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This is why teachers don't want to talk to parents.

On Friday, I emailed a parent to update her on her son's performance in my class. He's missed a lot of school recently (with reason) but has made no effort when back to make up what he's missed or clarify assignments that he probably doesn't understand due to his frequent absences. When he is in class, he sits there without doing anything until I prod him to get started (something I only have to do with him, not any other student in that period), and frequently comes to class without any kind of supplies. He's missing a major assignment from almost two months ago (seriously! And I'm still going to accept it! I may have to change my late work policy here because this is absurd), and hasn't talked to me ONCE about it without me asking the status first. He is participating in extra curricular activities, just not, y'know, curricular ones. I said that I'd be happy to help him make up the work but that he needs to make an appointment with me to do that, that I won't force him. These are all things I thought she'd want to know.

Apparently not.

She emailed me back a furious missive about how bad my attitude has been since he started in my class, how I never say anything positive about him, how I complain about little things like him not having a pencil, how I said he could just not worry about the work while he was out (which I did - what we were on required direct instruction and I said he could continue his independent reading and then I'd catch him up when he was back [though I did not explicitly state that I'd expect him to actually do work when he was back....maybe that was my bad]) and how I clearly just don't care about him at all because otherwise I'd be more understanding.

Um. Okay.

This kid has something serious going on, that's true. And I have told him and his family in writing that his health is the most important thing, and I believe that. But....he's playing sports. Shouldn't I be able to expect that he can also make up missing work? And do the work when he IS in class? He's in eighth grade - shouldn't I expect him to actually talk to me when he comes back to find out what he's missing, especially when I've prompted him to do so? A pencil may be small, but it's kinda the basis of any possible participation, and thus it becomes big.

I'm frustrated here. I feel like I've gone out of my way to update this woman on her son's status (since she has never contacted me for any information) and I'm under attack. I'm glad she loves her son, glad she wants what's best for him, but I'm not going to compromise my teaching standards by letting him just not do assessments. And I don't know what to do.

My plan is to go to my AP with a draft of the email I want to send back, which will say something like the following:

Dear Angry Mom:

I understand how challenging this situation has been for all of you and I apologize if I upset you in any way. The goal of my email was to keep you aware of Kid’s performance in Language Arts, since at conferences you said you wanted to know if he was missing work or not living up to expectations in class and that email was a good way to reach you. I did send home that paper when Kid was out; perhaps I was not clear enough that he would still be expected to make up missing work. Though of course his health is the most important thing and always will be, he cannot pass the class without demonstrating the expected learning, which requires making up missing assignments. As I said in my first email, I would be happy to help him understand what he’s missing and complete that classwork, but he needs to talk to me about that. I really just wanted you as his mother to be fully informed about the situation, and again, I apologize if you took it in any other way. If you would prefer that I not contact you about Kid’s classroom performance, please let Mrs. AP, the 8th grade assistant principal, know, and you and she can discuss options.

Sincerely,
Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Teacher,
teachin'


Probably still too prickly but I'm annoyed with the whole situation. Any thoughts? Feedback? Commiseration?


Because GAH.

7 comments:

Rachel said...

I think you said what you had to - you were kind but firm. If anything, I think you apologized TOO much! lol If anything, I would shorten that second sentence; if she's upset/enraged, a long sentence is going to get her all a-tangle. (would personally end it after "expectations in class" but it's up to you!)

I simultaneously love and hate email. I love it because it's fast, instantaneous, and it's easily recorded & kept on file. But I also think people (read: parents) feel comfortable hiding behind it. They say (or wrongly interpret) things that ordinarily would not be said (or assumed) in a face-to-face conference or even a phone call.

Joan said...

I think you may have apologized too much too. You certainly have done all you can. At some point these kids need to step it up.

I will commiserate ~ I'm as frustrated with my crew. More than half of my 24 6th graders just do not care. I'm so tired of reteaching and chasing down work. I agree...GAH!

OKP said...

I agree with the ladies. Too much apologizing from you. It's BECAUSE you care that you are emailing. And bringing pencils (AKA "being prepared") is not a small item -- I want a doctor who has his scalpels, thank you very much.

I couldn't agree more with Rachel: "But I also think people (read: parents) feel comfortable hiding behind it. They say (or wrongly interpret) things that ordinarily would not be said (or assumed) in a face-to-face conference or even a phone call."

It sounds to me like maybe you might think about talking to his other teachers and seeing if there should be a meeting with everyone present -- an intervention, if you will. Face to face (even just you, mom, and child) might make for a better, and more respectful, outcome.

I'm looking forward to the update. Stay strong!

teachin' said...

Thanks, guys - I feel better now. I didn't end up sending the email today because I could never track down my administrator, but I'll revise a bit and try to catch her tomorrow. I appreciate all your support!

Ricochet said...

Email from parent: "Still havn't (sic) had a chance to get that warm-up #2 or the recovery test grades in yet?"

I'm on break.

Her son was given the chance to recover a test that he made a 20 on - IF he reworked the problems he missed and showed the work. He gave me answers he copied from someone else's paper. I gave him another chance - he hasn't done anything.

Gotta love it.

julie said...

Ugh. I have had responses like that from parents. Nothing tops an exhausting day of teaching like a parent telling you you're doing a bad job.

Just remind yourself - you are the expert, that's why the parent sends the child to school rather than homeschools. You are also doing the best you can with a class full of students - again, there is a trade-off involved when a parent decides to send a kid to school instead of homeschooling.

With extreme empathy,

Julie

laniza said...

One thing I've learned in my 4 years of teaching is to always, always, be very explicit in your expectations of students, especially those in middle school. Perhaps you should have been more clear on the deadline for his major assignment (two months is a very long time, esp. when marking periods are typically 8-10 weeks long). I also like the suggestion of speaking with his other teachers to see how his grades are in those subjects.

"I'm a dreamer but I ain't the only one Got problems but we love to have fun" -K'naan, "Dreamer"

I teach eighth grade Language Arts at an urban school. My kids kick ass and will change the world. I want everyone to know.
 
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