Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Thanks I Get

Every once in a while, I forget who I'm dealing with at school and mistakenly think they are going to act normal. Take last week, for example. "Troy" was upset because he thought I was going to call his mom after school and tell her what a jerk he had been that day. (I should have, but I didn't.) Because he knew he deserved it (he was being a jerk), he decided to get to his mom first and fill her head with stuff about me so that she'd ignore what I would tell her later. (Now remember, I didn't call his mom, but he didn't know I wasn't going to.)

So, Troy goes home and narcs me out for saying, "Quit your bitchin'." Yes, I admit, it was unprofessional, and I should not have said it, but if that's the worse thing I've said to a kid (and it is) all year, then cut me some slack. You try being patient and forgiving all day when you're dealing with sarcastic, disrespectful, hostile Troy. (Sorry, I forget you're on my side sometimes.)

Anyway, so I get an email from Troy's mom the next day, saying "Troy told me that you said 'Quit your bitching' to him. Do you really think that's appropriate, given his already low self-esteem?" (This, from a woman who calls her kid a "piece of shit" at home. This, from the parent of a child whose homework I dropped off at their house two weeks ago on my way home, just to be nice! This, from a woman whose child's life I have made a huge difference in, and she knows it!)

That wasn't all she complained about. She also wrote, "Troy also tells me that you have a knife in school. In light of what happened last year [he almost got expelled for bringing a jackknife to school], I think that is wrong and sets a bad example for Troy." Was she serious?! (I wanted to choke the kid.) She asked me to call her. Instead, I replied:

"I'm sorry; I can't call you right now; I am so upset about this, I cannot even talk. I am sorry about the swearing thing. I apologized to Troy after I said it, and I acknowledge that it was unprofessional. However, I hope that you also had a conversation with Troy about what led up to my comment. As you know, this is out of character for me; I hope you asked Troy to consider his own actions as well. [I wanted to add: Did he tell you how much he had been snapping at me because I was trying to get him to finish his homework so that you would not have to come home from work at 7:30pm and fight with him on it? Did he tell you he had used a snide tone with me and complained that I was expecting him to be "perfect," when all I was asking him to do was put a period at the end of a sentence? Did he tell you that I had given up my lunch period to sit with him while he finished a test that day? No? I didn't think so.] Instead, I added:

"I'm sorry the knife upset Troy. It is now in a locked cabinet. That said, I also hope that you expressed to him that there is a very big difference between a kitchen knife in a drawer (next to napkins, paper plates, salt and pepper) and taking a knife to school to exchange with a peer. Also, I'm guessing that Troy didn't mention that earlier in the afternoon (because I wouldn't stop "bugging" him about his homework) he said, "Yeah? Well, I could tell someone she has a knife in school and get her fired!" We all chuckled when he said it; I thought he was joking.

So, my point is, I was hurt by Troy's decision to badmouth me to save his own skin. Hurt, because I have really gone out of my way to help him this year, and he is experiencing great success this year. That's why I didn't call his mom that night; he had had a bad day, but he had been doing so well previously that I decided to cut him some slack. (As I told him the next day, I only wish he could have done the same for me. )

The other thing that hurt me so much was that just the day before, I had gone out of my way to help solve a problem he was having on the schoolbus (which is not my "department.") I'm not going to go into the details, but I spent 3o minutes after school fixing the situation for him. And this was way he thanked me.

I knew my job was not in jeopardy as a result of what I said, or the knife, but it still bugged me that Troy would say such things the way he did. What I learned from this (again, as I do a few times a year), is that I cannot expect emotionally disturbed students to act normally; to show gratitude or loyalty to me, even though I am kinder to them than their own family members sometimes. I need to remember that I cannot expect to get my emotional needs met by my students. I need to instead take the good when I can get it and just keep on doing what I know is right.

Yes, I did give Troy an earful when he arrived the next morning and coyly asked, "Did my mom email you??" Because I'm a teacher. I taught him a few things about honestly, accountability, and loyalty, especially as it relates to someone you hope will be going to bat for you the next time you get into trouble. I'm not sure he learned anything, but I'm going to keep trying....

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