Sunday, November 8, 2015

Eve in Grade Seven

I have no idea what to write today so I'm jumping on Steph's offer of talking about how Eve's doing in the Big School. When I was in elementary school, they went to grade eight and then high school started in grade nine. Some people apparently went to middle school. Here in Ottawa I think some schools are still K-8, but my kids' elementary school only went to grade six, and then they go to a 7-12. I wasn't crazy about this model, but the seven/eights are on a different schedule from the nine-to-twelves and have their own wing, and it's worked out fine for Angus.

I went with both grade six classes when they walked over to the high school for the field trip that introduced them. The grade eight WEB (Where Everyone Belongs) Leaders meet them at the doors and clap and cheer for them on their way in. Angus thought this was cool enough. Eve found it totally overwhelming and wanted to run and hide under something. I had assumed she would be excited about the new school, which has gorgeous facilities for drama and cooking, but she spent most of the summer feeling apprehensive about the first day.

On the whole, it's been great. She only has a couple of people from her old school in her class, but she's made new friends. At the old school they had to eat lunch in their classroom, but now they go to the cafeteria, and they eat in a big group. She's doing well in music (learning the clarinet). She loves her English teacher and her art teacher, and likes most of her other teachers. Except one.

This is the same teacher Angus had for homeroom in grade seven. Eve doesn't have her for as much of the day, fortunately. From what I gather, she's not a great teacher OR a very nice human being. She doesn't teach effectively, and then periodically flies off the handle when students don't have a good grasp on the material. She singles out certain kids for constant insults and punishment, whether their behaviour warrants it or not. She's told kids they're going to end up working at Wal-Mart. She used to threaten to give punitive tests or call parents to report on students' wrongdoing when Angus was in her class (the one time she said she was going to call me it never happened, and the tests usually didn't either).

I couldn't decide what to do when Angus had her. I really try not to be a helicopter parent, and for the most part he wasn't targeted by her. I thought maybe I'd let him finish the year and then email the principal, not in a white-hot rage or anything, just to suggest that someone should take a look at her methods and make her aware that people were paying attention.

And then the year finished, and inertia kicked in, and I just hoped we'd never have to deal with her again.

Karma. It's a bitch.

So, throw some opinions at me. I'm torn about the fact that her awfulness isn't impacting Eve terribly. Does this mean I SHOULD contact the principal, because it wouldn't, in fact, be helicopter parenting, it would be acting on behalf of the students that she IS impacting? (Because my feeling about this is, if there are kids who are at risk of becoming seriously disenchanted with school and eventually dropping out, her bullshit is going to give them a serious push in the wrong direction). Or does it mean I shouldn't, because it's not really my business? Angus had a drama teacher last year that seemed to peg him as a dumb jock from the beginning and then he couldn't do anything right - I didn't do anything except tell him that I agreed it was unfair, but sometimes in life you have to deal with people who are in a position of authority over you and aren't nice, and it sucks. I could do the same thing here. I just honestly don't know whether I should.

What do you think?

11 comments:

Hannah said...

Oh, that's such a tough one. :(

I only ever complained about a teacher once (as a parent, anyway). Oldest had an absolutely awful teacher when he was in second grade - I don't want to hijack your comments with all the details but suffice it to say I spent the whole year tense and on edge. I tried dealing with her directly but it was like beating my head against a wall... Oldest wasn't as bothered by it as I was, but I honestly felt and still feel that her teaching methods actively harm kids.

So, at the end of the year, I wrote an email to the principal, much like you pondered doing when Angus had that teacher. You know what it accomplished?

Nothing.

My middle child didn't have her for a teacher - I think mostly because the principal believed me when I said that it wasn't going to be worth the hassle they'd face if I had to deal with her AGAIN - but she's still teaching (in fact they've got her in with even younger kids now, for fuck's sake), and as far as I'm aware nothing was ever done about her bullshit.

I guess my point is this. This teacher sounds really bad - and if you wait until the end of the year to say something, summer vacation will happen and nothing will be done. The kids who are being targeted by this teacher probably don't have parents able to advocate effectively on their behalf. I think that if you feel like you can take this on, you have the chance here to really have a positive impact on some of those kids.

