this conversation would have helped me as a young mother. I hope Carol’s comment will empower parents who feel helpless when their intuition tells them something is very wrong in their child’s classroom.

  8. m2theh

    September 19, 2009

    Now I am scared! My kid starts kindergarten next year so we have a lot of years to deal with teachers coming up!

  9. anon

    September 19, 2009

    This is another reason (albeit low on the list) that I am definitely homeschooling.

  10. Nani Lii Furse

    September 19, 2009

    Growing up in a very small town, I had one English teacher for all four years of high school. She was a less-active church member, happily married to a nonmember, and vocal about her opinions which were usually different from mine. But she saw my potential at a difficult time in my life, treated me with respect, and offered unfailing encouragement. During my senior year she even managed to create an advanced composition class so that I could write instead of weld in a shop class! I am thankful that she continues to show interest in my life.

    I’ve lived in Utah all my life where me husband is an educator. I have to say that with very few exceptions, teachers want the best for their students and work overtime to facilitate learning.

    School issues have been our most difficult aspects of parenting since we have two children with ADD; one of them also has Asperger’s Syndrome. I’ve studied strategies that will help them and am learning to speak up, instigate IEP’s, social skills classes, and to stay in touch with teachers. Thank goodness for Power School and email which makes it all so much easier.

    That said, I agree with Dalene that parenting is “a balancing act between stepping in and letting life happen”. We’ve made our share of mistakes. Sometimes, in spite of our efforts, our children have failed to act responsibly or a teacher has not cooperated. As a last resort we have requested a change in teachers. But even with their challenges, our children eventually have to navigate the real world where people are not always fair or appreciative or focused on building self esteem.

    On last thing: FoxyJ, I remember feeling the same way sitting in front my youngest son’s brand new teacher on back-to-school night. Two years in a row. But they were sharp, energetic, and went the extra mile to communicate with me and give him extra help with math.

  11. Andrea R.

    September 19, 2009

    I’m just going to throw this out there, and I’m sure I’m going to get jumped on for it. Yes, there are good and bad teachers out there, and some definitely phone it in. I’m an educator at the community college level, and I see it there, too. My question for everyone who homeschools their kids is, what qualifies you to be a teacher? Yes, you’re their mother, yes, you have their best interests in mind, yes, you can give them the individual attention that they need. But, I went to college for 6 years to learn how to do what I do. The teachers in the school system have at least a Bachelor’s degree in teaching, some with more advanced degrees, and they most likely have to go through a credentialing system. There is no requirement (that I am aware of) for parents who homeschool their kids to have any kind of teaching credential. How can you be sure that YOU are going to give them a better education?

  12. Nani Lii Furse

    September 19, 2009

    Sorry to be saying more after my long comment. I realize that in pointing out my differences with my English teacher I might have come across as condescending. That was not my intention.

    Also, you don’t have to be a “scary parent” to stand up for your child. A calm, informed parent is far more effective.

  13. Tay

    September 19, 2009

    I was fortunate enough to have fantastic teachers growing up, with the exception of one who taught us nothing – but then we didn’t have homework that year either, which I didn’t mind. I am even one of those weirdos who cried when i was too sick to go to school. (My husband was the one who faked sick to get out of school.)

    There are a few teachers that have a special place in my heart. Miss P who taught me how to love others and discipline with kindness and encourage with bright colors and stickers. Mrs W who came off abrasive, but that’s because the school stuck her with the hardest students every year – she was loving and capable, but not somebody to be messed with or paired with a student with a strong personality. Mrs H in Junior High who showed me that a role model didn’t have to be perfect – she had an awesome tattoo of a dolphin on her ankle that she hated us to notice :). Dr T who I hate seeing again because of the disappointment in his eyes when I tell him I don’t actively play my violin anymore. Mr F who loved music so much that while conducting he got so into it he didn’t realize how much he moved or how much energy he was expelling just to get us to play better. And finally Mr J, my English teacher my senior year of high school. The man who told me that I wrote well enough to get a 5 on the AP Exam, that I am a good writer. That student-teacher conference has never been forgotten and it’s because of his confidence in my ability that I majored in English and got a 5 on the AP Exam. He also showed me that passion was necessary to be able to write a good essay, and that studying novels thoroughly was more important than getting through his syllabus.

    I hope I don’t ever have to be a scary parent. Part of me just wants to move back to my old neighborhood and have my kids attend my old school with my old teachers. 🙂 I would love that, and i think they would too. THat school is very picky about the teachers they hire, which I wish all schools were the same way.

  14. Kathryn P.

    September 19, 2009

    This was the introduction of my first draft of this post:

    Sending my first child to school was scary. I sought advice from Katie, a retired school counselor. Katie’s advice: “Whenever possible, let your kids fight their own battles and remember there are always two sides to every story. Don’t believe every word your kids say, because even the best kids occasionally stretch the truth…” I was a slow learner. The first time my daughter came home crying, I called the mother of the monster who had “beat her up on the school bus.” The monster’s mother informed me that my daughter had thrown the first punch. Ouch! Katie’s advice was only the beginning of my education…

    My first draft discussed more of my experiences as a teacher, including examples where my students stretched the truth, but it got too lengthy. So I agree with those who have said you can’t always believe your children’s version of a situation; however, in the high school where I taught, I’d hear the same stories over and over again, year after year, from dozens of students complaining about particular teachers. When my children complained about a high school teacher, it was usually old news…

  15. Rosemary

    September 19, 2009

    My three children are long past school-age, but for the most part they had good or excellent teachers. There is one glaring exception – my youngest son’s sixth grade homeroom teacher. She was definitely a scary teacher. He struggled and I met with the team over and over again. Even going to the principal proved fruitless. In desperation, I finally had to resort to something I swore I would never do – bribery! After a long discussion, my son and I decided we would just “show that teacher” that he was not stupid by having him get all B’s or better on his last report card. To sweeten the pot, we framed a $50 bill and hung it in the family room. He knew that if he got the grades he was more than capable of getting, he could take the money and buy a video game. I am glad to report that we were successful on all accounts! That is the one and only time I had to use such bribery. I found out later that she was so bad and received so many complaints, that she would last at a school for about three years and then the district would transfer her to a new school to start over. They wouldn’t fire her – she had tenure and could not be fired without cause. Unfortunately, poor teaching and discipline do not count as “cause.”

