Thursday, September 06, 2007

Tactless Parent

There's always one.

Last night was Back To School Night, where I gave my spiel to plenty of parents over the course of an hour and a half. I told them how I calculate grades, how I apparently don't round grades enough to satisfy some people (that elicited a chuckle each time), and how grades in my class are designed to accurately reflect a student's performance level in the course.

Each year there's one, and usually only one, parent who will ask: "So what if everyone gets D's or F's?"

My reply is usually that since that's never happened, let's not worry about a hypothetical, and instead focus on making sure our kids are on the other end of the grade spectrum. But last night a parent was prepared for that answer: "It's happened in your class before."

It's happened that on certain tests, students score generally worse than they do on others--e.g., logarithms for some reason. But her statement was pretty bold, if not rude.

"Perhaps by the time the story gets to you, everyone's failed, but that's not what happens in reality."

Fortunately she didn't push the issue any further.

But why did she raise it in the first place? If she or someone she knows had a child in my class before and she believes this child's story to be true, why ask me if it's true, especially in a public forum? And if she doesn't want to believe my answer--again, why ask? The only answer I can come up with is she wanted to make some point, or win some power play, and on both counts I don't think she was successful. In other words, she got a D or an F in tact, while all the other parents got A's.

See? I told you to focus on the other end of the grade spectrum!


sailorman said...

My judgment on whether you or the parent were more tactless is (as it should be) focused on whether you, or the parent, were right.

Being right is usually not tactless. If you make a statement which isn't true , it's not tactless to call you on it, even in public. It's much more tactless to make the statement in the first place.

So if your statement was true: the parent was being an ass. If not...

Anonymous said...

Such is the epidemic of "speaking truth to power."

When you speak the truth to the power, it's because said power doesn't - or can't - recognize the truth on his own. That's why she didn't believe the power when he dismissed the concern. If he was capable of understanding on his own, there'd be nothing to say.

It's a neat, circular justification system for being a jerk. And if it goes badly, as it did for this parent, she can always pull Truther duty and claim some variant of, "But I'm just asking questions!"

It's a valueless logical two-step that makes the Chicken Dance look like George Balanchine's finest.

At least the game ended with the proper score: Darren: 1, Parent: DQ'd.

allenm said...

There's another explanation, I think, for that sort of questioning and rudeness.

Despite all the talk about the importance of education in the education system it's the certification that many people see as the palpable benefit. Graduating is more important then learning because you might get along without the learning but you sure won't get along without the certificate of graduation. That being the case you, as a teacher, are in a position to injure the future prospects of the child by not giving them a good grade.

I don't think there are many parents who wouldn't be aggressive and suspicious when faced with someone with that power over their children. They want to know whether you'll stamp the kid's passport or not. Whether you're going to make them jump through all sorts of hoops to get their passport stamped, i.e. do homework, mark tough on tests, etc. or whether you're the more reasonable type of teacher who isn't going to get carried away with all that "education" stuff.

What's really sad is that it isn't an unreasonable point of view.

At the micro and the macro level the lie is put to the importance of education continually.

The lousy teacher you remember from fifth grade? Now your kid has her for the same class. How important is education if someone like that is still employed in the field? If she's as lousy a teacher as you remember then there are considerations more important then professional competence else she'd have been gone long ago.

At the macro level you have the antics of various school boards, the negative influence of teacher's unions in the form of strikes, wage/benefit demands and protection of teacher's employment without regard to their professional competence and the overarching, continuing demands for more funding. Somewhere among all those conflicting and contending forces there's the importance of education but is it the driving purpose before which all other considerations bend or is it just another consideration among many? That's the sort of question that the asking provides the answer.

So they want to know if you're a hard-ass who likes making life difficult or if you're not some crazed, education uber alles ideologue.

Anonymous said...

Wheww... Im glad that wasn't my Dad.

Dan Edwards said...

Beware parents such as the one who "challenged" you.....I once had a parent upset that her "perfect" child earned a low score on a quiz. She demanded to know how the other students in the class did on the quiz. I told her that I could not legally share other students grades with her. She raised all kinds of havoc with the principal and before I knew it, I had a letter of reprimand in my personal file. SOME helicopter parents carry much greater firepower than others....and I got blasted. Beware, Darren, beware. As I found out in the above situation, the truth shall NOT set you free. Too many administrators will gladly rip the heart out of any of their teachers to appease some parents!

Darren said...

Where was your union?

Ellen K said...

I had a kid who was literally bouncing off the walls in a class where we have things like Exacto knives and glue out. I tried talking to the parents, who said that after his stint in anger management classes, he was "cured". So instead of the kid being the problem, it was the teachers. ALL of us had to attend classroom management seminars. The next year the kid got arrested for assault on another kid on the bus. I rest my case.