I know a boy that was a bit of a problem child growing up. He was not hateful or mean; he just was over-the-top emotional and wasn’t afraid to show it. In Preschool, all went pretty well. His dad spoke to the half-day Kindergarten teacher a few times and they kept things running smoothly – for the most part. He went on to first grade, where he would get caught talking or smacking the kid beside him because that kid had provoked him in a small way. He tended to overreact to little things like that. Worse, when he was called out for his reaction, he lied about being at fault even though he was caught red-handed most of the time! When reprimanded for lying, he only became for defiant and denied his error even more vehemently. The teacher had to have him removed from the class more than once because of his defiance.
Each teacher would call a parent-teacher conference about 6 or 8 weeks into the school year. Every teacher was very careful in how she explained to that single dad that, well, his boy was almost uncontrollable at times. The dad, unlike many parents of the day, encouraged the teacher to do whatever it took to get him in line as quickly as possible – including calling him (the dad) to come up if necessary. “You are in charge and must let him know that immediately,” the father insisted. “I can’t be here, but I promise that if he knows that this is your classroom, and that you and his dad are on the same team, he’ll listen.”
Kids like this boy may not even realize what they are doing much of the time. It should be pointed out regularly enough that they realize that it is not only a problem, but that it is unacceptable. They need someone strong enough to “say what they mean and mean what they say” as my dad used to put it. Most teachers know that and I believe that they truly mean well when they don’t utilize that piece of knowledge.
My son, this boy I just described as a Kindergartner and first grader, needed someone that strong. The initial conversation that I had with that first grade teacher was a game-changer for her – at least with my kid. Not because of me, but because I simply gave her a renewed sense of confidence. I gave her power where she had forgotten, or maybe never knew, she had power. I previously mentioned the statement that “they don’t utilize that piece of knowledge”.
You see, most teachers learn that if they don’t say what they mean and mean what they say, the kids take charge instead of the only adult in the room. Unfortunately, I believe the parents stand with their kids – against the teacher – way too many times in these situations. Now as much as I believe that, I realize there are times when teachers need to be disciplined for overreacting just as my son needed that when he did. However, I also believe that is a small percentage of the time.
Let me continue the story about this little boy. Every year of his elementary life and every year of his middle school life, his dad was called in to have a discussion with the boy’s teacher(s). Every year, that dad showed up with the same summation after the teacher gingerly explained that they were having problems with his kid. “Do what you have to do and call me if you need to”. The teachers were not only relieved that the father was on their side, but ecstatic that he was not blaming them for overreacting. The boy spent his first two high school years going to a school about 300 miles from ‘home’ (that’s another story for another day). His father called the school in his sophomore year and asked to meet every teacher he had in one conference and they met. The stories were very similar as they had been throughout the kid’s life. The results were also very similar as well – after the “talk”.
I had a short chat with his middle school vice-principal when he was in the 7th grade. He was a football player and he had gotten into a scuffle with another football player, let’s just say, “off the field”. They were both taken into the vice-principal’s office after pounding each other’s heads in the hall. Of course, I got the phone call and arrived to find out that my son had gotten 3 days in-school suspension. I got the details and shook the man’s hand, apologized for his trouble, and then we had a discussion. Curious, I asked how many days of “in-school suspension” can the kids have before the school starts sending them home for “out-of-school suspension. (This was his first suspension, but come on, the boy had a history, OK?). I can’t say the VPs answer surprised me, although it did disappoint me. His answer, “Well, technically 8 days, but the parents will never allow us to send them home.”
My exact reaction was, “What?! How are you supposed to keep these kids under control if they run the show?! How are they supposed to act in society if they are in charge of the schools?! I know, an overreaction, right? If that’s what you think, you must not have ever had a conference with a teacher or vice-principal. Kids need guidance; they need boundaries. They won’t get that guidance nor learn those boundaries unless parents take the responsibility to help their kids take responsibility.
I never just had one conversation with any of my son’s teacher(s). I followed up occasionally just to make sure they knew I could be trusted AND so that my son knew that I was on their team. They loved that. They needed that! He didn’t like it all that much, but he did know we were there and cared enough to push him to be a better boy so that one day he would be a better man. He is now in his 30’s, been through the military, married to a wonderful woman, and finishing out a 4-year degree that he started 2 ½ years ago. When mentors work together, we can accomplish much more than we can alone.