  16. Brenda

    September 19, 2009

    Oh, I don’t even know if I should get started on this topic…So, I’ll try to keep it brief. We have had some amazing teachers. I absolutely loved my sons second grade teacher. She was amazing. You could feel her love of learning and teaching in the classroom and the kids were excited to be there. We’ve had other teachers I’ve really liked, very organized and you could tell they love what they do. But I’m convinced that others went into teaching for the hours, weekends and Summer vacation off. Last year my sons 5th grade teacher was a nightmare. We moved from WA to ID and the move was already hard on him. Then he got the worst teacher ever. She was so mean and made him feel like a complete idiot. Up until then, he loved school and got good grades. Last year he was pulling C’s and I know it’s because she made him feel so bad about himself. When I tried to talk to her about it, she made things worse for him by making snide remarks. But what do you do? When school started this year he didn’t even want to go, but fortunately things have turned out okay. He seems much happier and I’m so relieved.

  17. Mrs. Organic

    September 19, 2009

    In 5th grade my son dealt with a teacher for most of the school year who singled him out. I struggled with the value of the lessons he could learn in dealing with someone difficult vs. being a victim of verbal abuse. We tried moving him, but the school was uncooperative. It took 4 months but in the end, we were successful in moving him. He ended up in a wonderful classroom with a teacher that was a much better fit for him. I wish we’d been able to move him sooner.

    In 6th grade he had a hard teacher with a bias against boys – he stayed in her class. It did not encourage a love of learning in him. In 7th grade he had a math teacher that singled him out (made him the butt of jokes, made him do more work than the other students to maintain his A, and the other students noticed) – we moved him at the semester break. The best thing has been for us to listen to the promptings we received and act on them.

    He has been fortunate to have several amazing teachers as well.

  18. E

    September 19, 2009

    I really would like to throw tomatoes at those who believe that allowing a child to suffer at the hands a “scary” teacher is a good idea because they will learn “valuable lessons” that way. Grrrr.

  19. Lori

    September 19, 2009

    I really don’t think the point would be to “let a child suffer”, but to allow them the opportunity to manage the situation alone.

    I would never want my child to have to suffer through a scary teacher, but I do think it’s important for them to figure out how to manage the situation alone. My oldest son was challenged each year adjusting to new teachers. I did talk with the principal about looping and she approached a couple of his teachers about it, but it never did work out. Nonetheless, he managed each year and this year it wasn’t a problem at all.

    I’m really trying to step back as much as possible in my kids’ lives and let then figure things out. And, if I do step in, it’s to give them advice on how to figure it out, not solve the problem for them. In the case of school, though, I wouldn’t hesitate to step in if I thought it was too much. The power dynamic is too skewed.

  20. Anonymous just in case

    September 19, 2009

    In first grade my very mature, very well-behaved (and very truthful) daughter started reporting that kids were being kept in from recess because they were misbehaving, her teacher was yelling at kids all the time, etc. My daughter wasn’t the target of the anger but she is compassionate and it was distressing to her. I hate speaking up but decided to go the principal about it. He told me that at a previous school the teacher had been in some sort of negative circumstances that weren’t her fault, and as a result was extremely defensive, and that he thought the teacher would feel less defensive if I approached her instead of him. I really thought this was passing the buck, (putting the teacher’s feelings ahead of the needs of her students) but since he wouldn’t talk to her, I did. I was terrified but as polite and respectful as I could be while still telling her of my daughter’s concerns. She was VERY defensive. Among other things she said, “These boys just don’t understand what school is about” and I resisted saying “Yes they do–they understand that it’s for being yelled at and disapproved of and not having any fun.” I don’t remember what I did say–I really wish I DID remember–but I think I at least said that I was concerned that there needed to be a positive and encouraging environment in the classroom. And the principal DID say he would have the teacher’s mentor work with her on that. I don’t know if it really changed things, although the teacher did write my daughter a nice note at the end of the year saying she had learned good things from her example. (?!) Anyway, we stuck out the school year even though my daughter continued to be occasionally stressed. The next year I homeschooled my daughter to give her a chance to decompress, and the next year she was back in school with a fabulous teacher. I think if I had that 1st grade year to do over, I might have taken her out for the rest of the year, but I don’t know.

  21. Just J

    September 19, 2009

    I think dalene hit it right on in many ways for me.

    To me I think school is many things to many people. Last night we saw on KJZZ TV a high school football game broadcast as if it were a bowl game on tv – complete with the ref turning on his mic and announcing the call. The field painted like a college stadium. I was stunned. Welcome to high school sports in Northern Utah…. Ha! I had to laugh it off instead of fear for my kids when they reach that age. It’s part of the culture of high school is the extracurricular activities, but I remember being a studen in high school in the classes where the coaches taught. Videos, papers, and no actual teaching.

    I think us as parents are INCLUDED in the group of educators, and although an education is considered a “right” these days, as opposed to a benefit. We have a responsibility to be teaching our children as well.

    As much as I enjoyed this post, I found myself yawning at the detailed account of each child. This is most middle class families story – hence most of us can relate to it.
    Thank you for sharing!

