Teachers Talk Back: Revenge
on November 25, 2009
Each issue, we invite an educator, who will remain anonymous, to dish the dirt about stuff you might hear in a teacher’s lounge. This issue we hear from a Grade 5 teacher.
A TEACHER'S REVENGE
It’s here; the night of parent-teacher interviews. Parents and teachers will sit down to address concerns about bad attitudes, negative behaviour and disappointing marks. And that’s just the parents’ complaints about the teachers!
It’s a stressful time for all of us – but, for teachers, it means that twice a year, rather than being challenged by the students, we’re being challenged by their parents.
Eventually, all teachers realize that there are residual benefits to be derived from Parent’s Night – revenge. Revenge for all those days of their kid’s insolence, provocation and challenging our authority. It’s a day that students think will never come – their day of reckoning.
For me, it was always a day like no other. A day when all of my students were on their very best behaviour, somehow secure in the conviction that one day of saintly conduct would atone for an entire term of utter defiance.
I remember Jimmy, whose misbehaviour had been an issue the entire term, begging me not to tell his parents about his various transgressions. When I questioned Jimmy about his sudden change of character, he reluctantly confessed that his parents had promised him a PSP video game system if he received a good report from me that evening. When I suggested that it would be dishonest if I didn’t tell the whole truth, he said: “Please, sir. Don’t tell. If you don’t, I’ll let you borrow my PSP every other weekend!”
As tempting as his offer was, I felt compelled to be upfront about Jimmy’s behaviour. Suffice to say, I never did get the opportunity to borrow his PSP.
YOU HAD ME AT HELLO
It’s amazing how one night of interviews can change the classroom dynamics for the entire next term. Just ask Tina, my female version of Eddie Haskell (remember the ‘50s show, Leave It To Beaver?). Tina had spent the term teaching the other students how to swear in her native language. When I questioned the meaning of one particular phrase, she informed me that it simply meant “Hello”.
Tina’s father, however, had a very different interpretation. When I welcomed him with the phrase on Parent’s Night, one look at his bulging eyes confirmed my suspicions and told me that it meant something else. I didn’t need an interpreter to figure out what was happening. After five minutes of yelling at me, Tina’s father eventually realized I had no idea what the phrase meant. He composed himself and apologized on his daughter’s behalf.
He said, “I assure you, this will not happen again. Tina will now understand that you are the only language teacher in this class.”
True to his word, from that day forward, the only swearing ever heard in my class was in English.
Sometimes words alone aren’t enough to convince parents of their child’s misdeeds. I recall a colleague of mine who had spent an entire term contacting Tommy’s mother on a regular basis with reports of his inappropriate behaviour at school. His calls were inevitably met with denials and the familiar refrain of “He’s never like that at home”. A usual parent response.
Yet, as fate would allow, one week prior to Parent’s Night, my colleague just happened to be filming his class’s presentations. Believing the camera was off, Tommy proceeded to jump in front of it and give the camera the middle finger salute. And that was only the beginning of his performance. Only later, as his teacher was privately viewing the presentations, did he catch Tommy in the act... and subsequently said a prayer of thanks to the teaching gods.
On Parent’s Night, in walked a smiling Tommy and his skeptical mother. And there, sitting across the table, was Tommy’s teacher…and a TV... and a VCR. Tommy went pale.
“So, how has Tommy’s behaviour been lately?” asked his mother.
“Well, I could tell you, but I’d rather show you,” replied his teacher.
And with that, the teacher pressed the play button. What followed has been edited for content. But needless to say, for Tommy’s mother, seeing was believing. She never again questioned Tommy’s teacher, and Tommy subsequently developed an aversion to class presentations.
I’m not suggesting that all Parent’s Nights are negative. Quite the contrary. The mere fact that parents are present conveys a strong message of their commitment to their child’s education, and it opens up a forum for positive communication and collaboration with teachers. That said, if a little payback ensues, so be it. Teaching is sweet, but revenge can be sweeter.