Steph Lovelady said...

She sounds a lot like June's 3rd grade Spanish/math/science teacher. At the beginning of the year June was so terrified of her she failed to turn in her summer homework and various forms because she didn't want to get physically close to her. But then she got used to her and even said she liked her though I wondered if she was just saying that because she thought you had to like your teachers or because she needed to convince herself that she did.

This particular teacher has a terrible reputation and I knew parents had already complained. We didn't add our complaints to the mix because previous complaints didn't seem to have made a difference. But if things had gotten worse instead of better, we would have.

If you want to write an email, though, the fact that you've seen her through two kids' eyes could help dispel any idea that it's just a bad fit between student and teacher.

temperedwithkindness said...

I wish I could give Hannah's comment a thumbs up, tbh.

We have had mostly great teachers. We have had a scant handful of challenging ones. We have had one who was mediocre at best.

We have had *one* doozie and you better believe I wrote a letter.

Interestingly, even though in different provinces, each of my kids have had very challenging Grade Threes. One was just not up to snuff and I feel my daughter suffered from a lack of actual learning.

My son though, had an awful teacher who just should not have been in the classroom - at all. By November we decided that the remainder of that year was 100% going to be about self esteem. No joke. It was that bad.

I am polite and when I write a letter I always hope it is received well and that the recipient knows that the letter is like opening a conversation - with a paper trail - so that concerns can no longer be ignored. I know we live in a digital world, but putting pen to paper still holds the power.

If your child sees other kids being treated poorly and feels relief at dodging the bullets of the bully teaching the class, she is still be affected. Kwim?

You have to go with your gut, of course, but I always think the conversation is one worth starting.

Good luck to your kiddo! It's not easy.

Lynn said...

Agreed with everyone that this is such a tough issue. I don't want to be seen by my kids' school as a "problem parent." I'm worried it will come back to affect my kids in some way. GAH.

We have only had one full-time teacher that was considered a problem by other parents - but all three of my kids had her, and my attitude was a) sometimes personality clashes happen, and you have to deal with that, and b) actually, she was kind of a GOOD teacher in that she got results, she just wasn't touchy-feely. We ended up working well together and it was all fine. But I do know other parents complained and like others said above - nothing happened.

I have complained myself to our school's administration about one thing, quite extensively - the way they manage food allergies in the school - and been totally rebuffed. I felt like I was being "handled" with promises to "look into things" and then nothing changed. I don't even think my comments or letters ended up "on the record."

But then again, is it worth it just to shut up and say nothing, just because you think your comments will be ignored anyway? I feel like that's not the way to start a revolution.

I think, in your shoes, I would definitely say something, something small, something via email, and maybe closer to the end of the year. Because the parents who are doing the real fighting are likely being labelled as troublemakers, or their kids are labelled as anxious and sensitive, and a calm voice of a no-trouble kid from a no-trouble family might actually lend weight to what they are saying.

But yes, it is a tough one, that's for sure.

Sarah McCormack said...

yep..... tough one. I would say nothing. I am going to leave it at that Allison. you know me well enough. it would drive me nuts, but I would say nothing.

Sarah McCormack said...

I have changed my mind. I think I would request an interview with her. it is early in the year. a good time to start a (constructive) dialogue and express some concerns.

Helen Abbott said...

I agree with temperedwithkindness about the effect on Eve even if she isn't a direct target. My son Nathan has had a few bad teachers, and a few absolutely stellar ones. Nathan was extremely shy and quiet when he started school, and extremely sensitive. His grade 1 teacher was generally harsh and made the kids throw their art in the recycling when she deemed it not good enough, and he sometimes came home in tears. I wrote a letter that got no response. Another attempt at reaching out to remedy the fact that Nathan couldn't sleep at night and didn't want to get out of bed in the morning did get me a phone call from the teacher, who was SO SURPRISED that Nathan was having trouble, since he was one of her "best students". FFS. That, and my attempts at explaining that not all teachers are very good or very nice, helped him get through that year.