  22. Christy

    September 19, 2009

    I had a teacher tell me in the 7th grade that I wasn’t good enough at math to be an astronaut. Now, I know not all kids grow up to be an astronaut, but no teacher should shatter a kid’s dream…and I wasn’t bad at math. I wasn’t a gifted mathematician, but I didn’t apply myself in a class where I felt ignored and abused. I have had a fear of math ever since, and I still panic everytime I’m presented with a math problem…even an easy one. I’m 34 years old, and I still have anxiety over this.

  23. Zina

    September 19, 2009

    Andrea R., I don’t know that anyone wants to go off on a homeschool debate tangent, but I guess I’ll bite (and try to give a short version since this is a subject I could talk about at length.) I personally think that with good resource materials, most intelligent and well-educated parents are fully capable of teaching their own kids at least through the elementary grades, but even if that weren’t the case, I think that once a kid loses their joy in learning and their confidence in their ability to succeed, they’ll be likely to throw up mental blocks and shut off their openness to any instruction, no matter the level of a teacher’s training. For some people, homeschooling or even “unschooling” is an attempt to prevent a child’s losing that love of learning, or to try to restore it if it’s been lost. Also, the pacing of instruction in public school is necessarily slower than one-on-one instruction, because a teacher must reach kids at different learning levels and with different learning styles. I think that with confidence and sincere curiosity, learning is much faster and much more effective, and any gaps in a person’s knowledge base (that they might have missed by not being in a traditional school environment) are very easily filled–whereas the damage from a bad emotional environment can be very hard to undo.

    Lori, I think that everyone will draw the line in a different place as to when a kid should face challenges alone and when they should be protected, and inspiration can make a big difference in those decisions. However, in the younger grades, where a kids spends SO many hours with their teacher and has FAR less freedom and resources than an adult does to deal with difficult people and difficult situations, I would simply prefer that my child never have to suffer through an entire year with a teacher who can’t manage anger, doesn’t like my child, is mostly negative, or even just isn’t doing worthwhile, productive things with the time. If all kids were protected in this way, and lousy teachers’ jobs were not protected, I guess that would mean that a lot of teachers would have to find a different career–but if they don’t like kids or their jobs, wouldn’t they be better off, then, anyway? (I will also say, though, that I’m willing to cut a teacher plenty of slack if they show a genuine willingness to try to improve their skills.)

  24. Zina

    September 19, 2009

    Oh, I just reread your comment Lori and I see that we’re pretty much on the same page.

  25. Kathryn P.

    September 19, 2009

    Thanks, Zina. I was hoping someone could intelligently address the option of home schooling. I never had that option because I was in survival mode as a single parent, but I support that option. I have taught several brilliant students who were taught by their mothers at home until they entered high school. I also taught several students in my remedial reading classes who had been homeschooled. One of those mothers said at parent-teacher conference, “I don’t think I really had the right personality to homeschool. I didn’t really know what I was doing and I sort of just let my kids do what they wanted to do. So all my kids have reading problems now.” I don’t think you can make generalizations about homeschooling being right or wrong. It is a wonderful option for some families and maybe not the best choice for other families.

  26. Andrea R.

    September 19, 2009

    Zina and Kathryn,
    Thanks for your comments. I realized after posting that I had just opened up a topic that a lot of people have strong feelings on, and it was not my intention to detract from Kathryn’s post.

  27. Kathryn P.

    September 19, 2009

    Andrea, I liked your comment because parents should be fully informed about all their options. Because my kids are all adults now, I don’t feel like I have to be defensive at all on this topic. I’m just hoping our discussion might help other parents with similiar frustrations.

    If I had stayed in California as a full-time mother, I know I would have been seriously tempted to homeschool my kids during the middle school years because kids in our ward were getting beat up by the gangs in the local middle school. I was much more worried about scary schools when my daughter first started school in California.

  28. April

    September 19, 2009

    My son went to full day kindergarten, it was in a school district that was struggling and two weeks before school started the teachers found out instead of two half day classes they would have one full day class. It was horrible because they had a first grade curriculum. No centers or free time, few art projects lots of asking them to sit still all day. Amazingly my son went from hardly knowing the alphabet in Sept. to reading at Christmas. The following summer we moved to a town with great schools but my son did first grade in kindergarten. So he was sooo bored in first grade. His teacher called every week to tell me how misbehaved he was. It got so bad that I would shudder if the phone rang during school hours. She also used the class to discipline him and by the end of the year not one child in his class would speak to him. It was so aweful that even now if you said her name I would start to feel sick! That was five years ago!
    I hate parent teacher conference. In our area they don’t give you report cards until you get to conference. Which is just silly. You get there they open the report card and you have about 15 minutes in total for the teacher to show you the grades, explain them and about 12 minutes in they say, “Do you have any questions?” Now if you’ve been shell shocked by something you have to pull it together and ask a question. I just think you should see the repot card before so you can be prepared to ask questions.

  29. wonder woman

    September 19, 2009

    I just wanted to say a big THANK YOU! for this post! My children are not yet in school, and so this is valuable information. I admit that this is one of my favorite things about blogging — learning from others’ experience.

    I had an incredibly blessed public school experience — nearly every teacher I had till the 10th grade reinforced my own desire to be a teacher. Then I got to Chemistry and had a horrible teacher. He’d just been hired as the wrestling coach. Our wrestlers took state that year, but the next year the coach/teacher was fired for sexual harassment. (On a female student, just to be clear.) He was sexist, bigoted, egotistical, and an all-around horrible teacher.

    Thankfully that year I also had my favorite teacher of all time in English.

    Once again, thanks for the post and the fantastic comments. I will fight my passive tendencies when it comes to my children’s education. I will volunteer to make sure I’m getting the full story.

