The other day I was reading a blog (forgive me, I actually forget which one!) by a mother who was confessing to her worst parenting errors.
It got me thinking: what’s the very worst thing I ever did as a parent? Aside from the minor stuff, that is. I mean, I’ve been angry when it wasn’t warranted, I’ve laughed inappropriately, I’ve tolerated swearing (mostly because I swear like a sailor, and I figure it’s hypocritical to insist that the kids do otherwise).
But none of those things seem to have caused the wee mites any lasting damage.
Don’t all big brothers sit in the wading pool with their clothes on?
So…what’s the biggie, then? The thing I wish I’d done differently, better, or at all?
It’s this: I believed my kids’ teachers over my kids.
And not just once—I did it twice, one for each child. And this, despite my deeply ingrained belief that my children and I knew best what was good for them, and that we should question authority and not just willingly go along with any goofy idea the boss cooked up.
With Adrian, it happened in high school. Despite his stratospheric IQ test scores (or perhaps because of them), Adrian was profoundly disinterested in most of his classes. The only exceptions were math and computer networking, so when he had the chance work half-time as a Linux programmer through the co-op program, he grabbed it. The company loved him, he loved them, all was grooviness. You know, except for the part where he had to attend school in the afternoons.
Yeah, high school? Tell them I’m napping. Or dead. That’s cool too.
Unfortunately, his co-op teacher was pretty Old School…literally. She’d been a particularly inept guidance counsellor at my high school in the 1970s, but had somehow been bumped along through the system. Now she was in charge of monitoring Adrian’s co-op placement.
Wait, did I say “monitoring”? I meant “nitpicking, harping, scolding, and humiliating.”
I said I wanted that form in TRIPLICATE, you fool!
I knew about it, and it made my blood boil.
What did I do? Exactly nothing. I tried to encourage Adrian to keep his head down and just get through it. I patted him on the back, uttered soothing words, and sent him back to school each day to face that miserable, abusive woman.
By the end of the year he seemed so disheartened by school that I actually encouraged him to drop out instead of completing his final year. His co-op company hired him in a flash, and he never looked back.
Rachel’s experience was just as stark.
Rachel on the cusp of Grade 3
She was a dreamy kid, who seemed to have trouble staying on track in class, rarely completed work on time, and couldn’t keep her desk neat to save her soul. In Grade 3, her teacher decided to “break her” of these habits.
Her method: divide the class into groups of 4. At the end of each week, tally up all the members’ infractions—untidiness, tardiness, talking back to the teacher. Each child with a “perfect” week gets a candy. The group with the lowest number of infractions wins a large bag of chips.
And hey, surprise! Since Rachel could never get through a week with a perfect record, her group was always docked points. Guess who no one wanted to have in their group?
Again, I didn’t approve…but I didn’t intervene either. Then the teacher singled Rachel out for her messy desk: she dumped the desk’s contents on the floor and ordered her to clean it up—in front of the entire class. We called for a parent-teacher meeting, expressed our extreme displeasure, and insisted that this never occur again.
It didn’t. Until the next time. And the time after that.
By the end of the year, we’d all had enough. I told Rachel we were taking her out of that school; she’d be attending the local alternative school from now on. She cried with gratitude. And I felt like shit.
Because I could have acted earlier. I should have acted earlier. As with Adrian, I saw what was happening, but on some level I simply accepted that the teachers knew what they were doing…and that my kids, not the system, were in the wrong. Maybe it was some residual fear left over from my own school days—don’t challenge the teacher, keep your head down, just survive it and get out. But those aren’t lessons I wanted my own children to learn.
By the way, when that teacher found out we intended to put Rachel in the alternative stream, she was horrified. “They dance on the desks over there,” she said. “You’ll be ruining your child.”
She couldn’t have been more mistaken. Rachel entered Lady Evelyn as a shy, tentative kid who hated school; she left Summit Alternative as a confident, happy young woman, excited about the challenge of high school. All her teachers were magnificent, and she’s still in touch with some.
Yes, all’s well that ends well, but still. I wish I’d listened more carefully, assessed more critically, acted more decisively…and a lot earlier.
I can’t help thinking I’m not alone in this—I’d love to hear from others who’ve gone through it, or who are struggling right now.