Wednesday, May 5, 2010

No kid gloves

"She just won't listen to her teachers at school."

"He's not trying hard enough in science - he really doesn't like his science teacher."

"She says she'd study harder, but that French teacher is a real pain."

"I just don't like the way his math teacher gives out homework."

Before medical school, I worked as a bartender at a local restaurant.  I loved it, mostly.  In general, people loved to swap stories with me about work, friends, the Sox.  I once even got a story about a "boil" on a customer's butt, who felt I could give out medical advice, given that I had just been accepted into medical school.

Then...there was my boss, Bill, who was about 6'2", maybe 250.  Beefy in stature, he threw his weight around figuratively, as well.  Many of the other cooks and waiters disliked Bill, who routinely dealt out useless tasks or asked people to do things outside of their job descriptions.  Bill often forgot to do parts of his own job, giving the rest of us the privilege of bailing water so the ship remained upright.

I felt Bill targeted me, in particular.  Knowing that I'd be his bartender only until medical school called, he often made comments about my lack of immunity to the drudgery of cleaning the drink racks or swabbing the floor with a variety of dental implements.  The volume of the sucky tasks seemed to crescendo once Bill found out I would be leaving at the end of my last summer, and the choice Friday and Saturday night shifts, where the more inebriated crowd often tipped much better, started to trickle to J.D., my successor at the bar.

My Voodoo doll of Bill seemed only to tick him off more.  I doubt fleas and his armpits met as I had hoped.

I'm betting each of you has or has had a boss spawned from the deepest recesses of Hades, and in fact, he/she may still preside over the roasting of your poor soul.  Have any of you refused to do the tasks of you job?  It's probably a silly question, unless you're unemployed because of that behavior, in which case I guess this post might be for you, too.

In general, schools and teachers do well in the education of their charges.  If your children say that they just can't do their work because Mr. Jones stinks, understand that, though you love your child, she of less than 2 decades is hardly in a position to judge the competence of a teacher.  A child's job is to go to school, do his work, and do as well as he/she can.  Your job is to help your children in this pursuit, to listen for something that sounds funny, and to tell them that the teacher is right, and that refusing to do work is wrong.

Any other response giftwraps your child's license to do poorly, and sets them up to expect perfection from their surroundings:  teaching your kids to be resilient in the face of less-then-perfect circumstances might be one of the better lessons you can teach.  If your kids feel that you support them in the idea that their teachers stink, they will probably put forth less effort, and will not likely respect their teachers.

While we, as parents, have expertise on our own children, their teachers have years of training and expertise on childhood education, and are competent observers of your children using the scholarly portion of their brains.  True, there are some situations where the teachers are wrong, or where they treat your children unfairly; sometimes, the schools get kids and IEPs (individualized education plans) wrong.  For the average child, however, no such issue exists.  I suppose that's the rub - figuring out if your child is one of the former or one of the latter.

A few years ago, a mother and father (whom I knew well from seeing their 2 kids over 5 years) came to me to discuss the 5 year-old's behavioral issues, which included backtalk to her teachers.  After reviewing everything, I asked them if they (the parents) liked the teacher.  They said they did not.  I asked them if they vented their dislike for her in front of their daughter, but didn't need their affirmative answer as the two of them guiltily looked at each other.

At their other daughter's check-up a month later, the parents reported that everything had improved at school, and that negative comments about the teacher waited for sneaky ears to be sleeping.

Kids will perform up to expectations - make sure you set them high enough.


  1. I totally agree, Brian. Matthew came home the other day with the disgruntled look on his face after another "not so great day" e-mail from his teacher had arrived. Matthew said, "I just wish I didn't have to listen to teachers. I don't want to follow their directions. They have too many rules." Broken record mommy (that's me), chimed in with "Teachers have rules and give directions so that you can learn and be safe while you are at school. It is your job while you are at school to listen and follow directions." Repeat ad tedium...

    I understand some parents think that telling their children to blindly follow the teachers will make them followers, or lemmings, or whatever. I disagree. Elementary school students don't rule the world for a reason. There is plenty of time when they are older to teach them which rules are hard and which are soft.

  2. I think, for the most part, it's not an "Another Brick in the Wall" set of circumstances. I do think that it's sometimes tough to recognize learning issues that might be contributing to behavioral issues in school, and it's sad when those problems aren't recognized until "later." That being said, I doubt that situation applies to most kids. I applaud the broken LP!


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