  30. Gabrielle

    September 19, 2009

    My boys were in public school for only 2 years. My experience with the public schools was actually very good! We are in a great school district and their teachers were kind and diligent. Parent-teacher conferences were very helpful for me in knowing what subjects to work on with my boys at home.
    I had some really fabulous teachers in elementary school and high school myself growing up. We were in a very good school district and I never had even one “scary teacher.” I was blessed. I did find school deadly boring sometimes, but I think that’s pretty normal in public schools.
    We decided to homeschool our boys primarily because the school days are so long. They are geared toward working parents. Doors open at 7:20 AM, pick up at 3:00. Too long for kinders and first graders. We were only doing one after-school activity twice a week, and even with that, my boys (twins) would cry at night saying they didn’t have any time to play. They did, but I hated that they felt rushed out of their childhood. One of my twins really resisted going to school toward the end of 1st grade. Not because of the teacher, but just because school was so long and started so early (he’s not a morning person).
    I felt like I spent the whole day yelling at them. Starting at 6:45 AM it was “Hurry UP, get downstairs for breakfast, you have to get ready for school!” “Hurry, find your backpack! WHERE are your shoes? We have to get in the car NOW so we won’t be late!” Then as soon as they got home, it was “Hurry and eat your snack, we have to get ready for Tae Kwon Do!” And then, “Hurry up, boys, you have to finish your reading and math sheets, it’s almost time for dinner!” And then, “Hurry up and get ready for bed, boys, you have to be in bed in 15 minutes so you can get up in time for school!”
    I hated it. They had very little time to play with their daddy when he got home, since he works till 6:30 or 7:00 PM. And I wanted them to be able to play soccer, take piano lessons, do cub scouts, all the other fun activities for kids. There was no way we could do that and full-day public school as well.
    Homeschool has been great. It’s waaaay more work for me, of course, but my boys can get their lessons done and still have time for piano and soccer and horseback riding and playing at the park and long afternoons building legos or swimming in the backyard.
    It doesn’t take a teaching certificate to homeschool your own child. I took all the education classes in college to become a secondary education teacher (everything but the student teaching). There wasn’t anything I learned that was particularly helpful in teaching my boys at home. Any parent who is reasonably educated, and has a desire to do a good job, and the initiative to find the many fabulous resources available can be an excellent homeschooler.
    Homeschool is NOT for everyone. But I sure wish parents would be more aware of it as a viable option. It is horrible to see kids have their love of learning squelched out of them. I found it awful that my 5 year olds were spending more of their waking hours with another adult. I hear a lot of mothers in anguish about their child’s teacher or school or curriculum, or whatever, and I wonder if they have ever seriously considered homeschooling. It is an option.

  31. ESO

    September 19, 2009

    I really detest “bad teacher” conversations. They exist. Even good teachers can have bad days. I have also had bad bank tellers, bad doctors, bad hairdressers, bad presidents, and bad Church teachers. Some people even have bad parents. It happens. Yet bad teachers are some sort of sub-human creature. You know what else exists?: bad students. Funny how everyone here has bad teacher stories, but no bad students!

    Whoever talked about people being in teaching for the summers off, weekends (really, are teachers the only ones with 5-day work weeks?), and hours etc. is simply delusional. The “summers off” now last a few weeks, and most of us are at school working for the next year and/or doing professional development classes during that time. Many years, I have found myself at school for 12-16 hour days most days. I’ll give you the weekends off, although the weekend passes at my school go fast, so clearly some people are working then. What other profession requires a graduate degree (every teacher in my state has one, including the pre-K teachers), only employs you as, essentially, a part-time employee (we do not get paid for any hour we are not at work–not only are we 10 month employees, but all the holidays are also unpaid), and includes laying in bed awake at night worrying about other people’s kids?

    Whew! Glad to get that out of my system! Here are a few things I know based on hanging out at schools too much:

    1–Don’t believe what you hear 100%; both students and parents and (the worst) parents of former students–they all have a stake in the teacher coming off bad and the kid sounding like the victim. Take everything with a grain of salt.

    2–“It’s good to have the school owe you one”–this from a friend who painted a mural at her kids’ school. This is true of every system, and it is true in the school system. Volunteer, communicate, appear at all events to which you are invited–all that helps.

    3–There probably are bad teachers in every system, but there are good ones too; the teacher I think of most fondly taught in a junior high where the police were frequent visitors. It was quite a scary place, but I would never have known Mr. Routh if I hadn’t attended–he was worth it.

    4–You get what you pay for. It isn’t entirely true that spending more on education makes a better system, but it rarely hurts. UT boasts about spending so little on education per student and getting good outcomes, but I know more people who use charter schools or homeschool there than other places I know lots of people. And I don’t know anyone who has a special needs student who is satisfied with the system. My state is highly taxed, but we have great education. The School district I work in has 98% graduation rate and 96% college placement. We pay for it, but I am glad to.

    5–squeaky parents do often get what they want, but teachers gossip about parents the same way parents gossip about teachers–we know when trouble is coming, and we dread having your kids. Sorry. Someone had to say it.

  32. ESO

    September 19, 2009

    Oh! And although I am totally not that kind of person, one of my favorite and smartest teachers in HS was a coach. It is not the kiss of death–they don’t HAVE to be bad.

  33. Kathryn P.

    September 19, 2009

    Wonder Woman, I’m so glad this post achieved my teaching objective! My objective was not to create scared parents! I was hoping wise and experienced parents would share their techniques for dealing with educational challenges. I also appreciated the voices of women sharing the lingering influence of good and bad teachers in their own lives. Those voices gave validity to this entire discussion.

