Posted by: zhak39 | February 7, 2006

Being Mom

Some mothers dive into waters that are home to crocodiles in order to snatch their children to safety. Mothers face armed combatants without revealing their treasured babies tucked beneath the floorboards. Closer to home, there are mothers who sacrifice their health by making sure that the children have adequate food even if it means going hungry themselves.

All I have had to do lately to protect my child is try to reason with the cold stonefaced bureaucracy of a local school.

Last night I had my final (ever hopeful) meeting with the principal of Chris’ school and his algebra teacher. While outwardly it was another predictably fruitless affair, I found interest in the intangibles. And I had a revelation that helps me to better understand the complexity of this whole situation. It was not in what anyone said or was trying to do. It’s the subtext that gets me every time.

An interesting aspect of the meeting was in observing the principal. For the first time, she was not in her territory. The meeting was held at one of the district offices, where the school support team is centered. The School Support Officer hosted and the Middle School Chief Instructional Improvement Officer attended. What this means in base terms is that the principal wasn’t the highest level of authority.

Purposeful illusion. That was what came to mind when I watched the principal’s body language. In previous meetings this woman had done a bang up job of manipulating the heck out of me. She condescends, she patronizes, she sighs and puts on a show of patience while taking yet more time out of her busy day to deal with yet another uninformed parent. She is long suffering for the cause of the children. She makes an art of controlling people. But in last night’s meeting, she almost seemed humble. Not humbled by any means, but carefully respectful. And so carefully, so artfully, she lied. In her oh so subtle way, she tried to push my buttons, just waiting for me to lose it and discredit myself.

It didn’t work. But I must admit, she gave it a great shot.

What was most revealing, though, was Chris’ teacher. This to my discredit, I think I made her cry.

Having finally steered this months’ long debate to the core issue of inappropriate instructional practice, I was face-to-face with the instructor and the highest authority in instructional practice in the middle school system. Now the woman who holds the role of chief authority happens to be not only well educated but an experienced teacher and former principal. She has years of expertise not only in teaching but in people. She has discerning wisdom. She’s empathic. She supports individual teachers actively yet has objectivity when dealing with parents. This meeting may have been an annoyance to the principal and last ditch for me but it had to be excruciating for the teacher. And I finally figured out why.

She’s trying. She is really trying her best to be a good teacher. She is studying the literature. She is adopting theory and putting it into practice. She is following the rules. She is withstanding my criticism. Dang it, this should be working. Why isn’t it working?

And without intending it, without empathic consideration, I broke through.

“Instead of making the classroom and tutoring experience so punishing, why can’t you just reach out to him?” I asked. “Why can’t you say ‘hey, Chris, I have an idea that might help. Why don’t you come to tutoring today, we can work on it together'”?

The Chief Officer picked up on it so fast I didn’t notice and took the teacher out into the hall. The teacher didn’t come back. I’m pretty sure that what I said made her cry.

Because she just can’t do what I suggested. They don’t teach that in college. It’s not a measureable quantity. It’s a way of being.

And with middle school kids, you can’t fake it. They know somehow. They know who has it, who doesn’t. And they are merciless. I mean, thirteen, they’re just flat out cruel to the ones they like, imagine how awful they can be to the teachers they don’t like. OK, don’t imagine, remember. Remember then?

So Chris has been removed from her class and I am petitioning to have him and his brother removed from the school. It will work out until the next crisis.

At least I haven’t had to swim with the crocodiles, but I hope that next time I will have a little more sensitivity and not BE a carnivorous amphibian.


  1. Actually, in many colleges they do teach it. They do encourage teachers to reach out and offer things such as tutoring the way you suggested.

    But you are correct. By middle school, kids know who’s faking it and if you are faking it, you don’t belong there. You are not helping them at all, just rattling off facts.

    While it is not always good to make someone cry, if they need to see the other side of the coin, then sometimes tears are necessary. You had no choice, you had to do what was right for Chris.


    psst:) you have been tagged at my blog lol

  2. I so appreciate your support, but what I did was unkind and it was because I allowed myself to be swept up in my concern for Chris. I forgot to look for her strengths and tell her about them. Granted, her style of teaching was just never going to work with Chris and that should have been recognized three months ago, but I should have tried harder to see the value in her.

    Tagged at your blog thing? Waht’s that?

  3. Howdy zha k! It was great to see you today! Tell the family I said, “Howdy.”

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