Nathan had a contract teacher in the middle of grade 3 who yelled and treated kids like they were stupid, and though Nathan was never a target, it bothered him hugely. It was impossible to actually get in touch with the teacher because he never read notes or set up his voicemail and didn't give his email address. Finally I contacted the principal, who was very responsive, and she got the teacher to call me right away. I met with the teacher, who turned out to be very nice, just not suited to teaching at all, and his teaching style was a response to being completely out of his element. He blamed "several really bad kids" for his behavior, and I wasn't really able to get my point through to him, but the principal put the fear of God into him and the yelling lessened. Fortunately the teacher he was replacing returned from mat leave, so we only had to deal with him for about 4 months.

I also wrote a letter to the principal at the end of that year to request that Nathan not be placed in the class of a truly horrible teacher the following year. The stories of that teacher were appalling, and resulted in quite a few parents moving their kids to another school. Fortunately, he didn't return the next year, so we were saved.

Anyway, I'd act now. Behavior like that should be called out, even if the calling out has no effect.

Nicole said...

On the one hand, I think that it's a valuable lesson for children to learn that they are always going to encounter difficult people and some people are just wretched and not suited for their position. But on the other hand, I feel like if a teacher is displaying such aggressive and, frankly, inappropriate behaviour, I think she should be called on it. I like how Steph said, that you have seen it now through two children, and so you KNOW it's not just a bad fit. And the fact that it is not directly affecting Eve makes your argument stronger. Maybe the administration really doesn't know what kind of teacher she is, and just a request that it would be looked into doesn't make you a helicopter parent.

Shan said...

Personally I would lean towards not saying anything given my child is not directly involved. I'd rather spend the time teaching my girls coping techniques. I mean jerks are everywhere and I have seen far too many people with no coping skills or kids who have their parents bail them out of any sort of difficult situation. That being said, there is nothing wrong with having a chat about it either. I personally prefer a phone call or a face to face chat in those sorts of situations, but that's just me.

Alison said...

Ah. Hmmm. I think I read this and intended to come back to comment. So, here I am-- though later than I'd intended.

As a parent and former teacher, I would share your concern yet hesitancy to get involved, especially since your kid isn't being targeted. I tend to lean toward emailing the principal, because as Nicole said, your experience (and lack of direct emotional involvement) might be more persuasive. I know what you mean about end-of-the-year inertia so right now would actually be an excellent time to email.

However. I think the chances that the principal doesn't already know that this teacher sucks are pretty darn close to 0%. With the kinds of behaviors you've described...I just...the principal has to know something, even if not the full extent. The principal is probably also pretty invested in not rocking the boat, IMO.

One of my frustrations with the broken education system is that it's next to impossible to get rid of a bad teacher, or even to discipline them. It's such a long process that it hardly ever gets past step one (principal tells teacher to shape up). Usually the teacher temporarily shapes up, the principal thinks, "Problem solved!" Except it isn't, as you see this year. This is a teacher who hates teaching, who dislikes children, who absolutely SHOULD NOT be in the classroom. ("You're going to work at Walmart"? WTF?) And yet because the system requires multiple steps after the reprimand (multiple meetings with admin, formal complaint filed, gathering info, hearing in front of the school board, appeal process) the odds of this teacher being stopped are next to nothing.

Teachers freak out when we're confronted with the idea of being fired over doing a poor job, but in ANY industry you're evaluated on your job performance. Not that I'm saying fire a teacher over one mistake, but this is not one mistake. This is a serial problem. Teachers and principals need to realize that it will only improve the profession to get rid of the bad apples. /rant

tl;dr Email if you want to, but just realize that nothing may actually happen in the long run.

Kim said...

As a former teacher--everything that Alison said. I have skipped ahead to read the next post in feedly before typing this so I feel like it's very safe to say that emailing the principal is the course here. I could go on a tear here (and did, but have deleted) but this kind of thing is infuriating for everyone, including this person's colleagues.

Gloves off if it's ever Eve in her crosshairs, or if she does something beyond the pale. But god, it just sucks to hear about people like this in classrooms.