    My father died the summer before I started third grade. I was very fragile when I went back to school. I was assigned Miss Cheleen, the sweetest and kindest teacher in the entire world. I can’t even imagine how horrible it would have been if I had been assigned a scary teacher that year. Not every child has a warm and fuzzy home with loving parents. Some children learn about the real world and dealing with difficult people in their own homes. Elementary school should be a safe sanctuary for ALL our children.

    I learned from writing this post; that is the power of revision. On my first draft, I had no idea that my youngest son and I were silent sufferers, but that became obvious as I chronicled and pondered our history. My friend attended a session at BYU Education Week by the authors of CRUCIAL CONVERSATIONS: TOOLS FOR TALKING WHEN STAKES ARE HIGH. She lent me her book and I’m going to read it and share the ideas with my youngest son, before he leaves on his mission.

  34. Kathryn P.

    September 19, 2009

    ESO, as a retired English teacher, I feel empathy for your pain. Perhaps I will write a post about scary students another day, but that wasn’t my focus today.

  35. Merry Michelle

    September 19, 2009

    This was so EMPOWERING to read! I am also a 3rd child peacemaker and the idea of confronting a teacher or principle pretty much TERRIFIES me. But the reality is that I should be MORE terrified by the possibility that someone could drive the love of learning out of my child!

    Here’s our story: My son’s first grade teacher was scary. She was angry and would scream at the kids–other parents told me they could hear her down the hall. She would “discipline” students by having them lie under their desks with their hands under their backs–like they were handcuffed (and they’d often get kicked in the head or knocked by the metal leg of their neighbor’s chair). The kids were all scared to death of her. My son wasn’t a discipline problem, but he was very bothered by the abuse he witnessed fellow students go through (similar to “Anonymous just in case” comment #20).

    One night after Christmas, I went upstairs to tell my son goodnight and found him staring blankly out the dark window. With out looking at me, he said, “Mom, how many more days of school are there?”
    I said “There’s a lot, bud. Like five months.”
    He heaved a long sigh and said, “Maybe I can do it…”

    That conversation will forever haunt me. I really should have acted right then and there. I guess I really didn’t know my options or really have faith in what I did know.

    On the bright side; the teachers that have forever changed and inspired me in my youth and those that have sparked my son’s learning seem to have some basic magic in common: they loved what they teach (PASSION)), they KNOW what they teach (KNOWLEDGEABLE), they love their students (COMPASSION), and they had excellent interpersonal and teaching skills (COMMUNICATION). They truly are the shining jewels in the Savior’s crown.

  36. Melissa M.

    September 19, 2009

    Kathryn, I really enjoyed your post! Now that my youngest child is in 6th grade, I feel like a more experienced mother of school-aged children, and I can definitely say that my children have had their share of good and bad teachers. One of the best teachers I have encountered is Mrs. K, my youngest child’s fourth grade teacher. She was a Mary Poppins in the classroom–she made learning so fun and exciting and knew how to nurture each child’s talents and self esteem. My daughter hated to miss school; she would cry on the days she was sick because she didn’t want to stay home. To this day she still emails Mrs. K. and loves her to death. I wish we had more teachers like Mrs. K.

  37. Pam

    September 19, 2009

    What a fantastic post for me! It is exactly what I was needing at this point in my life. You see, my oldest child JUST started Kindergarten this year. And I already find myself worrying about becoming one of “those parents”… you know, the parents who are always sticking their nose into it. The one who won’t leave well enough alone? I want to be involved with my daughters education, but I also want to let the teacher take the reins. I want my (extremely intelligent) child to be challenged, but not pushed too hard. I want her to continue to learn at the rate she has thus far, but I worry that because she is so far ahead, that the system will ease up on her in order to put more focus on those kids that are behind. Utah’s “No Child Left Behind” bit doesn’t seem to be working as well as it is supposed to as it seems that the children now being “left behind” are the smart ones… “Let’s let them coast while we catch the rest of them up…”

    So the question I have is- Do I keep pushing the school system to give my daughter work that is challenging, or do I just go behind their backs and work with her at home on stuff I can come up with? Ugh! I hate the idea of any teacher groaning when I contact them, but I really do want what is best for my child…

    Now, as for teachers I loved and hated… I had my share of both, but there will forever be one teacher that I will love and cherish til the day I die (and probably even longer). She was there for me during the hardest trial of my life (the loss of my father). She has kept in contact with me, written references for me, and most importantly- showed love and concern for me. And she is amazing at teaching her classes, to boot! It is amazing the respect some people have for teachers from years ago, but how many of us actually take the time to tell those teachers?

  38. Kathryn P.

    September 19, 2009

    Pam,
    About two weeks ago there was a post on gifted education with about 91 comments. You might find it helpful. Check it out here:
    http://segullah.org/daily-special/what-he-needs/

  39. eljee

    September 19, 2009

    When I was in school my teachers ran the gamut. Unfortunately, the bad ones stand out more than the good ones. There was the 3rd grade teacher who called us idiots to our faces. Who thought a great punishment for a misbehaving class was to make us all walk around the school with the girls holding hands with the boys. I think she was just an angry lady.

    There was the AP English teacher in high school who was retiring at the end of the year. Sometimes we came to class and he would tell us he didn’t feel like teaching that day, so we were on our own. In an AP English class! The first time, we thought it was great. After that, we saw through him. We lost respect for him. He spent a great deal of time telling us what an awful career teaching was, and he actively discouraged those of us in the class that wanted to become teachers. We learned so little that year that only one student in the entire class dared to take the AP English exam. That one student was me, and I failed it. He simply did not prepare us.

    My parents generally allowed us to go through the experiences of all kinds of teachers. Only two times did my parents intervene. Once was when my brother got a really bad teacher a second year in a row. At that point my dad called the school and told him that his son had suffered for one year, he wasn’t going to endure that teacher for another.

