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Teacher Talk Back: There Are Two Sides to Every Story

Here’s the deal: if you promise not to believe everything your child tells you about school, then I promise not to believe everything that your child tells me about home.

Two sides - teacher talk back: there are two sides to every storyAn article in our August/September 2010 issue encouraged parents to explore volunteer opportunities in their child’s school. It prompted one reader to confess that she and other moms felt a lot of pressure from the teachers at their school to get involved. Her letter, published in our October 2010 issue, prompted this response from a kindergarten teacher in the North, who is also the mother of two young children.

I’ve been an elementary school teacher for many years. Each year I teach 20 children. Most children have two parents, a number of those have step-parents, and many have involved grandparents. This leaves me with a great number of people to try to satisfy on a daily basis. I have to be OK with the fact that I may not always succeed. Spending all day with 20 children gives me plenty of opportunities to please, but it also gives me plenty of opportunities to displease.
Children have an egocentric view of the world. They see the world only from their perspective; they don’t understand that there’s more than one side to a story. Being a teacher, I often see the big picture and know things that children don’t know.

For example, your child may come home in tears and tell you that Rob pushed her today and the teacher didn’t do anything. Nothing! Your mother-in-law is incredulous. ‘Give me the superintendent’s phone number!’ she demands. However, your daughter may not have seen or understood the action that I took. Rob’s dog died last night. My heart broke for him every time I scanned the room and caught his red-rimmed eyes. This dog had slept with him every night since he was a toddler. This was the dog who was the hero in countless journal entries. Rob spent the rest of recess crying in the classroom after pushing your daughter.

After school, I phoned Rob’s parents, and they are having him write an apology letter at this very moment. Your daughter may not remember to tell you about the letter the next day because she will have forgiven her friend. You don’t know any of this, so you are not pleased. Neither is your mother-in-law. I’m learning to be OK with this.

Every day I teach children how to retell situations with convincing accuracy and detail. One sunny recess, I was walking with one of my students when she said, “My dad wears a dress at home.” I’m proud to say I didn’t miss a beat on this one. “Oh, like a kilt?” I asked. She replied, “No, it’s pink. He wears it when he’s cleaning. Mom doesn’t like it.” Thankfully, the recess bell rang. Here’s the deal: if you promise not to believe everything your child tells you about school, then I promise not to believe everything your child tells me about home.

Obviously, I didn’t mention this conversation to her parents during the parent-teacher interview; nor could I look that man in the eye. I’m sure he mentioned to his wife on the drive home that he was not pleased with my conversational skills because I was lousy at making eye contact. I have to be OK with that.

I once had a co-worker come into the staff room in tears. She had just received a letter from a parent criticizing her choice for the year-end class trip. She was compared to a teacher in another school who always booked fabulous class trips. Ironically, this other teacher was my husband, and I knew the other side of that story.

My husband had come home the previous night and lamented to me that a parent had phoned his principal complaining that his class trip was too far away and too expensive (despite all the fundraising).

Perhaps we could all stand to be a little more accommodating with differences in opinion. I work hard to make fair and equitable decisions but I have come to terms with knowing I can’t please everyone all of the time. I’m working on being confident in my decisions and not easily swayed. The best I can do is treat my students with dignity and respect, care for each of them, and have the best interest of every student in mind with every choice that I make.

If I remain true to the belief that each child deserves this fair treatment, then I will please myself and my conscience, and at the end of the day, I’m more than OK with that.

Published in May, 2011.

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