    The second incident was actually the one where my parents really had to have courage and stand their ground, because the teacher in question was the seminary teacher. We lived in a town with only one released time seminary teacher, so all the students had him. He really would have preferred teaching institute, he didn’t relate to teenagers at all. He’d had problems for several years, lots of clashes with students. It got to the point where many of the students decided to take early morning seminary because that class had a different teacher. You know it’s bad when teenagers will CHOOSE to get up early and take a different class to avoid a teacher. Well, so many kids signed up for early morning that there were hardly any students in the released time classes. The stake wasn’t happy about that, so they called many of the parents into a meeting and told them to have their kids take released time and that the early morning class was only for seniors who absolutely needed it. My brother had been one of the kids clashing with the seminary teacher, and my parents were already concerned about his potential to head down a rebellious class. My parents stood up to the stake presidency and said, “No, we will not make our son take released time. If he wants to take early morning, that’s what he will take.” This took HUGE guts for them. They are as devout church members as you can find. My dad had recently been a bishop at this time. So to say NO to church leaders was very hard, but they stood their ground and did the right thing for their child.

    I do request teachers every year, and I would either have my child switch classes or (more likely) pull them out and homeschool if they had a scary teacher. I am of the opinion that no lesson is worth a child suffering through a really bad teacher for nine months. They spend the bulk of their day with this person, and so much is at stake, I don’t think they need to “learn” anything by being in an awful situation at school.

    As far as parent/teacher conferences, I think ours are pretty lame. We only get one a year, and it’s in October. You get called in for a second one only if your child is struggling in school.

  40. Giggles

    September 19, 2009

    Having been on the teacher side of the equation, my definition of “scary parent” is completely different from yours. A scary parent is one who comes into the school accusing the teacher of attacking their child and of things that happened before the teacher was even at the school. A scary parent is one who pulls out the phone book and starts calling everyone in it with the teacher’s last name until they get the teacher’s home and starts yelling at them at home. A scary parent is one who calls your phone at work and leaves you a message that you don’t deserve to be paid for what you are doing.

    A good parent is one who takes an interest in their child’s education and has an active role in it. A good parent is one who knows the teacher, who shows up at least to parent/teacher conferences if not more often. They are aware of what activities and units are being taught in the classroom.

    I think you’ve mixed up scary and good.

  41. m&m

    September 19, 2009

    or do I just go behind their backs and work with her at home on stuff I can come up with?

    I agree that the other thread will be good, but I have never heard of doing stuff at home w/ your kids as ‘going behind their backs.’ FWIW.

    I think one thing that isn’t often mentioned outright in these conversations about our kids and education is to PRAY. I think it’s too easy to make decisions out rooted in emotion or rhetoric or pressure from others or what we may hear from others (either about programs/systems or about teachers or even specific decisions). Whether it be what to do/what to think about whatever a child says about a teacher or student, or how much to push a child or the system or an issue or a subject, or how much extra stuff to do or not do, or whether to just go with the flow or do something different like homeschool or a charter or private or accelerated program….

    There is no One Right Answer for answers to these questions. That is both good and bad. The good news is that there is some room for you to make your own choices. The bad news is that no one else can tell you what is best for your child. And one child’s experience may be different than another’s.

    To those whose kids aren’t yet in school, don’t be afraid. Just be informed. And pray. Keep your heart open. Feel it out. I’m only a few years into this, but still, I can tell you that God cares about my children and their lives. And I see Him guiding us in the realm of their education in interesting ways.

  42. Kathryn P.

    September 20, 2009

    Merry Michelle, your story is haunting and makes me grateful that I wrote about this topic today.

    Eljee, thanks for reminding us that parents are entitled to revelation regarding their children. Even though I was a single parent with very young children, I have no horror stories about daycare. Why? Because I was so afraid of having horror stories about daycare, that I’d pray and fast, and pray and go to the temple, and pray and get a priesthood blessing, in order to get divine help with choosing daycare for my youngest son. When I was trying to find a Pre-K program for my son, another single mother recommended a specific private school. When I was touring that school with an administrator, a small boy started crying. He said he missed his mommy. The administrator started yelling at the little boy and telling him that crying was against the rules. I thought, “If she talks to a three year old boy like that in front of a potential customer, how does she talk to him when there are no witnesses?” I was so thankful that Heavenly Father gave me that moment of clarity.

    The second private school Pre-K program I visited was filled with light and love. My son was there for two years and the teachers and I wept on his last day of class. They wept because they loved him and they were going to miss him. I wept in absolute gratitude to two angels who were an answer to my prayers.

    I wish I had continued praying that my son would always get loving and kind teachers. I love this explanation of prayer in the Bible Dictionary:

    “The object of prayer is not to change the will of God, but to secure for ourselves and for others blessings that God is already willing to grant, but that are made conditional on our asking for them.”

    I wish I had always asked… When you live in the same school district for years, you can request the best teachers and you’re savvy to avoiding the scary teachers, but we moved a lot and didn’t have that knowledge. In hindsight, I recommend prayer and talking to other parents before you register your child in a new school.

  43. Kathryn P.

    September 20, 2009

    M&M and I must have been on the same wavelength…we were both recommending prayer at the same time. I guess if you require two witnesses…

  44. m&m

    September 20, 2009

    hen I was touring that school with an administrator, a small boy started crying. He said he missed his mommy. The administrator started yelling at the little boy and telling him that crying was against the rules.

    That makes me want to weep.

    M&M and I must have been on the same wavelength…we were both recommending prayer at the same time.

    🙂

  45. ESO

    September 20, 2009

    Pam– This was a good thread on gifted kids, too
    http://zelophehadsdaughters.com/2009/09/06/the-trouble-with-giftedness-2/

    I don’t think any teacher would feel you are “going behind [their] backs”–go for it–the teachers will be glad for your involvement in that way.

    You are correct that NCLB has had a slowing effect on education. I don’t know a teacher who likes it.

    Love the suggestion to pray–not only for good teachers, but to know how to handle specific incidences.

  46. christine

    September 20, 2009

    I am in the middle of child rearing and school years with 5 kids in 4 schools. I want to echo the prayer suggestion. It sounds naive but in the 32 public school years our family has experienced we have yet to meet a truly “scary’ teacher and have met with many, many wonderful, inspiring teachers! I’m sure our turn will come but for now we are grateful and prayerful that the Lord will allow the right person to come into each child’s life. I remember one summer, all summer, praying that my then 2nd grader and Kindergartner would be assigned the “right” teachers. When the list was posted I was shocked to see the very 2 teachers I specifically DIDN’T want! I tossed and turned and then realized that I had to have faith that the Lord heard my prayers. I decided to go forward with faith (not always my strongest suit!) and those teachers were great! for my children, at that time. I learned to really love and appreciate them and so did my kids.

    Now for a minor threadjack, I had the opposite experience with a Sunday school teacher my daughter had. She would come home and complain and complain and I put her off telling her she had to respect him and blah blah blah. It turned out he really WAS off the wall, left his family in the dust, taught crazy doctrine and publicly humiliated the teenagers in his class. I wanted to kick myself for not taking her concerns seriously.

  47. Faith.Not.Fear

    September 20, 2009

    1) Pray — for your child, the teachers, the administrators who decide who goes where, for guidance on your child’s behalf….
    Miracles will happen — some on their own, some with help from teachers, etc., some by you taking the reigns.
    Miracles will happen.

    2) Be involved, however you can. This will help you to be better aware of what is going on in the school.

    3) Prayerfully and carefully — that’s how to approach the idea of homeschooling. Will you and your child be able to get along 24/7? Be sure you have the support of your area schools, or a homeschooling support group — it is not easy to do alone! Draw upon all the resources available, and stand up for those that aren’t.

    Heavenly Father loves you, loves your child, loves your child’s teachers (good and bad). Turn to Him most of all!

  48. Faith.Not.Fear

    September 20, 2009

    … He will lead you to the answers, the assistance, the angels you need! It may not happen immediately — even schooling has lessons to be learned 🙂 — but He will send the answers!

  49. Kathryn P.

    September 20, 2009

    I appreciate all the additional witnesses to the power of prayer in parenting! Christine’s final anecdote reminded me of a quote by Bishop Edgley:

    In an attempt to further prepare the Saints against the inevitable threatening wolves, Paul the Apostle gave his warning: “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.” (Acts 20:29.) Where might these wolves get sheep’s clothing that is so authentic as to deceive the Lord’s flock? Could it be they are clothed with exceeding riches and fine clothing as Mormon warned? (See Alma 4:8.) The vainness and frailties and foolishness of men, the learned that hearken not unto the commandments of God, as Jacob warned? (See 2 Ne. 9:28.) Could it be that sometimes they may clothe themselves to appear as righteous shepherds, that even the very elect might be deceived? – Richard C. Edgley, “Keep the Faith,” Ensign, May 1993, 11

    Fortunately, we don’t need to be afraid of wolves in the flock or scary teachers in our schools because, as Elder Maxwell reminded us:

    “Personal revelation regarding parenting can provide customized guidance and reassurance!” – Neal A. Maxwell, “‘Take Especial Care of Your Family’,” Ensign, May 1994, 88

  50. Liz C

    September 20, 2009

    Briefly on homeschooling qualifications: nothing I learned in teacher training really prepared me for teaching a tiny group of students (my kids) with widely varying skill sets and interests. I found it duplicated everything I learned in high school, working as a teacher’s assistant in remedial history class when I’d run out of courses to take in the high school curriculum.

    Teacher training has a lot about class management, and I don’t have those challenges with only four kids (two actively schooling, one play schooling–she’s 4–and one toddler.) Lesson planning is just not that hard to learn, but that just may come easily to me, as I teach outside our home, too, so I get a lot of practice there. Education philosophy, learning styles–there are excellent books and workshops on all these topics, so it’s easy to self-educate and be a better mentor for my children.

    In the end, I think it’s just a confidence that our family can and will learn together. We seek out other mentors as needed, but between my husband and myself, we can cover a lot of bases without leaving home.

    Good teachers: Miss Deiker in her first year of class, was the one who identified that I had stopped speaking entirely in response to a Dreadful Teacher the year before. She really drew me out, was wonderfully compassionate, and pushed me in every appropriate way, most notably by putting me into the higher spelling group when she saw the books I devoured at recess. “If you can read and understand them, it’s time to spell them.” She taught me that failure is just fine, so long as you keep trying.

    Mr Jones, history and civics: just amazing. He loved the stories of history and human interaction, and made the class so much more than memorizing dates and places. He was a WWII vet, and was in Europe at the close of the war. He went back after the fall of the Berlin wall, and the next year, showed us slide shows with side by side pics of 1946 and 1989–same locations. He could also do back handflips, and walk the length of the gym on his hands (collegiate cheerleader in his day!)

    Despite having several excellent teachers in my life, I’m very comfortable with our decision to learn at home. We’re having trouble with a few Sunday School teachers who refuse to be the adult in class and take charge of classroom management, and that’s really frustrating for my boy, who just wants to be there and learn, not bullied by on Bishopric member’s out-of-control son. So far, no results, despite pleas to teacher, Primary leadership, and the Bishop. It gets frustrating, but we’ll keep on, the same as we would with a public school.

    If you’re having to supplement everything at home, you’re homeschooling, but not enjoying the freedom on having the rest of your day open! Let go, and jump in. The water’s fine, and it’s nice to get a LIFE in addition to an education.

  51. elizabeth-w

    September 20, 2009

    I know this is a late comment, but just wanted to say thanks for it.
    I received a call today (Sunday) from the school. It was my daughter’s 4th grade teacher. She was arranging the parent volunteer schedule. She would like to have me every week for a couple hours.
    My daughter had been scared to death about this teacher. There were tears and mucous and weeping and wailing about potentially having this teacher. And you know what? My daughter adores her! She runs a very tight ship, and she is challenging, and expects the children to act right. We’re in a magnet school, so the cap for K-3rd grade is 20, but in 4th it jumps to 30. She has to make kids behave in a class that full. The other 4th grade teacher just tolerates a bit more chaos, I think.
    I’m a firm believer in prayer for teachers, backed up by being very clear in stating my requests for the type of teacher I want for my child. We are not allowed to ‘request’ teachers. But I have found that if I write on the parent imput form what I’m looking for, I have gotten it.

  52. heathermommy

    September 21, 2009

    I think kids can sometimes learn some useful things by having a “bad” teacher but at what price? It makes me so sad to think of young kids having to deal with these kind of things. I think when kids are younger they need to feel like their parents are going to be their hero in these sort of situations. I mean we don’t have to make our children live in a “Dicken’s novel” just because we think it will teach them to be tough.

    Also I think so often we dismiss our children’s concerns with other adults. I think we need to really listen to our kids and give them the benefit of the doubt. So many kids start out school excited and curious and then a bad teacher or a bad school experience can totally kill their confidence and enthusiasm for learning. I think it is sad when parent think this inevitable. I think it is sad too when parents are almost powerless to make any sort of decisions on how or by whom their kids are educated. Isn’t it sad we give up so much of our power?

    I think that we have to fight for what is right for our kids, no matter what. So maybe that means demanding another teacher, or switching schools, or homeschooling.

  53. Liz C

    September 21, 2009

    I remember one instance when my parents helped me deal with a “scary” situation at school… I’d be very ill, and missed about a month of Jr. High. The one subject that terrified me was math. The thought of having to do so many assignments of flat-out busy work made me sick to my stomach in a very real way. I wanted nothing more than for my Mom to go to the teacher, and just fix it somehow.

    Instead, she encouraged me to work out a plan and present my alternative to the teacher. I came up with: I’ll do the test for each section. If I miss any of the concepts, I’ll do the daily work for those sections and re-test. If I have all the concepts, my test score will be the daily/test score combined.

    She worked with me all weekend on “how to present my reasonable plan”. I approached the teacher on Monday (very nerve-wracking), he kindly heard me out, and agreed that this sounded like a reasonable way to catch up, so that’s what we did.

    That’s one example of a parent helping the kid “battle through”–in a way that really set me up with a skill I’ve used more than once since. Her advocacy and support made all the difference. Even with homeschooling now, we work on teaching our kids to handle real-life situations in mature ways–and with the case of “scary” teachers, giving a child the gift of “this is how we deal with things on your behalf, and this is what you can do as a reasonable person” is a huge thing.

    My SIL’s son had a “scary” teacher who told my nephew that he wasn’t allowed to check specific books out, because she didn’t believe that he really could read them. Same teacher also assigned massive “do-over” busy work when my nephew got his homework assignments done in the time left over from in-class assignments. My SIL’s approach really gave my nephew the boost and confidence he needed: SIL returned the busy-work assignments blank, with a note saying that she had worked with her son, he had the concepts securely, and she would not be taking additional family time for busy-work in the future. She gave him permission to refuse (politely) an unreasonable request from a vindictive adult.

    She experienced a bit of nerves about standing up to a teacher (even as an adult), but the results were SO worth it! Learning to stand firm and stand up is a skill we all need, at every age. It’s a bit scary to buck the system, or stand up to a perceived authority, but when authority is wielding unrighteous dominion, it’s vital.

  54. Kathryn P.

    September 21, 2009

    Heathermommy, I agree with you. I can’t imagine anyone suggesting that it would be good for preschoolers to have bad daycare providers, just because it is a tough world out there. I’m not sure why elementary school should be any different. It is possible to have great classroom management skills and high expectations, without resorting to anger, sarcasm, and cruelty (even in a high school). And you’re right, some of the stories shared have sounded like they were directly from a Dicken’s novel.

    Liz C – I loved the smart parents that coached my high school students on how to fight their own battles. Kids without that type of coaching, often resorted to lies and manipulation to achieve their goals. Students are going to have to fight their own battles in college, so it seemed like the examples you gave are the perfect way to prepare kids for “real life” and much healthier methods than just suffering silently.

  55. Nani Lii Furse

    September 21, 2009

    I don’t think anyone who commented (including myself) believes that a parent should allow a child to silently endure classroom cruelty just so they’ll learn to cope with a tough world. But it is impossible for parents to insure a perfect academic environment every year for every child. What more can we do than offer age-appropriate support, teach coping skills, or take other measures as needed?

    Achieving a balance between “stepping in and letting life happen” is difficult. It helps to remember our Heavenly Father’s methods as he sends us into an imperfect world.

  56. Deb

    November 19, 2009

    from a previous post: “but teachers gossip about parents the same way parents gossip about teachers–we know when trouble is coming, and we dread having your kids. Sorry. Someone had to say it.”

    Maybe that’s why teachers have little credibility.

    They want to be “treated” like a professional, but they don’t want to act like one.

    Any teacher that “dreads” having a particular child in her class, and refers to that child or parents as “trouble” needs to find another occupation.

    SORRY, someone had to say it !

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